for they shall be comforted. If you've ever been at a funeral when this part of the Beatitudes has been read, you'll know how those words jar with your emotions, seem the most ironic and even among the dumbest things to say to a mourner. There is no comfort, one thinks, equal to the pain of grief. Hence, the mourning. Though goodness knows, the comforters try to return you to moving on and mental health as strenuously as they can.
Thomas Lynch, poet and funeral director, had a piece in the NY Times today, "Our Near Death Experience," ostensibly about what the Pope's funeral taught us about grieving, but quite pointedly about our rush toward celebration and closure. "The genuine dead, " he writes, "are downsized or disappeared...the talk determinedly 'life affirming'...where someone can be counted on to declare 'closure' just before the merlot runs out." A man after my own heart, as may be gleaned from some things I've written here already. The beatitude is jarring because our society denies that mourning carries any blessing. As a woman I know who had lost her husband of forty years about seven months before said to me in a voice not far from cracking, she was "keeping busy" and "trying not to dwell." That I find this picture of mental health (or its wording) an egregious fallacy of the midwest will have to wait. These are the signs of recovery and closure that will keep the luncheons with friends coming, and ward off their vigilance should any backsliding into mourning occur. We do not demand of each other that we forget the object of our loss so much as we close off the talking about and feeling of loss by focusing on the "positive," where meaning presumbly resides. Lynch reminds us, though, that "the good death, good grief, good funerals come from keeping the vigils, from bearing our burdens honorably, from honest witness and remembrance. They come from going the distance with the ones we love."
Today in the Anglican-Episcopal calendar it is a day of commemoration for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and so it seemed right that Lynch's piece should appear on this day. It was a paragraph from one of Bonhoeffer's works that finally made sense of this beatitude for me (though Bonhoeffer was not writing on the Beatitudes), and explains what it means "to go the distance." I had found it quoted in a prayer book and copied it into my notebook, so here it is, for Mr. Lynch, for my friend, and for anyone who still mourns beyond their allotted time, the only Bonhoeffer quote I know:
Nothing can fill the gap when we are away from those we love, and it would be wrong to try to find anything. We must simply hold out and win through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time, it is a great consolation, since leaving the gap unfilled preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; he does not fill it, but keeps it empty so that our communion with another may be kept alive, even at the cost of pain.