Faith Thoughts are sent in by Dr. Elisabeth Leembruggen from Holy Trinity Utrecht.
It is the time of year in many cultures in which we give thanks. Some cultures create national holidays for the occasion: Thanksgiving Day in Canada & America. Other days are informal such as the five Australian harvest festivals which are celebrated throughout the Continent which include Lavender, Hops, Appel & Grape festivals. In Europe, we have Dutch and German harvest festivals including the Feast of Saint Martin and Erntedankfest. The Kadazan harvest festival of Malaysia celebrates the gift of rice. * We have much for which to give thanks and we love to celebrate the occasion. But this is often a difficult time of year for many. Those with whom we have celebrated days of thanksgiving are gone from us. We miss them. We grieve.
Loss with grief comes to us in many ways. It is not alone the death of a loved one. Strange as it may sound to some, the loss of a dear family pet–with their unconditional love demanding only a little acknowledgment—is unbearable. Pet therapy for such loss is a part of regular therapy treatments and counselling, particularly when the beloved animal is the only ‘family member’ about. There are other deaths as well: The loss of a dream long held which will never come to fruition. The demise of friends, the act of moving, the process of retirement and ageing all bring with them loss and a ‘death’ of the familiar, the known and cherished.
We have turned to the psychological wisdom of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her 5 stages of death and dying. ** But recent studies reveal that the process is not linear, is not ‘staged’. We may find ourselves revisited by grief we thought dealt with long ago. A song, a poem, a joke, may trigger a remembrance. From ‘nowhere’ tears flood our face. A silent arrow pierces our hearts. We wonder how we will ever ‘get over’ the loss we feel. Will we ever be whole again?
The wonderful thing about “God made Man” is exactly that: Jesus was made man for us and our salvation. Isaiah 53:3 notes, “He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”. *** Having trod this earth in human flesh, He knew the joy and pain of humanity. He knew a good wine! He pranced for joy. He ate, drank and enjoyed the company of strangers. Walking the streets to shouts of praise, riding through Jerusalem in adulation, He knew the joy of recognition and affirmation. He knew the pain of loss, too. He knew what it meant to lose a dear friend. He looked out over Jerusalem in grief, longing to have his message heard and received. He knew the ‘apparent failure’ of a mission. Hanging on a cross he knew physical pain. He saw his grief- stricken mother weeping at his feet. He felt the abandonment of his Father. He knew what it is to be human. He sang. He danced. He wept. He died.
Rituals are one way of claiming the power of healing. The ‘ritual of affirmation’ is a beginning point. We can say ‘thank you’ for the life of the one we loved.
Writing a letter, creating a poem, drawing a picture are all ways to express thanksgiving for the life we miss. The ‘ritual of reconciliation’ is an act in which we can ‘let go’ of residual anger and pain toward the person. ‘I’m sorry or I forgive you’, said in our hearts or written on a paper which we may later burn, make the act of reconciling tangible, the forgiveness real. Lighting a remembrance candle or creating an event to honour the person are ways in which we may ‘give legs’ to our grief and in so doing, honour the person or thing we love. In these simple acts, we can remember the joy brought to our lives with thanksgiving!
**Kübler-Ross, E. (1969). On death and dying. NY: Macmillan
****Meyers, L. (2016). Counseling for grief and loss.
Counseling Today, 59 (3), 27-32.