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Broken: Grief and Loss

Date: 24/03/2019/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

In this third week of Lent, we reflect on BROKENNESS in situations of grief and loss. Here are the sermon transcript, reflection questions and sermon vimeo for this week.

We welcome you to continue on this reflection journey with us…

Job 1:11-13, John 21:1-3

Grief and loss. These are experiences that we cannot run away from in life.

In the past few weeks, we have heard news of great grief and great loss – the Ethiopian Airlines crash on 10 March, and the shootings at the mosques in Christchurch 5 days later on 15 March.

We will experience grief and personal loss at some point in our lives. Most of us have experienced it one way or another – some of us have lost loved ones, some of us have broken up before.

Our community has experienced grief and loss as well – over the years, we have lost our friends Anthony Yeo, Robert Yeoh, Father Renckens, Rose Lui, Tony Tan, Rev Yap, Lyn John Pereira, Nick Lum.

Dr Colin Murray Parkes , a psychiatrist at St.Christopher’s Hospice, in his book, “Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life” writes:
“The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love: it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment. To ignore this fact, or to pretend that it is not so, is to put on emotional blinkers which leave us unprepared for the losses that will inevitably occur in our own lives and unprepared to help others cope with losses in theirs.”

We will inevitably encounter loss and grief – and when we do, each one of us process grief and loss differently, and we take different amounts of time to grieve.

I came across this on Reddit that was very helpful in describing grief –
So grief is like this:
There’s a box with a ball in it. And a pain button.
And no, I am not known for my art skills.
In the beginning, the ball is so big that you can’t move the box without hitting the button.
It rattles around on its own in there and hits the button over and over. You can’t control it – it just keeps hurting. Sometimes it seems unrelenting.
Over time, the ball gets smaller. It hits the button less and less but when it does, it hurts just as much. It’s better because you can function day to day more easily. But the downside is that the ball randomly hits that button when you least expect it.
For most people, the ball never really goes away. It might hit less and less and you have more time to recover between hits, unlike when the ball was still giant.

When I was in seminary, my grandmother passed away just before the term break. I slept through the one-week break, only going to the dining hall for meals.

Then a couple of months later, while watching Love of Siam, I broke down. The intensity of the emotions shocked me, and I didn’t know why I was crying so hard. Those of you who watched the movie will know that it is a gay romantic-teenage drama from Thailand, so my crying was out of place. I had to spend some time going through the film again to realised that it was the death of the lead character’s grandmother than triggered my grief. The ball of life hit the pain button, and I did not even realise it was grief.

I do not have any special life-hack, or secret method, or one-size-fits-all answer to how to deal with grief. Everybody deals with grief in different ways.

One thing I do advise is – be gentle on yourself. Whatever ways you experience grief, be patient with yourself. It is not predictable, and it is not controllable.

What I do want to say is how we can be loving and supportive of those around us dealing with grief. Even with the best of intentions, we often end up causing more harm.
We want to say the right thing to make those who are grieving feel better, to ease their pain, and maybe offer advice – But let us remember what happened in the Book of Job:

11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. 13 They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

Job’s friends, as they wept with him, as they sat with him for 7 days and 7 nights in silence in their torn robes and dust on their heads, were being as loving and supportive as they could be. But when they started to share their insights and platitudes, that was when they failed Job as a friend.

In John 21:1-3,
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,[a] Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

I think Peter was struggling – struggling with grief, struggling with a sense of failure after denying Jesus 3 times. And in his grief, he went back to what was familiar to him – fishing. The other disciples said “we will go with you” – that is being supportive and loving.

Here are some things we can do. (Supporting a Grieving Person: Helping Others Through Grief, Loss, and Bereavement by Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segel)
Let the grieving person talk about their grief. People who are grieving may need to tell the story over and over again, sometimes in minute detail. Be patient. Repeating the story is a way of processing and accepting the loss. With each retelling, the pain lessens. By listening patiently and compassionately, you’re helping your loved one heal.
Ask how the grieving person feels. The emotions of grief can change rapidly so don’t assume you know how the grieving person feels at any given time. If you’ve gone through a similar loss, share your own experience if you think it would help. Remember, though, that grief is an intensely individual experience. No two people experience it exactly the same way, so don’t claim to “know” what the person is feeling or compare your grief to theirs. Again, put the emphasis on listening instead, and ask the grieving person to tell you how they’re feeling.

