Mourning

Pastor Matthew Best
8 min readFeb 9, 2024

(The following article originally appeared in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics)

The Need for Mourning

Recently my aunt died, and I traveled to attend her viewing and funeral. Funeral related travel offers a mix of emotions — sadness over the loss of a loved one, fond memories of my aunt from my youth, and genuine gladness over being able to see family that I don’t get to visit with very often due to my living many hours away.

Like most funerals, there is a richness in the rituals and liturgy that acts like a guide for our mourning. There is comfort in the ability to mourn collectively for a time. Showing emotion is socially acceptable and appropriate. Funerals though seem to be the only part of mourning that we have any attachment to in our society. In most cases, the expectation is that loved ones move on quickly from the pain of loss and get back to “normal” as if nothing happened.

As a society, we are terrible at meaningful and intentional mourning. It’s not just society either. I have said many times that the church is really good at funerals but is terrible at mourning. A funeral is an event that encompasses a few days. It gets us started, but funerals were never meant to be the full measure of what is means to mourn. That’s because mourning is much more complex and prolonged than a funeral service. This is true of mourning whether it is for the death of a loved one or for a change in our church.

Mourning could be described as the long, intentional process of acknowledging and embracing what was, or what we believed was, and is no longer. It’s not a matter of whether the past was better than the present. Mourning requires us to look to the past for what it was and bring it with us into the present, not in an effort to recreate it, but rather to fill a hole that has become vacant within us and to fill it with something meaningful while we figure out how to live under new circumstances.

We need mourning as individuals, and we need mourning in communal settings as well. Remember not that long ago when we lost hundreds of thousands of people to COVID-19? Those aren’t just individual losses of life. Loss on that type of a scale has a communal effect. Often our public leaders take on a role of leading us in public mourning rituals when we experience loss that has a public impact. But too often these periods and events of mourning are short lived. All too often it feels like we jump from one tragedy to the next without having really taken in the…

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Pastor Matthew Best

My name is Matthew Best. I’m an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor who attempts to translate church and churchy stuff into everyday language.