As clergy, I have an interest in public gatherings. Particularly if the public gathering is akin to what I would consider worship, or adopted from a Christian form of worship.
This would include such things as concerts and other large public gatherings.
What has caught my attention lately has been around funeral or memorial gatherings. This year I’ve watched two very large public displays of mourning, and they has left me wondering.
The first was the funeral of the leader of the New Democratic Party over the summer. Jack Layton certainly had the hearts of the nation as he literally lived the Cinderella story of Canadian politics. His state funeral (extremely rare for the leader of the opposition, only once before had it happened, and the previous example had been Prime Minister earlier in his career) was certainly a sight to behold. There were certainly points where it felt like funeral, other times it felt like a political rally, and other times a concert. While it was a tribute to a very public political figure, as clergy, to me it felt… odd.
The second example is one which occurred last week. It was the memorial ceremony for Steve Jobs held at the Apple campus with all employees in attendance. It too was a strange event in my view. It began in silence as the cameras swept the crowd and zoomed in on massive photos of Jobs posted around the square. Then as Tim Cook took to the stage to begin the memorial, applause and loud cheering was heard. Throughout the gathering there was some deep, heart felt remembrances shared, mixed into the middle was as musical set by Norah Jones. After some more words of remembrance, Coldplay finished the ceremony with a rousing set worthy of a world tour. Again, it felt odd to me.
Now I didn’t expect to see a lot of religious ritual in the Apple tribute to the one who was their heart and soul. Jobs wasn’t Christian, he wouldn’t have welcomed a church presence, and I’m certain that corporate America would care to see it either at such a public event.
Liturgical preferences aside, this is what I have noticed after watching and reflecting on these two events.
We’ve lost our ability to mourn.
There were moments in both ceremonies where there were some really powerful moments of connecting the person, the emotional response and the need to mourn. But it some ways it felt like the ceremonies were set up to “recover” from that moment. As if the organizers were saying, “Wow that was sad, we better cheer everyone up as quickly as possible!”
One thing I’ve learned being in ministry is that we cannot bury our emotions. We cannot hide them from the public eye. We need to mourn, hurt, cry, and sometimes we need to do it in community with others who feel the same way. It’s our natural response. It helps us know we are not alone in our suffering, it helps us know it ok to feel sad, that we don’t need to cheer up right away.
Mourning is a process, not a moment in time. We can’t turn it on like a light. There is no switch.
Mourning takes time. It could be weeks, months, even years before we feel like the weight of losing a loved one is lifted to where we can begin to return to a normal life. Mourning is part of the healing process.
Yes I agree we need to celebrate the life we have lost, but we also need to be able to healthily deal with the emotions and pain we are feeling.
What do you think? Have we lost our ability to deal with death and the loss of loved ones? Are we in too much of a hurry to move on?
I believe we have, and I believe part of it is because we have lost our connection to the church which understands and helps us through times like these. Let us help our communities reclaim this important part of life, dealing with the loss of a loved one.