The book of Lamentations lives up to its title. It’s intensely distressed and quite draining to read if we try to think ourselves into it. It’s not very Church of England.
But while few of us in this society have had to experience anything like the national and cultural disaster that fuels this Lamentation, many of us have had to deal with more personal, smaller-scale tragedies that are no less intense and no easier to cope with.
But there’s something about English expectations that makes us feel that we should be able to just get on with life, even when we want to grieve and wail – and there’s a bit of a tendency to look down on other cultures where wailing and weeping are more accepted as public expressions of grief.
One of the things I often find myself saying to bereaved relatives before a funeral is ‘You don’t have to be strong for anyone’. Occasionally it’s even necessary to release someone from the pressure of having been told by the person who’s died that they don’t want tears at their funeral. Sometimes tears come naturally, sometimes they don’t. Either is fine and healthy. Holding back the tears that should flow is no more or less healthy than manufacturing tears that are just from the eyes and not from the heart.
This is all on my mind today because it’s been an afternoon of funeral ministry – first a funeral service for a 99-year old Christian lady, a member of our Mothers’ Union, which was as positive and ‘easy’ as a funeral gets – thanksgiving for a long life with its share of hardship, but a celebration at which Simeon’s Song, the Nunc Dimittis, was a natural prayer.
Then I had two pre-funeral visits, both in circumstances where bereavement has been far more traumatic than usual, for very different reasons. In one visit there were tears and anger, in the other simply shock, confusion and silence. In both visits, I met Lamentation. To cover this up with behaviour ‘appropriate’ for the vicar’s visit would have been completely and utterly wrong.
We need to allow ourselves real grief when it’s warranted. And we need to allow the real causes for grief of Jeremiah or those I’ve met today to keep in perspective our tendency to let ourselves grieve too much over things that don’t really matter, and too little over those that do.