Grief is the Honour We Give to Those Who Loved Us Well
Earlier this year, before Covid made things complicated, I attended a thanksgiving service for a much-loved member of our church. We lost Eileen to cancer at just 68 years of age. As the service began, more chairs had to be put out to accommodate the number of people arriving. And it led to a lesson learned about grief.
Passing On What You Receive
A funeral or thanksgiving service has a way of showing us what really matters in life. That night we didn’t hear about Eileen’s degrees or awards, or the size of her home, or the career goals she achieved—as fine as those things are. Instead, in between friends’ hilarious accounts of her ‘directionally challenged’ driving and family members joking about her giving advice they never asked for, we heard how a girl with a difficult home life, who was bullied at school and couldn’t recall a single happy childhood memory, became a woman who opened her heart and home to others for decades.
For Eileen, that change began with a church that became the family she’d longed for. As those new friends showed her what love was, she passed that love on to others, offering meals and mentoring to anyone who needed it. As one woman said, “When I was a messed-up 18-year-old, Eileen scooped me up and put me back on my feet.” Jesus once told his followers to pass on the love they’d received from him, and that night I saw Eileen as a link in a long chain of receiving and passing-on that stretched all the way back to his words.
The Meaning of Grief
There wasn’t just celebration that night, of course, but tears—and the start of a grief journey Eileen’s family are still on. If it’s right to take lessons from such a moment, I saw then that our lives are best measured by the love we give—and the greater that love, the greater the grief when we leave.
More and more chairs had to be added at Eileen’s memorial that night, until all 500 of us could be seated.
Great love. Great grief. And now I’m starting to think that even though it hurts, maybe grief is the highest honour we can give to someone who loved us well.
First broadcast for Grief Season on BBC Radio 2’s Zoe Ball Breakfast Show
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