This week I am conducting two funerals. That particular task, along with dedications and weddings, represents the highest privilege of my particular role: accompanying people, at those who love them, at every stage of their life’s journey, and seeking to honour them as the unique individuals that they are.
Goodbyes of whatever kind, though, are usually very difficult. Occasionally not – when something we have held on to has outlived its usefulness and so can be relinquished with ease, or when we can pass something on which we know will bring pleasure to others. Those times are rare however. Letting go feels profoundly alien to us, and we do so with reluctance.
To say goodbye to people, to the relationship we had with them and the part they played in our lives is profoundly painful. The circumstances of loss vary greatly, and in the loss of someone close can feel like a clean, even gentle removal or in contrast a ripping away, but either way it is as if we have lost a limb. Yes, Mount Everest can be climbed with a missing arm, but still our lives will never be the same.
For some of us, losses early in life or under difficult circumstances have rendered us particularly sensitive to such times in our lives. Grief is somehow cumulative, each fresh experience bringing back other echoes, even those we thought we had put to rest. And if they pile up together, past and present mingling, it can knock us off our feet like a tsunami, sweeping us away and engendering a fear that we will never find solid ground again.
One of the most-loved gospel stories is the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35, and in it Jesus gives a wonderful demonstration of what we need from each other in times of grief. He simply companions them, walking alongside them and hearing their story. Yes, in time he places their story in the context of the bigger story God was telling, but He does not rush to do so. He stays with them. He is, quite simply, there.
He still is, when we walk those paths.