First of a four-part series in the NTC edition of the Reporter.
By JULIE YARBROUGH
Other than our own death, grief is the most equal opportunity experience in all of life.
At some time, everyone will know the sorrow and pain of grief. The reason is that we grieve because we love.
If we did not love, our hearts would not be broken by the death of someone we love.
When my husband, Leighton Farrell, was in ministry, I saw fi rsthand the power of spiritual leadership when he visited the sick and dying and later comforted those who grieved at memorial and funeral services.
The need for comfort and pastoral care in grief was obvious and urgent.
But at the time, it was not yet a spiritual reality to me because, until he died, I had never experienced the death of someone intimately close to my heart. Our perception of death and grief is forever altered by the loss of one we love.
The Bible speaks repeatedly about comfort: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God,” says 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV. It is a mandate of our faith to comfort those who grieve in every experience of loss.
Through the ministry of pastoral care, the church extends institutional and personal comfort to the grieving at their time of greatest emotional need. When those who mourn are comforted spiritually, the outreach of the church is never forgotten. And when the church falls short in this vital ministry, those who grieve are slow to forget. Grief is personal. Neglect hurts.
One of the challenges of the church — whatever the size, wherever the location — is providing sustained pastoral care to the grieving beyond the immediate moment of death and the rituals that follow. For many, grief does not become a reality until sometime after the funeral or memorial service is over. It is then that the loneliness of grief can easily overwhelm those who have lost a loved one.
When those who grieve experience the ongoing ministry of comfort and care in the church, especially within the safe community of a grief support group, they are inspired to comfort and encourage others who grieve. Grief ministry is the love of Christ in action.
Julie Yarbrough, a member of Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, is the author of Beyond the Broken Heart, a new multi-resource grief ministry program (Abingdon Press, 2012), and Inside the Broken Heart: Grief Understanding for Widows and Widowers (Abingdon Press, 2012).