Comments: Opinion - 14 October 2017

Thank you Benjamin L Corey. My, our, 38 year old son died in his sleep two years ago next week, leaving a widow and 10 year old daughter. I’ve written about this on my blog, but feel I must endorse Mr Corey’s words. Here are some more things that Christians have been known to say, equally unhelpful, patronizing, or indicative of bad theology. “I know how you’re feeling”. You most certainly do not, not even if you too have lost a larger-than-life 38-year old son. Grief is intensely personal and is intertwined with our history and with projections of what the dead person meant to us. “Time heals everything.” I surely hope not. How could I ever come to terms with a loss like this? “He’s in a better place.” This is pernicious nonsense: he most certainly would prefer to be marvelling at his daughter and helping her to grow up. “You’ll meet him in heaven.” Holy Scripture says no such thing —if there is an afterlife. And don’t mention God unless you are prepared to risk the loss of eyeballs.

If you must speak, say “there is nothing I can say”. The most hurtful thing was said to a colleague by—you’ve guessed it—a churchgoer about a year ago: “its time he got over it; I’ve buried two husbands.” Perhaps they thought it a release. Give us a cuddle and weep with us. We want to talk about our loss: to have it ignored or glossed over is a slap in the face. When you meet us in the street, don’t go out of your way to avoid us, but take us for a coffee. Or a gin or two.

The psyche has suffered the most violent attack imaginable. For almost 18 months the lament of King David when he heard that Absalom was slain was the first thing in my head each morning, recurring throughout the day. I understand as never before Auden’s poem “Stop the clocks.” The second anniversary is worse than the first.

Grief at the loss of an adult child is fierce, bitter, and overwhelming. It is malignant and insidious. It blots out heaven. There is a good deal of material to help mothers who have lost infants and children. There is very little for fathers who have lost adult offspring. I recommend “Inside grief” edited by Stephen Oliver.

For what it’s worth, here is my advice. You will have no energy for years, so don’t waste it on other people: you need it for yourself. Be kind to yourself, indulgent even. Have no expectations. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. Don’t let anyone tell you what’s good for you—they’re just trying to make themselves feel better. Learn from dogs. When a dog is injured it retreats to its basket and there it stays until it feels better. I find solace in the liturgy, in the gym, in music, and most of all in my family. And for a laugh I read about church politics.

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse at Saturday, 14 October 2017 at 1:47pm BST

Andrew Lightbown loses sight of much of what modern leadership studies have to offer in their critique of leadership - see for example, two books in the same series, Jackson & Parry's 'Very Short Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Leadership' and Chris Grey's 'Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book About Studying Organizations'.
Modem are a good group offering resources about Christian Leadership. They run annual conferences and publish book reviews - see, for example, their review of Dennis Tourish's 2014 book on the Dark Side of Transformational Leadership, published at https://www.modemuk.org/2016/09/15/the-dark-side-of-transformational-leadership-a-critical-perspective-by-dennis-tourish-reviewed-by-vaughan-s-roberts/

Posted by Jeremy Fagan at Saturday, 14 October 2017 at 9:58pm BST

Thank you Stanley Monkhouse for telling it as it is.

Posted by not flourishing anglo-catholic woman at Saturday, 14 October 2017 at 10:34pm BST

A moving and heartfelt piece of writing by Fr Monkhouse.

Posted by FrDavidH at Sunday, 15 October 2017 at 9:00am BST

Re Benjamin Corey and Stanley Monkhouse:
Some 25 years ago, very early in my ordained ministry, i suffered a serious depressive episode, and was off work for nearly a year. I certainly had well-meaning friends saying both, "I know how you feel", and "God will not give you more than you can bear", and I agree with both writers that these sentiments were profoundly unhelpful.
My vicar of the time was most supportive; he had actually been part of the problem in the first place, but once I was unwell he came up trumps - just sitting with me and listening. I remember saying to him, "Well if I am being tested, when will I know if I have passed?"
I am continually helped by a verse from "The Servant Song" written, incidentally at my father's church in Auckland, NZ. I interpret it as speaking not only of what happens to us after death, but also - and perhaps more relevantly - what happens in our worship during this life:
When we sing to God in heaven,
we shall find such harmony,
born of all we've known together
of Christ's love and agony.

