Outrage and Hope – Side by Side

 

Cheated. That’s how I felt this past week at the memorial service of a close colleague of mine. In life, she was a vibrant force of nature. She led, we followed. She was also unlucky. She had colorectal cancer that had metastasized. Why hadn’t she been screened for it? Well, that’s the tragic part. Screening for colon cancer typically begins at age 50. She was 48. 

For me, a handful of funerals and memorial services stand out for a singular reason: they died too young. In some cases, way too young: a 35 year old, a 48 year old, a teen, an infant. Each time I felt cheated. The person lost cheated of a longer life. We loved ones cheated of their life with us. Our larger community cheated of their unique contribution to their community and larger society. These losses leave holes in our lives – holes difficult to replace, or, worse, that are irreplaceable.

Our congregations juggle a delicate balance. At funerals we gather to grieve, comfort each other, and celebrate the life of our loved one. We yearn to hear words spoken and sung offering solace, and, yes, hope. Death is not the last word. Most funerals and memorial services minister to those yearnings. However, there is an added burden when someone has died too young. Recognizing our sense of feeling cheated – with its outrage and anger – assists our mourners to more fully metabolize – digest – tragic losses that none of us are equipped to handle.

The loss of another close friend – a working mom with 2 daughters under 5 – struck down by cancer at 35 felt incomprehensible. At her memorial close friends spoke fondly, some humorously of our lost friend, trying to offer solace. But one friend expressed a sentiment I’ve never forgotten. He was “outraged” at the injustice of losing a friend so young. Outrage. Yes. That’s how I felt. Outraged and cheated. His words helped – helped me better identify and digest the indigestible. Some funerals and memorials services are tasked with helping mourners grieve the impossible, digest the indigestible. Certain losses, certain deaths, are beyond sense.

A psychological rule of thumb is at work here. The unconscious is capable of holding, side by side, contradictory experiences, emotions, and thoughts. In our unconscious, outrage and hope stand side by side. Despair with laughter. Feeling cheated side by side with a sense of solace. Consciousness, our waking awareness, does not hold opposites so easily. We careen from one emotion to another, not in tandem but one after another, pushing back and forth. Kubler-Ross spoke of this in her stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. All true. Yet, incomplete. Rarely does grief come so orderly. Kubler-Ross shortchanged grief’s vast repertoire of emotions.

I invite all who mourn to welcome our fuller spectrum of human emotions roiling within us as we face the inevitable losses life brings us. We rage at some losses, especially the premature ones, AND, yet, we hold out hope. Death is not the last word. It’s ‘both / and’. We are more fully human for recognizing that both reside within us.

The intercession prayer from our Funeral Rite speaks to this ‘both/and’:

Help us, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and trust in… the resurrection to life everlasting. 

Beyond our liturgy rites, other spaces and relationships collaborate with our congregations in this important ministry. One such space, one such relationship, can be found in seeking out trusted listeners who help us recognize the full range of our human emotions.

And one space offering such listeners is The Lutheran Counseling Center.

Rev. Dr. Thomas S. Taylor, PhD, LCSW-R is counselor-in-residence at Advent Lutheran Church in New York, NY, and at LCC’s Bronxville site, helping individuals, couples and families with a variety of mental health issues. Call the Lutheran Counseling Center at 516-741-0994 or 1-800-317-1173 for more information or to set an appointment. LCC has nine counseling sites in and around metropolitan New York.