How do we grieve the death of a loved one?
There seems to be so many ways … and depending on the culture, the variety of rituals can be interesting.
Funerals in Indonesia are very public, everyone in the village joins in for days or weeks of mourning. In Madagascar, there is the “turning of the bones” that takes place 5-7 years after the death of a loved one, a ritual that involves exhuming the body, spraying it with wine or perfume and playing music, dancing and sharing the news of the living with their ancestors.
Many of the world’s faiths prescribe a period of 7 days for intense grieving, visits by family and a focus on the dearly departed before returning to a normal schedule. And in New Orleans, a very cool mix of joy and grief is on display during a jazz funeral procession.
So we take time to grieve.
We spend time with family.
Generally, we also share meals, nourishing our bodies while we nourish our grieving souls.
Much like today’s Gospel, where Jesus gives us the prescription for grieving and a solid method of getting over the sadness and moving on with life.
“When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”
When a loved one dies, it’s quite normal to want to spend some quiet time alone with God. These are delicate moments when your heart is aching and your soul is seeking comfort.
And while it’s true there are some who rely on family and friends for such comfort, it is our relationship with God – and the trust that He is there for us – that truly helps us in our grieving.
“The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.”
Remember that John the Baptist was like a rock star in his day. Scripture indicates hundreds, if not thousands would come to him on a daily basis to hear him speak (loudly) about salvation and to be baptized in the waters of the river.
When he was beheaded, there was no doubt much sorrow and grief was shared by many in the community. In today’s story, we see those people looking for comfort by following Jesus.
“When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.”
And now we get to the key to surviving the death of a loved one.
When those crowds came, Jesus did not run and hide. He did not tell them to depart and leave him alone to grieve.
No, his heart was moved with pity and he got down to the business of what he was sent to accomplish!
In many ways, this is what we are also called to do.
Yes we spend some quiet time with God. We take care of the body – another process that can vary widely from culture to culture – and then we welcome friends, family, maybe even strangers into the grieving process.
Like Jesus, we don’t dwell exclusively on our own loss. We look to the living and remember the reason we are here … to love our neighbor.
By channeling our energies toward others, even in a time of great grief and personal need, we help to cure our broken hearts.
We may resist.
We may deny.
But the truth is our hearts and souls are quickly repaired when they quickly return to doing the Lord’s work here on earth.
Jesus always looks at us with pity and love in his heart. Pray that we all learn to do the same in a world that needs help grieving too many losses on too many days.