Living with death

Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House

I can’t imagine where she is now,’ a widowed man once complained to me. ‘Tell me where she’s gone,’ he pleaded. The reality of death challenges us at every level of our being. The questions that arise in grief are life-changing questions. Responses and reactions to death are so individual that it is perhaps futile to give some advice in a short article. Think of what follows as a number of starting points; if one of them is helpful, follow it up. If they are not helpful, then let them pass.

First, we must be open to the graceful possibilities of bereavement. Remember the promise of Jesus: ‘Blessed are those who mourn; they will be comforted.’ The vulnerability that accompanies bereavement when offered to God can become a way of receiving God’s grace in unexpected ways. Do not try to bear the burden alone. Recall the words of Jesus: ‘Learn from me for I am meek and humble in heart and you will find rest.’

Secondly, we must also remember that ‘things beyond our imagining have been prepared for those who love him.’ At the point of physical death, the departed is liberated from the constraints of time and space and begins a way of being that is beyond any concept or comparison we can hold in our minds.

Scripture does not have a clear description of life beyond death; indeed the pattern of change and development after physical death is not at all clear. We must however trust in the truth of the Lord’s Resurrection. This is a time of letting go and living in the mystery of God’s love and purpose as revealed in Christ.

This means that we must renew and deepen our devotion to Jesus who is the Resurrection and the Life and who is the Way into the Father’s presence. He is Lord of the living and the dead and none are dead to him. In him, we are one with those we love but see no more; we are part of the same body of Christ, which is the blessed company of all faithful believers.

This is why the Eucharist is such a source of strength and healing for the bereaved. In the Eucharist, we are partakers in the life of Christ crucified, risen and glorified. In the Eucharist, we share in the worship of heaven and by the power of the Spirit are given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. It is quite possible to be given real reassurance and comfort in Holy Communion that the departed are safe and secure in God’s presence, the same presence made real to us in time and space in the Eucharist.

Those who mourn will find a companion (a bread-sharer) in Jesus who wept at the grave of Lazarus; the tears of Jesus are a reminder to us all that the pain of separation is a real one, a pain that the Lord himself knows and shares.

The answer to the widower’s question is: ‘I don’t know, but we must trust what Jesus promises that there is a place prepared and it is a place where he is. This means that we can learn about the place by getting to know him.’