This past week, I started making plans for All Saints Sunday, which is Nov. 1. For our congregation, this is always a blessed but bittersweet day when we remember our congregation’s family and friends who died during the previous year as well as other people we lost in our lives. On this day, Lutherans commemorate the reality that we are “All Saints and All Sinners.” We celebrate God’s amazing capacity to use ordinary people, such as the ones we remember, to do extraordinary things in our lives and the world.
I am always grateful for this day because it is a chance to reconnect with grieving families. I know many congregations have similar traditions whereby they remember people who have passed away that year. I pray for all congregations as they plan and prepare these compassion-filled commemorations during this particularly challenging time.
When we attend a funeral, most of us have good intentions to check in with the grieving family during the coming weeks and months. However, the pressures of daily life quickly distract us. Soon, months have gone by and we have not picked up the phone or written that letter as we had intended. Often we also do not reconnect with folks who have lost loved ones because we just do not know what to say, or we are worried about saying the wrong thing. Many people do recount unhelpful and hurtful things that well-meaning people say after a death. However, feeling alone or forgotten can be just as hurtful and, perhaps, even more painful. Though I am sure I have made my own fair share of mistakes in supporting people who are grieving, one of the main things I have learned is that simply being there and listening is more important than saying something. In other words, nothing we say can take away someone’s pain. However, sticking with them through their grief speaks volumes — even without any words.
Similarly, many times, after the loss of a loved one, people find themselves needing to do new and daunting tasks. Supporting someone in a season of grief might be as simple as asking, “Are there things I can help you do,” and responding accordingly. Many times the loved one left behind is facing tasks that he/she has never or rarely had to do before.
Soon we will observe Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year. These days can be some of the most difficult for our neighbors who are grieving. The empty chair they know is awaiting them at a “celebration” can be overwhelming. For many of us, this time of COVID-19 has been difficult on our mental health. The loss of a loved one coupled with an adapted or modified funeral results in a formidable reality. This year, perhaps, more than ever, people who are grieving need us to be bold and faithful in finding safe ways to express our care and concern for them.
In the next few weeks, please take time to reach out to folks who are grieving. Find out if they have a plan for these important upcoming holidays. Are there things they are worried about? Yes, some of our normal means of comforting each other might not be possible this year, but there are still many ways available for us to express our concern and offer our support.
May God bless all congregations as they honor their beloved friends and family members who they lost this year. May God hold every one of us who are grieving in the palm of God’s hand. Moreover, now more than ever, may we all compassionately “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2 NRSV).
Jeanette McCormick is pastor at Worthington's First Lutheran Church.