Friday, June 14, 2013

Comfort for the Grieving

On June 1, we had a memorial service for a very dear friend of mine who passed at the age of 90.  He and his wife have been very close friends of mine and I share her grief in no longer having this wonderful man physically in her life.  I know the grief she is feeling is going to be with her for some time to come.  Grief never goes away; it just lessens in time.  It was a beautiful service and I believe everyone left feeling a little better and uplifted in Spirit. 

My heart goes out to anyone who loses a loved one.  The loss can be so devastating and it affects people’s lives to the core of their being.  They not only have to deal with the grief of losing someone, but immediately after, they have to deal with the funeral/memorial services.  These services can help bring healing, which they should.  Ministers should show up only with love, kindness, and compassion, and be of service to the family and friends to help bring comfort for their loss.

This isn’t always the case.  I’ve been told some real horror stories about some funerals and how the minister or officiant did anything but bring comfort.  They spoke words of judgment and condemnation and didn’t have anything kind to say about the deceased.  Some even went so far to say that the deceased was now in hell.  Can you imagine having to listen to such a diatribe about someone you loved? 

The only words that should be spoken are words from a heart of love.  It doesn’t matter who the deceased was or what kind of life they lived.  Nothing can be done about that now, so let’s just bless them and send them out with love on their new journey. 

Thornton Wilder said, "The highest tribute to the dead is not grief, but gratitude."  There is always something good we can find to say about someone regardless of the life they lived, even if we have to go back in time to find it.  Some people have lived tortured lives and we don’t always know their frame of mind or why they lived the life they lived.  They only did the best they could with what they knew at the time.  Personally, I believe that souls came here to play a role, whatever that role may have been, and they accomplished what they came here to do.  We may not always understand it on a human level, but Spirit knows. 

What good does it do to bring people down and make them feel even worse than they feel now?   Funerals and memorials are for the living, to help bring some kind of comfort to the surviving families and friends.  The words spoken should be uplifting and inspirational.   They should motivate the living to live the best life they can live, to be grateful, to keep doing the best they can do, and to keep learning and growing.

Tears are good; they can be very healing.  But so is laughter.  Don’t be afraid to share stories at the funeral/memorial that invites this healing emotion.  We had a lot of laughter at my friend’s memorial because he had such a great sense of humor.  But we also had tears.  No matter what emotions we go through, it’s okay.  We need to honor and embrace them.  But most of all, we need to honor the person who passed, celebrate the life they lived, and let it teach us to try to live a life of joy and happiness for own lives.

What can we say to those who lost a loved one?  Sometimes we don’t say anything because we don’t know what to say.  “I’m so sorry.  What can I do for you?”  That’s all we need to say.  Saying anything else can sometimes do more harm than good.  Just love them and be there for them.  Send a card.  Make some meals.  Babysit the children so the adults can have some time for themselves.  Just love them.  But please don’t do nothing only because it’s uncomfortable.  Just knowing you care can make a huge difference.

Roger Bertschausen said it best:  "Grief can awaken us to new values and new and deeper appreciations. Grief can cause us to reprioritize things in our lives, to recognize what's really important and put it first. Grief can heighten our gratitude as we cease taking the gifts life bestows on us for granted. Grief can give us the wisdom of being with death. Grief can make death the companion on our left who guides us and gives us advice. None of this growth makes the loss good and worthwhile, but it is the good that comes out of the bad.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper June 14, 2013.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

An Inspiring Welcome

(Published in the Unity Contact Magazine Summer 2013 Issue.  Link at bottom.)

Have you ever walked into a church and not one person said a word to you? Yes, there may have been a greeter who half smiled, mumbled hello, and gave you a bulletin, but that was it. You sat down, and then pretended to read the bulletin just so you wouldn’t feel uncomfortable that no one was speaking to you. After the service, it was the same; no one spoke to you. You walked out the door feeling disillusioned, never to return. I’ve had these experiences and, for obvious reasons, I did not go back to those churches.

Then I found a Unity spiritual community I fell in love with and began attending regularly. I immediately joined the Usher/Greeter Ministry because I never wanted anyone to feel unwelcome. Whenever anyone came through that door, regardless if they were a member or were new, I would give them a friendly hello and a handshake or a hug, depending upon which they were open to receive. I would then introduce them to as many as I could who might be standing nearby. If they were sitting alone in the sanctuary, I would try to find someone who would sit with them.

It is said that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. By greeting people with warmth, friendliness, and enthusiasm (whether they are a newcomer or a long-time attendee), it shows we are living our Unity Principles, and the newcomer is made aware of this as soon as they walk in the door.

So how can we, as Unity communities, make sure that newcomers, as well as members, keep returning?

1.      Make sure you have greeters who are friendly and who will warmly welcome every single person who walks in the door, whether they have been there before or not.

2.      If it is a newcomer or someone you don’t know, ask if they prefer a handshake or a hug. Some people do not like to be hugged, or hugging in a spiritual setting is new to them.

3.      If someone is new, talk to them for a few moments, if possible (without ignoring anyone else who may come in). Ask a few questions about who they are, where they live, and make sure to tell them you are happy they are here. Ask them to sign the guest book, if you have one.

4.    Give newcomers a packet that has the community’s information and explain to them what is in the packet. If it has a newcomer’s information card, ask them if they would please fill it out and put it in the offering bag. Do not force them to fill one out. Be sure to explain that no one will come to visit or call them (if that’s your policy), because there are many people who do not want to be contacted. A good policy is to send them a card thanking them for coming and letting them know that you are there for them if they need you.

5.      Introduce them to several people around you so that they have someone to talk to after being greeted. If possible, also introduce them to the minister.

6.   During the service, be sure to acknowledge all newcomers with a friendly, but general welcome. Be aware that some people dislike being the center of attention, so be sensitive to the need for less attention.

7.   After the service, be sure to thank newcomers for coming. If you have a potluck or workshop after the service, invite them to join in and show them the way. Again, make sure they have someone to talk to so that they are not left sitting alone.

8.   Invite them back and be sure to let them know that if they have any questions, they may call the contact number provided in the information packet.

9.   The main thing is to impress upon the newcomer that they are welcome in your spiritual home. You want people, newcomers and members, to feel loved and nurtured. You want them to be able to look forward to returning week after week, and to know that they will always have a “family” available to them whenever needed.

If you are a friendly, welcoming community, you can be sure that people will return. Just doing the above can make a huge difference and can greatly influence someone’s spiritual journey. Remember, we never know what someone is going through. Your spiritual community may be the only light in their darkness. Let us all be the example of love and light.

Published in the Unity “Contact” Magazine Summer 2013 issue.