Good morning and welcome to the Daily Service with me, Mark Tan.
As an intensive care doctor, I have witnessed many deaths, and as a result, have shared in, however small a part, the initially grieving process of many families. We used to refer to the traditional Kubler-Ross progression of grief. That is, people go through predictable stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance. However, this progression is not universal. I have heard the toe-curling screams of anger from a mother who lost her infant, and have seen the quiet acceptance of a family whose elderly relative has died. I am convinced the grieving process is not simply explained by 5 linear stages. Today, our focus is on grief.
The first song reminds us as Christians that perhaps acceptance is not the ultimate conclusion of grief, but there is indeed an eternal alleluia for all the saints. Written by Ralph Vaughan Williams, here it is performed by Cantus Choro.
Heavenly Father, we lift up all who have suffered, and those who are suffering. May they know your peace even if they do not have answers. May they see your light penetrating their darkness. May their cries of despair turn into shouts of hope. Amen.
Be Still My Soul (Finlandia)
Some time ago I was involved in the care of a young, pregnant woman. She suddenly began bleeding, heavily. She was brought into hospital semi conscious. When I saw her in the emergency department, the unborn baby in her abdomen had just lost its heartbeat. We rushed her into the operating theatre. For hours we fought to save her life. She continued to bleed. Countless blood products, once filled with red and yellow, soon laid spent, transparent, just like her life that was slowly drained, until the 2nd cardiac arrest demolished our best efforts.
As part of the team, I walked into the relatives room to break the awful news to her husband and mother. My well-rehearsed professionalism soon crumbled under the weight of their loss. She screamed, “my God, why have you done this to me? Why have you forsaken me?”. We had no answers to their questions. No comfort for their exclamations. No reply to their cries. But the reading today stands in stark contrast to our impotence that day.
Reading – Psalm 22: 1-8 (sung)
After I left the relatives room, I began weeping myself. In fact, most of the team cried too, at some point of time. The midwives hid in their office, I broke down in the doctors office. The other anaesthetist held up till she went home. The obstetrician cried in the corridor. In reality, there was perhaps nowhere to hide from the raw horror of the experience. I don’t remember my drive home after that night shift, but I remember praying, and crying long and hard as I hugged my wife. Wherever and however we choose to hide from the grief we experience, I am reminded of the shelter that is offered under the Cross of Jesus Christ.
You are my hiding place
Long-suffering God, humanity groans from the bowels of our depravity. Forgive us when our words, thoughts and actions bring grief to you. Father, our society seems to be suffocating with grief. Lives have been lost through COVID. Livelihoods have been affected by post-COVID syndromes., and amongst the living, there is much mental and emotional suffering. We pray that through your spirit, we may once more be able to breathe. Please comfort those who mourn, heal those who are still suffering, and bring joy to the dejected. May your glory penetrate the darkness, and through your light may we experience hope. In your name we pray. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
It took me many months to finally pen this traumatic experience. When all the cries finally subsided, and the tears dried up, all that remained was a vast silence; the still, peaceful sea that forever hid immeasurable depths of darkness. Our feeble clinical explanations, like tiny oars, did little to move the waters. The numerous investigations and analyses dove deep, but barely managed to capture the extent of the emotional ramifications. Even the rays of understanding which eventually emerged from the post-mortem examination merely penetrated the surface temporarily. Here was grief, seemingly as deep as the ocean. But the allegory of water is used by modern hymn writer Stuart Townend for something even deeper, and far more powerful than the darkness of death and grief.
How deep the Father’s love for us
Author: Stuart Townend
Performer: Daily Service Singers
May God’s Spirit surround you,
and those whom you love.
Rest now, in that calm embrace,
let your hearts be warmed
and all storms be stilled
by the whisper of his voice.
More about grief and hope: