With Those Who Mourn

I’m reading a book right now called Wearing God. It’s by Lauren Winner and while I’m still early into it, I’m inspired by each page.

She talks about how, especially in the writings of the Apostle Paul, the Bible says to “clothe yourself with [God/Christ].”

She explains that the clothes we put on tell a story to the people around us and to ourselves. She tells of how, years ago, a grieving person would clothe themselves in black for months after their loved one’s death. It told the story to other people around them that they were mourning. It told the story to themselves that it is okay to mourn. It meant that they could show up and people around them would know how to treat them, how to care for them well. It meant that they wouldn’t need to explain themselves or feel like they had to.

She makes a beautiful parallel between how wearing black tells an acquaintance to squeeze my hand or friend to give me a hug just as how when we wear God, we tell the world around us who we follow and to whom we belong. We identify with Him and it often tells the people around us how to interact with us.

I love and am challenged by this truth. I got something else, too, out of Lauren’s writing and the writings she quoted. As she spoke of the grief journey, it reminded me how mourning is beautiful and best done in community.

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At the end of last year, my community in Connecticut lost a dear friend. My heart grieves for her death and my heart grieves for the distance between me and that community. A few friends in my community here lost important people in their lives this past month.

I only met Uncle Bob* a of couple of times and I sat with tears running down my face at his memorial service.  His five sons spoke (one via a pre-recorded video from California) and his wife read something he had written before his death. Each story expressed love and gentleness and kindness – not just within their family, but also toward strangers. Toward the nurses and doctors who attended to him in his final days, one nurse even calling him “Dad.” Each story made me want to be like him just a little more – to love tenderly and act boldly.

The tears came as my friend, Maow, led the group gathered (in the first of the three memorial services) in singing “I Can Only Imagine.” When he sang, I wasn’t imagining heaven, exactly, I was imagining Maow imagining heaven. I was imagining how he was picturing his dad, pain free, and bowing before the Creator of the world.

As I sat watching, listening, and crying, I couldn’t help but think of how beautiful this is. This time of mourning is a time for the living to gather and retell stories of hope, of love, and affirm the empty space in our lives.

My friend Ynna tells me stories of her Lolo too. He was 88 and it sounds like he was the rock of their family. Everyone called him “Lolo Pete.” Her home feels empty and there’s a place missing from the table setting. She misses his greeting to her when she comes home: “Hello, sweetheart!” She misses his singing. I hear her stories and I miss this man whom I’ve never met. But I’m also missing my own grandfather. He greeted me the same way and sang the same songs.

When we mourn in community we get to tell those stories together. The creators of the video game That Dragon Cancer explain their experience in a recent episode of Reply All: “Grief is the emotion, and mourning is what we do with that emotion.”

We can isolate ourselves when we’re grieving. Sometimes we want to get to a new normal as fast as we can. Sometimes I don’t want to be a burden or have people wonder why I’m still aching.  In today’s world, we may not wear black for months to express our grief, but when we get to walk alongside each other in these seasons, we learn from their stories and grow a little closer through shared pain. I think that like wearing black communicates grief, mourning with those who mourn communicates a bit of who God is and the comfort He offers too.


* I do have an actual uncle named Bob who I fondly call “Uncle Bob” and this is not him.
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