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On death, grief and God

I completed my seminary training and was ordained a Catholic priest 38 years ago. 

Among the many areas discussed and studied, we did deal with funeral liturgies, homilies and grief.  

In those years I did not comprehend — or at least don’t remember learning — that funerals were not just one more thing to do on the list of Sunday masses, baptisms, hospital visits and other tasks. 

Dying is the ultimate step, and losing a loved one is often the hardest challenge most of us encounter.

In my early 20s, I had little experience of that. Seminary professors, even among the priests and other ministers, had limited pastoral experience or awareness of how many grieving people a pastor encounters.  

For many of us, the deaths of people significant in our lives alter us greatly for years to come.

There was a time when, in many cultures, grief was not to be expressed outwardly — especially by men. It was expected that you should get over it quickly and move on. It may have also been seen as a lack of faith. 

After all, don’t we believe that death is only a passage to eternal life with God? 

Thankfully, we understand things differently today. Even the strongest and the most faith-filled of us need to grieve. We are humans, not machines. We love, we hurt, we need healing. 

Telling someone to “just get over it” makes as much sense as telling a kid with a broken arm to rub some dirt on it and it’ll be fine. 

When we grieve we need time, prayer, understanding and people to hear both our memories and pain. 

For some, this may be a support group or counselor. Certainly, a caring faith community is a great blessing. We all grieve in different ways and on different schedules. And, we all can heal.

My mother died early last year at the age of 96. I had her funeral. Within six days, I also had the funerals of two other elderly women who had children around my age. 

The week was emotionally exhausting. It also was filled with love, faith and the knowledge of our common journey.  

All of us had lost  mothers who had led good, rich and long lives. We knew each others’ pain, but also each others’ gratitude. 

We were thankful for our mothers and for the God who gifted us with them. We were consolation and hope for one another.

For the believer life is changed, not ended, by death. And God’s understanding and love are with us in our time of mourning for those we love.        

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