Our family is in the midst of a season of loss. In the last 5 months, we’ve lost my father, his sister, and his brother’s wife. That’s a lot of funerals. The last one was particularly hard. My aunt had not been ill, and was the youngest of my father’s generation. She died suddenly, the day after Christmas, just after she and my uncle had arrived at their winter home in Texas.
After the funeral, my cousin, her son, commented to me that my siblings and I could understand how he felt. “After all,” he said, “you’ve had to sit on the front row, too.”
At funerals, the front row is reserved for family. You’re glad to be together, but you have a hard time getting your mind around the loss. You are heartbroken, but suddenly you’re in front of a lot of people. You may know the reality of Christ and the resurrection, but you still have to deal with the awful absence of the person that you love.
So, what is my advice to people on the front row? Obviously, this is not a complete list, nor will every item be useful for every situation of loss, but this is what I would tell my siblings and my cousins.
- Remember that it’s OK to feel several things at once. You are sad, but you may also feel relief if your loved one had suffered with illness.
- Focus on the good memories. The end of life is generally filled with illness and hardship, but the end of life did not define your loved one. Think about what they taught you, and times when you felt especially close to them.
- Treat your family gently. All of you will grieve in a different way. Some people will be overcome with grief; others won’t cry at all. Hug each other and tell each other you love them. After the funeral, call each other and work hard to stay close, particularly after the death of a parent.
- If help is accepted, take it. You won’t be emotionally able to complete every task that should be done. Let others help with household chores, babysitting, and planning the funeral dinner. They love you and your family. Helping you is their way of supporting you.
- Know that the grave is not the end of the story. Your loved one has left the body; now they are with the Lord. You miss them, but their soul didn’t die; it merely changed residence. You will see them again.
Praying that you grieve with hope,
The cousins, or at least all but one of us. Photo credit, Todd Tuthill