Identifying a location for loved ones who have passed away is important. Some obituaries include the words "He/She went to be with the Lord." The suggestion is that someone left this world to locate with someone somewhere else. A reaction to such words is, "Doesn't a Christian live every day with the Lord?" One obituary for a child said, "God needed another angel." Another one read, "God looked around His garden and found it to be bare, so he called (name)." One of the most fascinating obituaries began with the words, "George has changed his address. He is no longer at 123 First Street. He's in heaven."
Heaven is a kind of location. The importance of locating deceased loved ones is advanced by Dr. J. William Worden, who taught at the Harvard Medical School and Biola University. He understands the process of grieving as involving four tasks (things that must be done!).*
- The first task is to accept that death has taken place.
- The second task is to experience the pain of losing someone.
- The third task is to accommodate the loss into the survivor's daily life.
- The fourth task is to locate the loved one, which allows the survivor to start a new life.
These tasks apply to all kinds of losses and changes in our lives:
- the loss of cohorts and public figures;
- losses that come in multiples;
- losses other than death, such as part of one's body, financial losses, fire losses, loss of mental functioning, loss of home, having to move, accidents, and loss of health;
- a death that involves a court hearing tends to delay the grieving process;
- a soldier missing in action makes all the tasks difficult;
- the loss of a child/children reverses the expected order of loss;
- death from mass shootings is so overwhelming that the process may take a long time to begin and never seem to end;
- the closer that a loved one is to the survivor, the more poignant the loss.
John 14:2 is often read at funerals. It speaks of the location of the departed loved ones: "In my Father's house are many rooms." Heaven is thought of as a house with rooms. It is a simple image and allows for location to take place. The visualization is followed by a promise: "If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you." (NIV)
The idea of a location (a place where we can safely leave the departed) is expressed twice. We can always return to the location in prayer, through meditation, in our thoughts, by visiting the burial site, viewing photographs, or in some simple act of remembering, like memorial flowers in church, lighting a candle, releasing a balloon, planting a memorial garden, or through volunteering.
The idea of the task of location means that mourners are able to carry on living, which, for some people, can be quite a challenge.
Prayer: Gracious God, we leave in Your eternal care our loved ones and those whom we know are grieving. Strengthen our own grieving hearts as we place ourselves in Your loving care. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
* Worden, J. William. Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy. New York: Springer, 2018.