It has been a summer of passing. A number of friends’ parents have died. I’ve heard about friends’ and acquaintances’ friends, relatives and spouses moving past this life. I suppose that is always the case, but for some reason, it’s been closer to home over the last few months. I don’t know that I have anything to say about death or grieving, but having attended a few funerals recently, I was privileged to find some beauty in these difficult, yet sacred moments.
The first is the beauty of the community that gathers to carry those left; those closest, those who feel the pain deepest. Most of us don’t really know what to say or do in these situations, but we show up. I can only imagine that the process would be entirely different if experienced all alone.
I have also seen tremendous beauty in the strength of those willing to share their intimate portraits of loved ones with this gathered community. Reaching beyond one’s own grief to express gratitude, love and thoughtful reflection of the person no longer there. What a gift.
And finally, I heard the beauty of music. This mysterious thing that gently lifts our spirits, gives us space to weep, evokes countless memories and wraps us in its exquisiteness. As always, I was struck by the power of music to care for us in these most difficult moments. To express what we cannot, and to link us as we listen and feel the grief together.
There are many hymns that are considered appropriate for funerals. As I was thinking about this subject, this one came to mind – not so much because it is sung at funerals, but because it is hopeful at any ending. The words were written by Jeremiah E. Rankin in 1880 and are quite lovely. Filled with gentle care.
God be with you till we meet again; Loving counsels guide, uphold you, May the Shepherd’s care enfold you; God be with you till we meet again.
God be with you till we meet again; Unseen wings, protecting, hide you, Daily manna still provide you; God be with you till we meet again.
God be with you till we meet again; When life’s perils thick confound you, Put unfailing arms around you; God be with you till we meet again.
God be with you till we meet again; Keep love’s banner floating o’er you, Smite death’s threat’ning wave before you; God be with you till we meet again.
What I like about these words are how they offer a comfort to everyone. They send off our loved ones in safety. They provide the community a guide to caring for those grieving. They give hope to those left behind. The repetition of the phrase “God be with you till we meet again” reminds me that care is available. Whatever your understanding of the divinity is, whatever you believe, these words speak to this idea of the availability of care. Sometimes it is found in our spiritual practices, sometimes in our community, sometimes in our memories, sometimes in music. But it is there. It is ours to give. It is ours to seek. And it is ours to receive.
So if you have been touched by this particular kind of grief recently, I wish for you to find yourself surrounded by the care you need. I hope it can be found, I hope it is readily given. And, may God be with you till we meet again.