Martin’s wife died when she was only 47, many years before I became his pastor. Now in his late 60’s, Martin would still go to the cemetery every single day to visit his wife’s grave. Martin would get out of his car, walk over to the grave, and just stand there for a while; looking down, thinking back, grieving. People knew he did this. You can’t do something like that in a small town every day for twenty years and not get noticed. Everyone liked Martin, and they felt sorry for him. But people thought this was a little strange, especially after so many years.
One of Martin’s friends said to me, “I don t know what Martin gets out of going out there to that cemetery every day. It certainly doesn’t do his wife any good, she doesn’t even know he is there. And I don’t know what good it can do him, either, bringing up the sadness every single day like that. My wife has also been out in the cemetery for a few years, but I don’t ever go out there. Why should I? Sure I miss her but I don’t see how it would help me to stand out there and look down at a patch of grass. I can just as well sit home and look at a picture of her when I want to remember the good old days. But I can’t spend all my time thinking back either. I have to look forward. I have to live the rest of my life. I think that is what she would have wanted me to do.”
The two men had very different ways of dealing with their grief. There are all kinds of ways to grieve. But grieve we must and we will. Some can’t help but grieve on the outside for all to see. Others grieve on the inside, and then people sometimes say, “Look how strong she was; she did not even shed a tear.” But is one’s grief deeper because it is more obvious? Or is someone stronger than another because they shed fewer tears? Not necessarily. I know a young man who refused his mother’s pleas to visit his dying father in the hospital. Then, right after his father died the son went to the hospital and cried and howled and wailed and carried on enough to wake up everyone on the entire floor. Was that an act or was it guilt? Who knows?
No one can know what is all going on in the heart of another, and there is no way to measure the depth or the length of the grief. And there is no way to prescribe how someone else should grieve or how much to grieve or when they should get over it. Sometimes helpful things can be said, but everyone will grieve in their own way. No one should tell Martin to stop going out to the cemetery, and no one should tell Martin’s friend that he should visit his wife’s grave more often. Each has their own way.
Mark 16:1 says, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.” These women who were grieving the death of Jesus. Here they were engaging in one of the first steps of the grieving process, the “taking care of business step.” There are always things that need to be done after a death, in those days just like today. After the initial shock and the first wave of tears, one needs to get busy. The funeral director needs to be called, the body needs to be picked up, the pastor, relatives, and friends need to be called. Then, a date and time for the funeral needs to be arranged, decisions about lunch must be made, a casket must be selected, and so on. This is a necessary part of the grieving process. We are grieving a death, yes, which is the biggest fact of life. But at the same time we are confronted with other facts of life; and the fact is, life must go on. And so there are things to do.
In Mark 16:1 the women who were close to Jesus were taking care of business. There were no funeral directors, but the body still had to be properly prepared for burial. On Friday afternoon, right after Jesus death, he was quickly out into the tomb, but the Sabbath was about to begin. On the Sabbath, no work was permitted, not even the necessary work after a death. Saturday was the Sabbath day at that time, and Sunday was the first day of the new work week. So, first things early on Sunday morning the women were at the tomb. Now they would have the time to wash and then wrap in spices the dead body of Jesus for a proper burial. For them, like for us, this necessary work after a death was a part of the grieving, and even healing, process.
There are also other ways to deal with grief. When there is a shooting in a school, or even after the death of some students in a car accident, grief counselors are often called in to help students deal with the shock and the loss of their classmates. Most high school kids are not prepared to handle such tragedies, and the grief counselors are called in to help. And the counselors will urge the grieving students to talk it out, to express their hurt and their anger and all their other emotions, to feel free to cry, and to not grieve alone, but to allow others to share their burdens and their sadness. That is all good advice.
All I have done so far is describe the grieving process, and perhaps I would not even need to do that. Most of you know what it is like to experience the loss of a loved one and to work through the grief that always follows. Many of you have had far more experience with that than I have had. Perhaps you have been able to relate to different parts of what I have described– the busy-ness after a death; the abundance of tears, or maybe, the unexpected lack of tears; the differences in the way different family members handle a loss; and the desire to visit or not visit the cemetery in the days and years that follow. Many books are written about how to grieve, a great deal of advice is available, and there are support groups to help people share with others in the grieving process.
There is much wisdom and help available in all of this, but in books and counseling methods that focus only on the grieving process, one big question remains: What then? After the tears, after the sadness and guilt and anger have all been expressed, after support has been given and shared, after all of that, what then? (continued…)