Full Text for Pastoral Theology and Practice- Volume 58 - Post-funeral Pastoral Care (Video)

"PASTORAL THEOLOGY & PRACTICE" PROF. HAROLD SENKBEIL & DR. RICHARD WARNECK CAPTIONING PROVIDED BY: CAPTION FIRST, INC. P.O. BOX 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 1-800-825-7234 * * * * * This is being provided in a rough-draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings * * * * * >> DAVID: I'm wondering what should be done for the family after the funeral is over? What is the proper pastoral care of a mourning family at the time of death and in the weeks and months to follow? >> PROF. HARLD SUNKBEIL: Well, David, let me begin in answering your question by telling you a little story from my own experience. The very first funeral that I ever conducted was for a prominent member of our community, a rather small community in northern Minnesota. And in providing the help that was needed both in the context of that funeral, it was a very sudden death and a shocking death, unexpected. And also in ministering to the family afterwards who had already experienced other loss, I found myself terrifically depleted. Why? Because part of my consolation and the focus of my consolation, really, in attending to the grief of this family was my natural assumption that how I was going to be able to help them was to feel sorry for them, to hurt with them. Now, of course a pastor is compassionate. That means he feels along with or alongside of those who suffer. Of course he will, since he's an approachable pastor who is concerned about them who has their very best in mind for them, he will hurt for them. But that's not the source of their consolation. And I discovered that very rapidly. I simply didn't have it in me to provide to this family or to all those others who were hurting and grieving the kind of consolation and help that they needed. I discovered very quickly, however, that the Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, is a boundless source of compassion and healing for all hurting and grieving people. And the very best thing that I could do for these families was to offer them this consolation of the one who together with the Father sends his Spirit as a continuing ongoing consolation and comforter, the one who provides help in the forgiveness of sins, in the gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation which he abundantly displays in that Gospel which we hear preached every Lord's day and in the sacrament which we receive from his altar. I always want to point people to find their consolation there. So, to answer your question: How can I help these families? One of the things that you need to remember is that grief is expressed in a multiple number of ways. A lot of people, when they're faced especially with a sudden death of one they love, will go into a kind of shock. They retreat into themselves. They're almost numb�to external things. They're very hard to reach, quite frankly. And the first time you run into this, you might be a little bit shocked. You'll wonder: Well didn't this person love that person? Why aren't they responding to the words of comfort and consolation of the Word of God? Well, it's a natural response. It's when the heart and the soul really kind of retreat in order to be�-- find their healing and consolation. We get concerned, of course, if a person stays at that stage of grief. But that's another story. Frequently we need to work through that in order to arrive at a genuine consolation and closing regarding this loss. Other people might respond in a far different way. They might become angry, for example, at the person who's left them, who has up and died, if you will, right when they needed them the most. They might even be angry at God. And they might express that. And you, as a pastor, had better be prepared to hear that. God himself, of course, is big enough to take it. And in his heart of consolation, there's comfort even for those who are angry, and those who suffer and hurt, as well. So what I'm saying is you need to be prepared for all kinds of different responses of grief. They are there are very good resources available. You can find them again at your District office, perhaps a local, even a secular agency that deals with grief has a lot of these resources available. But, remember, the consolation you're going to provide is different than a secular consolation. It's not just in so-called "working through" these stages of grief that people will find their final help. They're going to find it in God's word and in the sacraments. And that's where you come in. You're the one that cares for their souls even during this time when they're hurting the most. And the consolation you provide at this acute time of loss will be the same kind of consolation you provide throughout their lives. You're pointing them to the cross of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, to Jesus Christ and him crucified, our constant hope and consolation in every time of joy and in sorrow. Now, the practical aspects of this, as I said, begin in your visitations even before the person dies. You're laying the groundwork even as you minister to the dying person, you are ministering to those who are there observing. They're watching. They're listening. The continuation of your care for them, then, extends beyond the time of the funeral. Never, and I add this, I say it again, never assume that you're done being a pastor once that burial has taken place. Because those people are going to experience all kinds of loss in the coming months, even years. It will take some time to recover. Especially those who have lost their spouse after a number of years of a lengthy marriage. Although it's certainly expected in this fallen world that one of this couple will die, when that happens, there's a terrific sense of loss. I liken it really to an amputation. Initially there's a sharp pain. Eventually there's a healing. But there's always a loss there. These two who were one flesh for all this time are no longer together. And the person remaining needs compassion, consolation, encouragement and care. No matter what the circumstances are, be alert to certain trends. If you see this family or loved ones who are grieving this loss are not back in church regularly in their regular church attendance patterns after some reasonable length of time of mourning, then you're going to want to be in touch with them. You're going to want to already at the time of the funeral, perhaps if there is a fellowship time after the funeral, after the burial, as you leave that place, you're going to want to go over to that family. You're going to say now, remember the words which I spoke to you. You'll be in my prayers. And if it's all right, I'd like to come and see you let's say a week from today, whatever's appropriate. Make a kind of preliminary arrangement, a contact, as to when it is that they can expect your visitation. Go there. Listen to them. Listening to the stories of the grieving is the part and parcel of the way that you care for them. And then when they're done speaking, you speak compassionately in response, letting them know that you hear their pain. But speak the words of consolation that are given to you from above. Speak the words of God. You can plan ahead. Perhaps a Psalm that was used in the funeral service or a hymn, use that as the focus of your devotional words and your prayer with them. Be alert, then, to their needs on an ongoing basis. Some families who experience loss will need more pastoral attention than others more frequent than others. Just don't write them off. Be alert to them. Remember, too, that anniversaries�-- anniversaries are important. That is, an anniversary of a death is a vivid reminder of that loss. And particularly those first years, the first Christmas, the first Thanksgiving without their loved one is going to be a particular time of loss and grieving for them. Be alert to that. On the anniversary of the death of their loved one at least call them up on the phone. In addition, I would suggest write a note, perhaps in advance, so it arrives in advance of that anniversary. A handwritten note in our electronic age stands out with your own handwriting to offer the consolation of God's word, the consolation of the care of their pastor, the assurance of your continuing prayers for them and your signature will mean a lot. It will be a treasure for them. So these are some of the things that you want to keep in mind in the care of those who grieve. * * * * * This is being provided in a rough-draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings * * * * *