The Editor’s Desk by Guest Columnist J. Mason Seevers
This is Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer. The holiday brings back memories of visits to the cemetery with my grandfather to place flowers on the graves of family members. I recall parades featuring veterans in ill-fitting uniforms struggling to keep cadence but still proud. And we were proud of them.
You can still watch a parade in some communities and people still visit cemeteries to place flowers, but for most people Memorial Day is simply a three-day weekend. The holiday will be mentioned in some churches today. In others it will not.
As a minister and funeral director I see this decline in “remembering” as further evidence of our culture’s disdain for death. We are entertained by it in the media but try to stay away from it in real life. Attendance at funerals and visitations has declined while immediate burials, private services, and cremations are on the rise. Some of these decisions are made for economic reasons, but many are also made to avoid dealing with death as much as possible.
Where is the church in this? Those who have lost loved ones ask the same question. It seems to me that the church reflects our culture and should accept some of the blame for its attitudes toward death.
James wrote, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). We often think about the financial distress of widows and orphans, but could James also be referring to their grief? Grief is our emotional response to a loss. Certainly the position of a widow or orphan is a loss. How do we respond to them? How are we meeting their needs?
My experience suggests that many churches do not adequately care for the grieving. Ministers tend to move from one crisis to another. Church members express sorrow but soon go back to their normal routines and forget those who are grieving.
Grief doesn’t end with the funeral service or the luncheon that follows. It continues for months and even years. For this reason churches should consider specific ways to provide ongoing ministry to those who grieve.
Frequent phone calls, invitations to lunch or dinner, shopping trips, or just a shared cup of coffee provide support and encouragement to those grieving. Inclusion in church functions provides opportunities for socialization to those who often feel like fifth wheels.
Support groups and classes offered through the church on death and grief are effective ways to help families cope with this life-changing event. They provide opportunities for interaction on a subject that is often ignored.
William Gladstone once said, “Show me the manner in which a nation or community cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.”
Tomorrow I plan to take an old friend to the cemetery to place a basket of flowers on her husband’s grave. Perhaps you can do something similar.
J. Mason Seevers is an ordained minister and licensed funeral director. He and his wife Sandie have three adult children.
Shawn McMullen’s regular column will return next week.