Tonight we held prayers at the Marcotte Funeral Home for Stewart Weber. His funeral will be here at St. Mark’s tomorrow Morning at 10:30 AM. A few years ago I started doing a modified vespers for prayers at the close of visitation. The service concludes with all present placing taper candles in a box of sand at the end of the evening. The family are left to have some time alone the night concludes in stillness. It seems to work well and again tonight it seemed a very fitting way to honour Stewart and to pray for rest for the day ahead of Pam and Michael and Jane tomorrow.

 Weber, Stewart

One of the readings that I like to use at this ‘Service if Light’ is a quote of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Tonight Stewart’s niece Cheryl read it.   

 

“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute;

we must simply hold out and see it through.

That sounds very hard at first,

but at the same time it is a great consolation,

for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled,

preserves the bonds between us.

It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap;

God doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary,

keeps it empty and so helps us to

keep alive our former communion with each other,

even at the cost of pain.”

 

I think this is very sensible advice. It is not easy advice and it is not sweet with sentiment, but it is very sensible. People often try to fill the void that is left when a friend, child, parent, colleague, husband, wife, partner dies with words that sometimes do anything but console. We need to be prepared at times of death to be present with those who grieve knowing full well that there are no easy answers and that the void that is left is often large and seldom if ever explained away with trite clichés and religious pabulum. Henri Nouwen sums it up well when he writes about being prepared to be present with our friends when they are grieving.

“You might remember moments in which you were called to be with a friend who had lost a wife or husband, child or parent. What can you say, do, or propose at such a moment? There is a strong inclination to say: “Don’t cry; the one you loved is in the hands of God.” “Don’t be sad because there are so many good things left worth living for.” But are we ready to really experience our powerlessness in the face of death and say: “I do not understand. I do not know what to do but I am here with you.” Are we willing to not run away from the pain, to not get busy when there is nothing to do and instead stand rather in the face of death together with those who grieve? . . .”

Stewart battled cancer for 18 months. He and Pam and the family enjoyed good times in those months. These past few days have not been easy. It seems most unfair that Stewart was afflicted with cancer. Many of us can identify with that sense of injustice in facing such disease. To be honest, I do not understand why Stewart. I have faced plenty in these past few years that I do not understand. I do know that in the midst of even the darkest pain, I see the face of God in those who are willing to share the grief and share the pain. I know that there is no gift greater than for someone to choose to take on another’s pain and sorrow. Tonight I could see people surround Pam and her family. They are shouldering the grief with them. It warms my heart to see that love, that compassion and that desire to take on another’s pain.

Stewart’s death has left a gap. That gap is real and palpable. God will give the strength for his family who loves him to get through this pain. God will be present in the form of those who care. And Bonhoeffer is correct. God will not just ‘fill the gap.’

God doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary,

keeps it empty and so helps us to

keep alive our former communion with each other,

even at the cost of pain.”

 I pray we all find those who are hurting and work to be present to them, even at the cost of pain.