Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Words and Funerals

I've never really paid any great attention to the acknowledgments in newspapers of the minister's contribution after a funeral. Don't get me wrong, it's not that they aren't heartfelt or kind, it's simply that, following a pattern of words used many times - thanks to the Rev'd x for a comforting service - robs them of some of their value. You don't know if someone asked for it or the undertakers suggested it as good practice.

What is of value is the occasional glimpse you get that something you have done has helped. Being with people at moments of deepest loss is always a privilege and it is good to know you are being useful rather than an intrusion which has to be managed.

Recently I spent a bit of time with a lovely family and in the funeral service itself I was thanked, by one of the tribute-givers, for helping the family put into words they way they felt and to find the words to come to terms with what was happening to them. Tell you the truth I didn't realise I had done so particularly but looking back the expression 'an emotional mugging' which I may have invented and may have come across, was how I felt when my Dad died and still do from time to time. Just when you least expect it you find yourself moved to tears by something. They found this thought helpful.

A few months back I was reading something and had an overwhelming urge to ring my gran. I did this when I was 8 or 9 if something exciting happened and I wanted to tell her but she died in 1991 so probably no longer has a phone.

What happens is that you steel yourself to cope and then, when you relax and drop your guard, you become vulnerable to being beaten to a pulp by your feelings. This is not, by the way, a bad thing. Not as bad as a real mugging for sure which has few hidden blessings.

Words are good and those of us who work with them a lot may underplay our ability to help others by describing what they are feeling. Once Adam has named the animal, he has power over it. I'm going to work really hard at helping people find the words to describe the indescribable. The feedback is that it may just help a bit.

When I posted about the Archbishop looking for a form of words 'nuanced enough to enclose apparent contradictions' a few weeks ago I may have been harder than I should. Solving disputes (even disputes between us and our emotional life) is a matter of doing that. We just need to do it with the sort of people, who don't daily use the word nuanced. Which is almost everyone.

1 comment:

Matthew P said...

Emotional mugging is a great expression, and just what I feel very often thinking about my Mum.

You should never underestimate the value of just being there with someone, listening to them and helping them to verbalise what they are going through.