I went to a seminar last week about grief. The room was filled with clergy and funeral directors. It seemed like the start of a terrific joke, but nothing ever materialized. The speaker was incredible: Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt who has done extensive work and writing with and about grief (he’s even been on Oprah!). Dr. Wolfelt talked about several aspects of grief and mourning and the difference between the two. One of the things he said was that grief was something that happened internally while mourning was something that was external. He talked about how lousy we are at mourning—how we try to stuff it away and hide it from our friends and the people around us because it makes them and us feel uncomfortable. He lamented the fact that we have lost the practice of wearing mourning clothes. Used to, when a person died, we would wear all black as a part of our mourning and a sign of our grief. That let people know we were grieving the loss of a loved one and they were invited to share in our mourning and would do so by asking, “who died?” That would allow us to tell our story to different people who were thoughtful enough to ask and it gave us an avenue to keep our grief open through our mourning. He noted that when you don’t allow yourself to feel a feeling, you become closed and “stuck;” unable to be changed by it or to use it or to allow God to touch it in some way.
We have so many wonderful things happening right now in the life of the church, but at the same time, we are missing the presence of people we loved and walked with for many years. We are also walking with people who are trudging through various illnesses and limitations and fears and doubts. I worry that in the midst of celebrating what is wonderful, we will further cast into the shadows the broken parts and render them hidden from one another and from the kind of transformation that can happen to us when we share one another’s burdens. So I hope we bring black back—maybe literally, but maybe just figuratively and we talk to each other about our grief and we mourn with one another without shame or fear of marginalization. I think when we do that, we come to realize God’s hand in our midst, working and moving in our stories as we share them together, to bring comfort and peace and most importantly…redemption.