This week my schedule was significantly altered by a funeral I had earlier today (Thurs.) I’ve had about 25 funerals since I have been the pastor at New Durham Chapel. About half of those have been for church family members and about half have been what I call outreach funerals. About half of the dozen or so funerals I have had over the last 9 years have been for church individuals to whom I had grown very close. There is something about walking through the death and dying experience that bonds you with an individual and with their family as you share the love of Christ and the hope of eternal glory with the individual and with their family. Also over the last 9 years I’ve had funerals for my grandson Elijah (February 2005), my dad (December 2008) and a memorial service for my sister Maryanne who passed away this past November. The funeral this week was for the sister on one of our church members; this beloved sister died suddenly at the age of 60 from an asthma attack. Since I didn’t know Laurel I decided that during the week I would spend some time leading up to the funeral with her family.
What happened when I went to the viewing on Wednesday afternoon was something that took me totally by surprise. As I watched the DVD of Laurel’s life I found myself overwhelmed by emotions. I was shocked and alarmed by this reaction as I didn’t even know her. I was aware I was feeling empathy for her 3 daughters in their 20’s and son who was only 19, but still what was happening to me? As I returned to my office after my shortened visit I realized that I had never grieved my own sisters passing. The depth of emotions I was feeling was connected to sorrow and sadness I hadn’t expressed after my sister died.
Let me explain how this came to be. When my sister died I was ministering God’s Word deep in the heart of India on a mission trip. In fact after I received word my sister had died on Saturday evening over the next 4 days I would preach 18 messages including ministering in 10 village churches in the uttermost parts of the world. When I returned home from India, my mother was in despair need of knee replacement surgery and was no longer able to care for herself. I had to spend a few nights with her and make arrangements to hire a full time caregiver to stay with her. Surgery was scheduled for December 7th. I then scrambled to make arrangements to fly Daniel (my sister’s only child) out so he could be here for my mom’s surgery and for the memorial service we scheduled for my sister on December 15. My mom’s surgery went well and she went into rehab and then into a nursing home at the end of December. A few days after my sister’s memorial service my son called from Michigan asking that we take Ethan over the holidays because his ex-wife wasn’t going to be able to watch him. Things went on this way for 3 more solid months until mom needed to come to stay with us in early March following serious hernia surgery.
This brings me back to my experience on Wednesday afternoon. Grieving for the losses of a loved one is critically important, yet we can be so busy that we miss that. If we don’t grieve, our losses multiply and add a heavy weight on us. Allowing ourselves the time to sorrow is part of the healing process. I’m pretty certain my mom also needs time to heal from the loss of her only daughter. Acknowledgement of our sadness is a significant step towards growth and maturity. I believe the Lord Jesus will walk with us through the grief process if we allow Him to. Remember the words of David in the 23rd Psalm where we read, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for the art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (v.4 KJV). Jesus is the good shepherd who gave His life for His sheep. He cares for us in all our losses. And for those who have trusted Him, he promises to bring us safely over unto the other side.
Pastor Rich Sivo