Welcome to this meditation for the Wednesday of Holy Week. As we are processing our sense of loss and grief that we are experiencing during lockdown so we process the anticipatory grief that took place in what we call Holy Week all those centuries ago. So we have looked at denial, anger and bargaining. Today we move on from bargaining, which so often dwells in the past to be firmly in the present. In some ways this next stage is the most dangerous. After all how do you differentiate between clinical depression which needs professional help, counselling and even medication to the deep sadness and depression of loss? In our pastoral counselling course we were told that one particular lecture was the most important one of all. That if we learnt nothing else to keep this one lecture uppermost in our minds and that lecture was about knowing when you were out of your depth. Knowing when you needed to find a way to get the person referred for professional hep. Get it right and you could save someone’s life, get it wrong and the results could be calamitous. Nowhere is that more relevant then when helping a person through this stage of grief.
In this stage empty feelings present themselves and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. The depression stage feels as if it will last forever. But this is not mental illness, this is merely a very important response to the deep loss you have experienced. In this stage we tend to withdraw from life, we are left in an intense fog of sadness, wondering if there is any point in going on alone or even at all. The alarm goes off, it is morning, but you really do not care. You do not want to face the day, you cannot even find a reason to get up. To get up out of bed might be just as well climbing Everest. You simply feel heavy. Everything seems empty and pointless.
You sense something of Jesus deep sadness at the reality around him in his concern over Jerusalem. Listen to his words now:
37 ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Here you see the intense love of Jesus for the people and for the City of God. It is seen again in the shortest verse of the Bible, Jesus wept. Jesus is weeping for what might have been, what could have been and what should have been. But knowing what lay ahead simply broke his heart. I would suggest that this was probably the most intense sadness Jesus felt during his earthly ministry until he experienced the separation from his Father on the cross.
If grief is a process of healing, as I suggest then this intense sadness which is depression is a part of this process, and a necessary part, unpleasant though it may be. When you realise what is happening you might try to snap yourself out of it and seek a way out. But as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross suggests, “ Seeking a way out of depression feels like going into a hurricane and sailing around the perimeter fearful that there is no exit door. She suggests that you see it as a visitor, albeit an unwelcome one. They are visiting whether you like it or not. Make a place for your guest. Invite your depression to pull up a chair with you in front of the fire and sit with it without looking for a way to escape. Allow the sadness and emptiness to cleanse you and help you explore the loss in its entirety. When you allow yourself to experience the depression in that way you will find that it will leave your life as soon as it has served its purpose in your loss. As you grow stronger, it might return from time to time, but then that is how grief works. As I said on Sunday, part of my sense of loss over this year has been the milestone events that we have not been able to be present to celebrate, James finishing at the Police Academy, his wedding, watching Thomas paly for his University and now we can add Thomas’ 21st. Sometimes I find myself simply looking at the photographs, picturing the event, imagining that I was there, putting myself in the picture. That is what helps me to get over the intense sadness of not being able to be there. You will I am sure be developing similar coping mechanisms as you process your own grief.
I think one of the things that we have to be careful about regarding this particular stage is that society has no room for depression. We seem to have a desire to stamp it out at every opportunity, hence all the medication that is available. It is important to differentiate between depression as a normal stage of grief and clinical depression which is a quite different animal. If we try to treat grief depression as clinical depression then we will never process our grief in a way that is healthy and lead to a sense of healing. Likewise if the grief depression becomes clinical depression then again we find ourselves in difficulty, hence the importance of that lecture in New College and the need ot be able to sense when something is getting out of control.
As difficult as it is to endure and also to monitor, depression has elements that are helpful in grief. It slows us down and allows us to really take stock of the loss. It helps us rebuild from the ground up clearing the deck for growth to occur and takes us down into the deep places of our soul that we would normally not explore.
It is this stage of grief that is taking its toll on our medical and emergency services at this time. Because people do not recognise the effects of lockdown and the pandemic as being like a loss, they do not understand the grief and the sense of deep sadness that is in their lives just now. That is why so many are asking for treatment for depression while others have gone beyond this point and are actually seeking an end of everything. We all have a part to play in reaching out to others, not to try and cheer them up, which could be worse thing to do, but to be with people. To let them know it is OK to be sad, but above all to let them know that they are not alone emotionally, personally and spiritually even if we cannot be present physically. Depression will come and go but eventually life does settle into some sort of a pattern, as it will in this pandemic and we come to accept the new reality that is before us. That acceptance however is our theme for tomorrow. Every blessing.