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St Johns Southgate

07 Nov 2018

Routine observations

True story. Every morning, before dawn, an old man waits on the corner for another old man to meet him.

When he turns up they go for their morning walk together. Or at least they did. One man now walks alone.

I could be wrong, but I imagine that the man now absent at his daily dawn-light roll call, died recently. His friend no longer waits on the corner. There’s no need. He walks on without him.

As well as feeling the pangs of vicarious grief, I couldn’t help but see in this a metaphor for what it is to grieve. There’s the discovery – the waiting on the corner – the realisation at a certain point that something’s not right. Then there’s the disruption – the routine is thrown out for the funeral and so on. Then there’s the re-emergence – the necessary onward walk. And in all of that, of course, there is the adjustment to a new reality, peppered as it is, with all kinds of emotions.

The walk of grief is a lonely one. I hate to say it, but it is. All the loving support in the world, all the hugs, cups of tea or meals to put in the freezer can’t take away the need to, at some point, take another step without your companion by your side. The survivor has to take that step, it can’t be taken for them and it’s a step into a new way of being.

As brave as it can be to take that first step, continuing isn’t a victory. Grief isn’t something you overcome. It overcomes you. It plots your new course. Your routine might remain the same but your day-to-day experience of life is forever changed. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. When someone who has intermingled themselves with the fibres of your being is amputated, your centre of gravity is altered and either your direction or mode of transport is changed.

I hate using the line, “in my experience as a pastor” but to hell with it. In my experience as someone who, due to the nature of their profession, has been invited into people’s experience of grief more than most, I’ll say the following:

Yes, the bereaved have a journey and it’s theirs to navigate, but having a friend walk up alongside you for a mile or two can be a great help – especially after the magic six-week mark. In those early weeks of grief, people pop in, ask you how you’re going, share memories and so on. But after about six weeks, while you’re still grieving, others have moved on. For their own reasons they can’t bear to keep talking about it, so they politely ignore you.

Now for the shameless plug. This is where your local church can be of assistance. Death and grief are not taboo in the church.

Every Sunday we pray for the grieving. Every Sunday heavenly hopes are alluded to in the preaching and underscored in the liturgy. Every November, on All Saints Day, you’re invited to have your dearly departed loved one named in a public remembrance and you’re welcomed to light a candle in their memory.

The routine and rhythm of the church-life brings together walkers on the grief-journey entirely naturally. It draws you into a forum that opens up and renews the conversation about where you are on the walk.

If you’re grieving, yes, the path before you is unique and no one can make you feel balanced on the cobblestones. Only you can find your footing. But just around the corner is a walkers club, full of experienced travellers. The one I know is called St Johns, and it’s always looking to help a new hiker lace up their boots.

Tom Hoffman - Pastor

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