Accept the grieving person’s feelings. Let the grieving person know that it’s okay to cry in front of you, to get angry, or to break down. Don’t try to reason with them over how they should or shouldn’t feel. Grief is a highly emotional experience, so the bereaved need to feel free to express their feelings—no matter how irrational—without fear of judgment, argument, or criticism.

Be willing to sit in silence. Don’t press if the grieving person doesn’t feel like talking. Often, comfort for them comes from simply being in your company. If you can’t think of something to say, just offer eye contact, a squeeze of the hand, or a reassuring hug.

Be genuine in your communication. Don’t try to minimize their loss, provide simplistic solutions, or offer unsolicited advice. It’s far better to just listen to your loved one or simply admit: “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care.”

Offer your support. Ask what you can do for the grieving person. Offer to help with a specific task, such as helping with funeral arrangements, babysit, walk the dog, get food or just be there to hang out with or as a shoulder to cry on.

Remember, though, that grief is an intensely individual experience. No two people experience it exactly the same way, so don’t claim to “know” what the person is feeling or compare your grief to theirs. Again, put the emphasis on listening instead, and ask your loved one to tell you how they’re feeling.

Sometimes we say things to comfort them, but actually, it is to avoid sitting with our discomfort with all the emotions and pain. There are things we should not say – even if we do sincerely believe them. (adapted from American Hospice Foundation)

“It’s part of God’s plan.” This phrase can make people angry and they often respond with, “What plan? Nobody told me about any plan.”

“Look at what you have to be thankful for.” They know they have things to be thankful for, but right now they are not important.

“He’s in a better place now.” The bereaved may or may not believe this. Keep your beliefs to yourself unless asked.
“This is behind you now; it’s time to get on with your life.” Sometimes the bereaved are resistant to getting on with because they feel this means “forgetting” their loved one. Besides, moving on is much easier said than done. Grief has a mind of its own and works at its own pace.

Statements that begin with “You should” or “You will.” These statements are too directive. Instead you could begin your comments with: “Have you thought about…” or “You might try…”

While I have talked about dealing with grief on an individual level, there are occasions when we face grief that is bigger than us.

The women in NZ who wear the headscarfs in solidarity.
New Zealand Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said –
“We cannot know your grief, but we can walk with you at every stage. We can and we will surround you with aroha, manaakitanga, and all that makes us us.” She used Maori words that mean kindness, compassion, generosity.

I have another story – one of hope arising out of tragedy, how we can respond to have an immediate impact –
On June 12 2016, a gunman killed 49 and injured many others in Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando Florida. Some time later, a Muslim woman went to MCC Tampa where my friend Rev Jakob Hero is the pastor, to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community.

MCC Tampa is the church which we raised a love gift to help them out after Florida was hit by a hurricane in 2017
I reached out to Jakob to have permission to share this story with you – and he told me that the story has gotten better. Sister Julie, the Muslim woman, now volunteers at MCC Tampa’s food pantry with another friend from her faith community. Next week, as part of Tampa Pride celebration, they are having an interfaith service, and Sister Julie is one of the speakers there.

In his sermon on Friday, Gamal Fouda, imam of the Al Noor Mosque where a white supremacist gunman killed 50 worshippers said, “”We are brokenhearted, but we are not broken.”
Let us be the
Comfort the mourning
Let us be the meek
Let us be the ones hungering and thirsting for righteousness,
Let us be the merciful,
Let us be the pure in heart,
And let us be the peacemakers

Reflection Questions
1. In you box of life, do you have a ball of grief bouncing and hitting the pain button? Do you have more than one ball?
2. Do you think that you have been handling your grief well? How do you think you can handle grief in better ways?
3. Are there experiences where someone was helpful when you were grieving a loss? Are there experiences that someone was not helpful even though that person’s intention was well meaning?
4. In what ways do you think you can help those who are grieving a loss in future?