A couple of days ago I attended my father’s funeral. He died after a short illness. We were able, as a family, to spend some very important time with him in his final days as he was being cared for in an exemplary way in hospital. When someone we love dies a whole cocktail of emotions can flood upon us which revolves around what we call “grief”. For every individual grief is different and unique.
We tend to think of joy and sorrow as opposites, like “hot and cold”, or “big and little”. The implication of this thinking is that we regard sorrow and joy as completely separate from each other. We do not naturally describe them as co-existing with one another.
However, my personal experiences of grief, as well as accompanying many as they walk the path of bereavement, are that profound sorrow and tangible joy can co-exist immediately together at one and the same time. Sorrow at departing, but also deep appreciation and thanksgiving for love sharply renewed and revealed at the point of departure. Joy and sorrow lived not as mutually exclusive but rather correlating and abiding one with the other.
It may be that that is how it should be in many different parts of our lives. Too much sorrow certainly has the potential to crush us. However, unrivalled joy can also distort our perspective and make us insensitive to much that is around us. Grief reveals this in its sharpest form but there are many life-situations which share this double-quality: the handmaids of sorrow and joy rarely far from each other.
For Christians grief and separation, wonder and surprise, are all woven together into the tapestry of our salvation. The Christian narrative is one of familiar weakness or failure redeemed by grace, hope and love, with the forgiveness of God at its centre. It is this which stands at the heart of our hope that ultimately we should be neither troubled nor afraid.