Support From Our Churches

Death is a normal part of life. We all die. Some deaths come earlier than expected and this is tragic. Others can be difficult and long. Others are sudden and some are expected. Sooner or later we all get there.

Rituals recognizing death are very important for processing grief and healing of those who have loved the person who died. Rituals are important too if there was a "difficult" relationship with the person who died. There is some research that suggests the new practice of skipping these rituals prolongs and exacerbates grief. You could have a full funeral or a graveside service or simply a party in honour of someone with a few words of remembrance.

On "All Saints" Sunday, usually the third Sunday in October, we recognize the people in our lives who have been "saints" to us. There are other ways we continue to honour the dead including memorial hymn sings, solar light campaigns, Remembrance Day services and so on.

Our churches provide full and varied funeral services and graveside committals. Our minister has been asked to preside at traditional services and at community gatherings in a "pub" like setting.

Arranging Funerals

People usually call the minister after consulting with a funeral home. If you would like to have a church-related funeral, call the minister. She will listen carefully and help you to consider next steps and what would suit you and your loved one. If you want to continue with a church-related service, she will meet with you to plan.

Funeral ministry is a core part of the work of a rural church. Our congregation takes the caring component very seriously and does its best to support families. If a reception is needed, some of the churches have basements in which these can take place. If a church does not have a basement (St. James’ or Riverside), a reception can be arranged at an alternative church or community centre. After the funeral if you need some time to talk and work through some grief issues, the minister can meet with you.

Fees for funeral services are charged, but only to offset costs. Please call the church office for more information.

Dealing With Death and Grief

Emotional and Spiritual Needs During Grief

The most difficult part of grieving can be processing all of the emotions that you are feeling. There are no “correct” emotions or feelings. Whatever you are feeling is bound to feel uncomfortable sometimes or, perhaps, most of the time. Many people try to numb themselves so they don’t have to feel grief.

Numbing can be very useful in the early stages of grief as it helps you get through the various tasks that seem to be required when someone you love dies. Simply put, numbing can get you through the day. However, perpetual numbing is harmful: drugs, alcohol, excessive exercise, eating, busyness, care-giving of others, or obsessions of various kinds can only postpone grief. There is no way through grief except to go through it. The longer “feeling” is postponed, the more difficult and complicated it can be to process emotions.

If we decide that some emotions are “bad” or too uncomfortable to experience and we numb ourselves so as not to feel them, then we also cut off the pleasant or “positive” feelings that make life enjoyable and meaningful.

Dr. Bréne Brown, a psychologist who specializes in studying emotions says,

There is a full spectrum of human emotions and when we numb the dark, we numb the light…. Joy is as thorny and sharp as any of the dark emotions. To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. When we lose our tolerance for discomfort, we lose joy. In fact, addiction research shows us that an intensely positive experience is as likely to cause relapse as an intensely painful experience.

We can’t make a list of all the “bad” emotions and say, “I’m going to numb these” then make a list of the positive emotions and say “I’m going to fully engage in these!” You can imagine the vicious cycle this creates: I don’t experience much joy so I have no reservoir to draw from when hard things happen. They feel even more painful, so I numb. I numb so I don’t experience joy and so on.[1]

The key to grieving is to let yourself feel whatever it is you need to feel and to ask what that emotion is trying to tell you.

Grief takes place within the context of spirituality. In its broadest sense spirituality is about meaning-making. It is about belief in something wider or bigger than yourself. For some, this may be a connection to art. For most in our culture experience of nature intensifies a sense of spirituality. In the United Church we like to say "our tent is wide" which means that there is a great diversity of belief within our denomination. However, most agree that the 1968 statement of faith, A New Creed, speaks to our faith about who God is and where God is when we die.

We are not alone,
   we live in God’s world.
We believe in God:
   who has created and is creating,
   who has come in Jesus,
      the Word made flesh,
      to reconcile and make new,
   who works in us and others
      by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
   to celebrate God’s presence,
   to live with respect in Creation,
   to love and serve others,
   to seek justice and resist evil,
   to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
      our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
   God is with us.
We are not alone.
   Thanks be to God.

Complicated Grief

Grief is complicated when the type of death is sudden, unexpected, violent, involves mutilation, involves a child, or is the result of a very long illness. Complicated losses that may not involve death include ambiguous losses (see below), traumatic losses (abuse and community disasters, or a disenfranchised loss.

Disenfranchised Loss

A disenfranchised loss is one in which the rest of society may not mourn with you or may not even recognize the loss. For example, death by suicide is almost always a disenfranchised loss because the rest of the world is never sure how to treat the death. This can be very isolating for the loved ones. Another example of this is miscarriage.  While parents have a relationship with their unborn child (sometimes called a “dream child”), the rest of the world does not and may not be ready to recognize the loss.

Ambiguous Losses

Roslyn Karaban describes three types of ambiguous losses. [i]

  1. There is confusion surrounding the loss.
  2. The event of the loss is clear but the perception of the loss is not.
    The loss is not made clear because there is not recognition, support or ritualization by society.
  3. These types of losses are those in which it is difficult to mourn because it is not a clearly defined death with a set path of accepted mourning.  For example, when a body is never found, the mourning around such a death can be complicated by ambiguity.  Questions will arise around whether the death actually occurred.  If part of the task of mourning is to accept that death happened, learning the circumstances of death assists part of that task.  

Death from Alzheimer’s are often ambiguous. When is the person actually dead?  Did it happen for the family when he/she no longer recognized anyone and could not communicate in any way?  There are no rituals to mark such points of loss. Mourning becomes difficult because there is no clear time of “death”, thus the ambiguity.

The emotions experienced by those living through complicated, ambiguous or disenfranchised losses can be very difficult to name and process.

The Six “R” Processes of Mourning

The study of grief and mourning has moved away from Kubler-Ross’ "stages" theory.  Now mourning is thought of as processes or tasks. Therese Rando describes the processes of mourning as contained within the following six R’s[ii]:

  1. Recognize the loss.
  2. React to the separation.
  3. Recollect and re-experience the deceased and the relationship.
  4. Relinquish old attachments to the deceased and to the old assumptive world.
  5. Readjust to move adaptively into the new world without forgetting the old.
  6. Reinvest.

These processes correspond roughly to Worden’s four tasks of mourning which are:  accept the reality of the loss, process the pain of grief, adjust to a world without the deceased and find an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life.[iii]  Both Worden and Rando propose that any compromise, distortion or inability to work through any of these tasks or processes will result in complicated mourning reactions.

When have you experienced the “pointy-end of joy” while you have grieved? What happened?

What helps you to sit within an emotion?

[1] Bréne Brown The Gifts of Imperfection. Minnesota: Hazeldon Publishing, 2010, p. 73.
[i] Roselyn A. Karaban, Complicated Losses, Difficult Deaths, San Jose: Resource Publications Ltd., 2000, 7.
[ii] Karaban, 9.
[iii] William J. Worden. Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner. 4th ed. London: Routledge, 2009, 39-52.