We see them all over the place. Crosses stuck in the ground by the roadside, flowers taped to a lightpost, piles of stuffed animals intermixed with votive candles. Ways to mark places that people have been killed in traffic accidents.
And whenever I see them I have to ask myself what they say about how we as a society deal with grief.
They are, after all, a fairly new phenomenon. How did we as a society deal with grief before?
SOme would suggest that the movement away from a strong faith presence in people's lives, a presence that gave us more tools to deal with death and dying, has left us less able to deal with these tragic events. But I think that is, at best, only partly true.
I think that another, larger, part is that we as a society simply have, to a large part, our skills and knowledge at dealing with death in general. In our societal attempt (often subconscious) to deny the reality of death we have robbed ourselves of the ability to talk about grief and death openly. ANd so it comes out in these ways where once it would have been limited to rituals such as worship services or wakes and the memorial site tied to a cemetery plot. BUt in a society that denies death, who wants to go to a cemetery?
Last weekend 4 young men in this community lost their lives in a traffic accident. And now the community is trying to find the best way to honour their memory, name and express their grief, and try to find a way forward. I am sure that the church has a role to play, somehow. WE have the tools that help find meaning when life makes no sense (maybe not right away but over time).
And in the end, the path to healing and meaning and light aren't found in a cross or flowers by the roadside.
But first we have to give ourselves permission to grieve publicly and heathily,. Which of course means we have to get back to acknowledging openly and realistically the reality that death happens. Death happens sometimes after a long life, and sometimes suddenly and too young. Life is not fair, at least not all of the time. When we can do these things we will be healthier for it.