A reflection on the passage from Deuteronomy 34: 1-12, the last days in the life of Moses, his death, burial, and the mourning of the Hebrew people. They gave themselves thirty days to mourn, “and then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.” I had to smile at that point. Being a facilitator for a grief recovery group for 17 years and then listening to stories of the loss of a loved one, including my own, I know the cultural norm for mourning is still four weeks after the death. The first surge of new people to the recovery group would be around four weeks and the dominate reason, people think we should be over our grief by now. They still had pain and not many wanted to listen to the same story being retold. Exodus doesn’t go into detail but it does mark the time allowed. There is a greater understanding in the Jewish tradition where they have a service eleven months after the death. That would be more realistic.
In the coffee hour after the Sunday service I shared my reflection on the Deuteronomy passage with a couple people about the month given to mourning. That is still the way it is, four weeks. The two people I shared this with are folks who also have lost a loved one, one recently. She acknowledged the insight readily and the man agreed as well. We know. We have been there with the timing. And how fortunate to be able to share this Aha! with a couple people who are in the know.
In my own situation in 2011, after Bobbie’s death, I made our lake home a retreat center. It was quiet and peaceful. Many of Bobbie’s activities were in evidence in the house: her clothes, her quilts, her paintings, her decorated gourds, her miniatures, her recipes, etc. She was gone but she was still there in many ways.
Over the next six years now, I would gradually change what was there. Many of her things have been given away and put to use. I am still doing that. More recently I had an appraiser look at the property as I think about selling in a year or two. The drive back and forth to the lake is something I will have to say, enough. My driving a car will be over one of these days. I have to watch my driving habits as it is.
Even more apparent for change was my bid on a offer at the Figge Art Center. A lady helps people with declutter and getting the house ready for sale. She came out and had one big suggestion. Simplify, get rid of things to make the house look larger. I had made a start but now her specifics are on my schedule. I have removed the furniture in some rooms and moved others around. I have more to do in that category.
During the last year of Bobbie’s life we had moved to an apartment in Davenport to be near the medical treatments and hospice. After her death I had to close the apartment and move the furniture back to the lake. There were chores and decisions to make regarding the change. I don’t think I had much of a garden that year. There is a lot I don’t remember. How I kept up the yard that year? Maybe Matthew was a big help.
What I especially remember during that first year of loss was receiving an inner message, maybe after the fourth month. Read the Book of Genesis starting with the story of Abraham. I did. Abraham must have started his new journey with some sense of loss, change, transition. He left the familiar for the unfamiliar. There is no mention of his inner feelings at this point. He responds to God’s promise and call as I responded to reading the account. No questions asked. Then I had an additional inspiration. Get a group together at Church to read the Genesis account. A number in the group had also experienced the loss of a loved one. We gave each other mutual support.
During our reading and discussion there were some pronounced Aha’s. The family stories beginning with Abraham are stories of transformation. Where a person begins is not how they end up. And there is no going back. Huge transitions are made in their covenant relationship with the God who is calling them into being his people. The transitions in my own life began to have a new context in Scripture in a more personal way. Reviewing the lives of the folks in Genesis became a time to review my own life. Those in the group shared a similar experience. We were getting to know each other on a deeper level at the same time.
The next big Aha! The whole of the Hebrew Scripture was finalized during the time of their exile and captivity in Babylon. The reordering of the stories was part of the grief experience of the Hebrew people. During their mourning time a creative surge emerged. We began to see the power and impact of grief was the context of God's presence as they retold their stories along with the emergence of a three-fold way of life: Scripture stories, synagogue, and Sabbath. All three connected for the continuing of the community of the people of God.
Retired hospital chaplain
Founder of the Befrienders and the art of story metaphor listening.
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