Almost three years ago, on July 24th, just a month after I founded Grief Beyond Belief on Facebook, I went to a Baptist funeral. When I returned home after the event, I wrote the following:
Is Our Grief So Different?
A dear friend of my family died last week, a woman who was a second mother to my cousins and a beloved friend to my aunt. To me, she was just Mimi, infinitely kind, generous, sensible and loving. I was glad that I could attend her funeral to honor her life, express my own grief at her death and support those who feel her absense so profoundly, and always will.
And so, last Sunday, for the first time since founding Grief Beyond Belief, I went to a religious funeral.
The first half of the service was like any memorial I’ve attended in recent years, family and friends speaking of Mimi with love, humor and grief. Then the pastor spoke, not about Mimi in particular, but about the lessons we are all taught about how to grieve, and the ways in which these lessons fail us. Here are the false lessons the pastor said that we are taught as we learn about death:
1. Bury your feelings.
2. Replace your losses.
3. Grieve alone.
4. Expect time, in and of itself, to heal your pain.
5. Live with your regrets.
6. Wall yourself off so as not to risk more grief.
You know what? He’s right. Every item on that list is a reaction to grief that many people are taught in our culture. And every one can be damaging. To my surprise, I felt in tune with the pastor, willing to discover that he and I do not approach death and grief so differently after all.
Then he told us the solution: If the deceased is “dead in Christ” and you yourself live and/or die “in Christ,” then you will be with your loved one again. In this way, and under these circumstances, you can grieve with hope.
Six very specific mistakes, one unrelated solution. Don’t fix the problem; don’t learn to grieve well; don’t support other people better in their grief. Just accept Jesus as your savior and the problem magically goes away.
And just like that, the distance between grieving with belief and grieving beyond belief was once more exposed.
I was going to let this story serve as my explanation for why we need non-religious funeral officiants, and why the new griefbeyondbelief.org website’s Secular Grief Resources page contains state-by-state listings for trained secular and Humanist celebrants. Then a member of the confidential Grief Beyond Belief Group at Facebook posted these pictures of the items that arrived in his mail in the week following the funeral for his loved one.
Look closely; these didn’t come from a church, they came from the funeral home. And yes, that’s an actual physical cross they mailed him.
As of today griefbeyondbelief.org has listings for officiants — CFI-certified Secular Celebrants, Humanist Society-certified Humanist Celebrants, and Humanist Chaplains and Rabbis — in four countries and in over half of the United States, all of whom are committed to providing our community with funerals that celebrate the individual and leave out all religion and spirituality. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.