Grief by Jack Butler Yeats, 1951

We are getting to the bottom of the last few boxes from our house move in the summer and, in one, I came across a print of Jack Yeats’ painting Grief. I remember the strong emotions it evoked when I first stood in front of it in the National Gallery of Ireland a few years ago. It wasn’t what it depicted that stirred the connection, but how the indigo and red and yellow spoke of deeper things that were, at best, blurred and lacking definition.

I am conscious, at present, of carrying around a sense of loss with me and finding Yeats’ piece confirmed some of the feelings that had lacked a name until then. There is an emptiness that makes it harder to find the energy and motivation to create new things or work for change. The confidence (or perhaps arrogance) that I can effect change for the better has diminished and I am less certain that I want to invest my time and energy in an institution that seems ambivalent about my presence within it.

Alan Raine of the Northumbria Community offer this advice:

“Do not hurry as you walk with grief; it does not help the journey. Walk slowly, pause often: do not hurry as you walk with grief. Be not disturbed by memories that come unbidden …. Be gentle with the one who walks with grief. If it is you, be gentle with yourself.”

He also advises: “let Christ speak for you unspoken words.” In the tangle of emotions, I rush to articulation in the hope that speaking them out will help with the healing. But perhaps that is for the future. For now, it is enough to acknowledge the need and go gently.

The Catholic scholar, Gerald Arbuckle, suggests that organisations, including churches, must learn to grieve better if they are to manage change effectively. Acknowledging that the past must be let go of, and that this is an intensely disorienting and painful process , is a healthy path and one that is essential for all those involved. Yet, whilst we have embedded bereavement care into our pastoral practice at an individual level, there is still a long way to go to make a reality within our church structures and leadership.

The President of the Methodist Conference in 2017-18, Revd Loraine Mellor, argued for a growth plan or an end of life plan for every church. The message of the resurrection is that church communities need both, for growth and new life emerges from death and loss.

Grief is never a negative emotion, but a process that enables healing and renewed hope. But it cannot be short-circuited.

Walk slowly,

pause often:




as you walk with grief.

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