Posted by Edward Prebble at Sunday, 15 October 2017 at 10:05pm BST

Thank you Mr Prebble. Two years is a short time, so I don't give up hope. Whether or not that verse speaks of the kingdom now or in the future, it is certainly the case that singing to God moves me intensely, and so does celebrating the holy mysteries. I can hardly get through the weekday liturgy sometimes, but then I reflect that if I can not be truly myself when I am at the altar, then I ought to give up. Surely, that is the very time when I must be entirely myself, no airs, no defences, no pretences, no spiritual cosmetics - just plain me in my confusion and anger and desolation.

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse at Monday, 16 October 2017 at 11:51am BST

Thank you to both Benjamin Corey and Stanley Monkhouse. There is a real problem with Christians who assume nothing can go badly wrong for people of faith - or, if it does, a sort of spiritual insulation will protect our minds and hearts from the pain. It ain't so.

Some people have led relatively easy lives, and therefore don't know how to deal with others having a bad time. Some have little imagination. Too many, I think, avoid the hard work and difficulty of being alongside someone in the throes of mental or spiritual agony. They don't want to go there. But we must, for the love of Christ, as the Servant Song says so eloquently.

Years ago I wrote a book about being honest with God about what's really going on in our hearts and minds - and the liberation of being able to shout at him if need be. The book of Lamentations and Mary of Bethany's rebuke to Jesus after the death of Lazarus were my inspiration. Needless to say the book didn't sell very well, people would rather have a quick fix than be told to face up to suffering and be honest about it.

Having grown up in churches where the Victorious Christian Life was proclaimed (and sung about endlessly), I have found it enriching to be honest about just how dark my feelings and thoughts can be at times. The psalms are a comfort here - 'how long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry for ever?" Just how often do you intend to put me through hell...? It definitely clears the air, and allows God into the place where the hurting is.

I love the Iona songs 'We cannot measure how you heal' and 'Christ's is the world in which we move.' Like the Servant Song, they speak of being with people who are in a dark place and being truly there for them. No magic, no miracles, just love. Which is a miracle, of course.

Posted by Janet Fife at Monday, 16 October 2017 at 12:25pm BST

I too would thank Benjamin Corey and Stanley Monkhouse for his openness. My experience was more mixed. Twenty four years ago, my wife literally dropped dead in front of me, just as we were about to start a sabbatical in Toronto. I was fortunate in that the church which I had attended only twice welcomed me as the stranger with its gates and the ministry of its then Rector to the stranger was amazing. The doctor I saw very wisely said that I should never think in terms of 'getting over it' since the trauma had happened but that over time I would find ways of adjusting to the new reality, which has indeed been the case. It was when I returned to the UK that, setting aside my supportive family, I encountered churchgoers who literally crossed the street to avoid speaking to me or who offered meaningless platitudes or suggested the time for grieving was over. I think Janet Fife is spot on when she says "Some have little imagination. Too many, I think, avoid the hard work and difficulty of being alongside someone in the throes of mental or spiritual agony." I think that to some extent death is now the same kind of taboo as sex was to the later Victorians. We have lost the language for it and use euphemisms such as "lost" or "passed".

Posted by Daniel Lamont at Monday, 16 October 2017 at 10:00pm BST

Sorry for the typo. The third sentence should, of course, read "stranger within its gates'.

Posted by Daniel Lamont at Tuesday, 17 October 2017 at 9:16am BST

". . never more than you can handle . . . " You mean, like Maximilian Kolbe, like Dietrich Bonhoffer? That doesn't sound like a father, just a solipsistic psychopath.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Thursday, 19 October 2017 at 11:01am BST

Daniel Lamont, what a heartbreaking and difficult situation that was, far away from all your support networks and everything that was familiar. Though it seems you got more support there than you would have done at home. But if we in church cannot sit with those who grieve, what does it say about our knowledge and experience of the Man of Sorrows?

Posted by Janet Fife at Thursday, 19 October 2017 at 12:37pm BST
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