I saw the writer Thomas Lynch over the weekend. Lynch was at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing where he discussed how being a poet helped him as a prose writer. In addition to his poetry, Lynch is the author of The Undertaking in which he talks about being the director of a funeral home. At the festival, however, Lynch was simply exploring the relation between poetry and prose, until a woman asked him about how Christians can do better at helping one another mourn.
She said that over the last two years she had lost a handful of people who were very close to her. She was dismayed, while in her grief, by the expectation that she be able to move on and get over it. She couldn’t, of course, the loss was too great. Why can’t we do what used to be done, she asked, and wear black or other clothing or jewelry signifying that we were in mourning? Why can’t we ask of people to have a little extra patience with us?
Lynch responded that we could. Try wearing an arm band, he suggested. These things are very good for those in mourning, and we should bring them back.
Then Lynch continued on beyond the woman’s question. We don’t like death, and we push it as far away from us as possible. We don’t even have bodies at our funerals any longer, he complained with more than a little shock. We don’t–we couldn’t–have baptisms without bodies, so why would we think it’s a good idea to have a funeral without one?
Finally, he said, it’s simply wrong to think that we can mourn only in our heads. It’s not the idea of our loved one that we miss but that person herself. We don’t mourn the loss of our thoughts of someone, we mourn the person. And so we need that person with us when we say goodbye at a funeral.