All Souls Valentine Lament

Allow me to declare an upfront interest. I have loved and lost several times over the years. But I don’t really get the idea of All Souls. I never needed to wait until Valentine’s Day to say “I love you” to my loved ones, why should I wait for All Souls to acknowledge the chasms their departures have left in my life?

Having said that, I am coming to the conclusion that All Souls meets a very real need. We went through a formal, structured liturgy this afternoon, with reading of names, lighting candles, and some silence, as well as some spoken bits. During my homily, I promised that this was a safe space for those who grieve. That safe space seems to me to be important, and it also seems to be missing from many lives.

Death tends to be formalised and ritualised. It’s how we cope.But in the last century, it has become so very professional, as I think I have said before. From care in hospital and hospices, to funeral directors, to clergy, to monumental masons, the actual space to grieve, to connect with conflicting emotions, seems to be missing. And when we acknowledge the emotion, the response is often again to turn to the professionals – counselling.

IMG_1814But today, having heard other All Souls accounts from other places, I asked the Church Warden nicely, and we served tea, coffee and biscuits after the service. Nothing fancy. And we asked people to join us for a cuppa. Bless their cotton socks, they came. And they talked, mostly to those they knew, but sometimes to strangers. They shared, they cared, there was kindness in the room, and people cried all over again, and were listened to by people they’d never met. There was, if you will, permission to show emotion, and permission to let people show emotion.

I wonder if the “British stiff upper lip” is why people aren’t allowed to express emotion as they feel it; whether that is why permission has to be given at formal events such as All Souls and perhaps Remembrance Sunday. The grieving process has been analysed and categorised to the nearest millimetre, but people seem less and less equipped to cope – which might be why mental illness still carries such unwarranted stigma. That reluctance to sit with, and be supported informally while working through, unfamiliar emotion might even be part of the causes of illness.

I am rubbish at showing emotion until I trust the people present – and if ever I show it at a public event, it’s a sign I have carried it for far too long. I do understand the attitude that tries to cope until it is too late. But today, I think I have seen one possible answer, not so much in the church service as in the church community which gathered, worshipped, remembered, grieved, cared and dispersed this afternoon.

5 responses to “All Souls Valentine Lament

  1. I’ve just got back from leading ours. Most of the people there were not regular church goers. They possibly don’t have the skills or space to deal with the theological or existential angst that comes with the loss of a loved one in the way that you or I do as trained professionals. An invite and a tea light can be all it takes for a person to be ministered to by God who will wipe every tear away from their eyes.

    I don’t necessarily go to the memorial service for me. I go because once a year it offers people the opportunity to come together and bring their grief and loss to God in prayer.

  2. I think that grief isn’t something you get over. You just get used to it. So, it remains there, ignored, but the scars never fully heal. Things like All Souls are a chance for the Church to be alongside those who bear those scars and to show that it’s always there, not just in the immediate aftermath of the funeral.

    I went to one on Saturday at noon. While I hadn’t added any names to the list, I had names on my heart that I still bear the scars off, particularly one young man, killed violently in Aghanistan in 2008, where I had the duty of supporting his family in the aftermath.

    I made the mistake of not being able to keep the necessary boundaries and took some of their grief upon myself, perhaps because we’d just lost both my wifes parents in the two years before. I’m sometimes moved to tears even now, five years later on the anniversary of his death as I think of his family and pray for them. Losing someone in those circumstances, where you’ve had no chance to say good bye and it all becomes a continuing horror as you speculate on the causes, the reasons. You’re angry, with nobody to to vent it against, except God.

    I wonder at all of those who’ve died in senseless wars and could weep all over again. How can you de-personalize or even internalise grief without doing yourself some long term spiritual or mental damage. Better cry and remember in love than try to forget and be scarred for ever.

  3. Thank you for this posting. Just a thought…. The cup of tea etc afterwards would probably be considered by the Quakers as an equivalent to the Sacrament of the Eucharist. That Christ is with us in the breaking of the bread (the tea and biscuits) wherever and however it happens – and I have a feeling that He quite enjoys the informality of such occasions as well as the “High Massness” of it all. You did well. And I send love. x

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.