Grief, Loss, and Accompaniment

During the month of November, we pray for and remember the lives of those who have died. We inscribe the names of loved ones in our community Book of Remembrance and we recall their names in a litany of sorts during our communal prayer. We sing songs like “Be Not Afraid” and “We Will Rise Again” and listen to Scripture readings of new life and resurrection. Sometimes we place pictures of the deceased around our worship space and light special candles of remembrance. These words and actions help us remember, celebrate and believe. Even so, I wonder if we do enough as Christian communities to walk with our brothers and sisters who experience grief and loss.

I vividly remember an interaction a few years ago between one of my parish staff colleagues and a woman whose son recently completed suicide. The woman stopped my colleague after Sunday mass, wishing to share her emotion and experience. She was not asking for anything. She was not outwardly angry or emotional. She was certainly not making a scene. She simply wanted someone to listen and to walk with. My colleague quickly replied, “That’s not really my job. You can go on our website to get information about our grief support group.”

I hope I never forget this experience. As a Christian community, when one person experiences joy, our entire community rejoices. Similarly, when one person experiences loss, our entire community grieves. I think of the beautiful text of “The Servant Song” by New Zealand hymn writer Richard Gillard:

I will weep when you are weeping,
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you. 
I will share your joy and sorrow
‘Till we’ve seen this journey through.

If we are to live in authentic Christian community, we must, as Pope Francis insists, learn and practice the art of accompaniment. This accompaniment, or journeying with others, is not necessarily about solving problems or pushing people to some sort of encounter with the divine. Rather, accompaniment is about walking together, learning from each other, and helping each other grow in relationship with the loving God. Accompaniment is about listening, vulnerability, and compassion.

A few years ago, David Haas released an incredibly practical series of resources to help communities grow in their understanding of accompaniment, especially within the context of grief and loss. I Will Live On: Liturgical Songs, Prayers, and Reflections for the Journey of Grief and Loss provides Scripture, music and prayer for communal prayer experiences that focus on the realities of grief and loss. GIA Publications provides a convenient Leader’s Edition as well as an easy to use Assembly Edition, each containing a comprehensive service of prayer. A supplemental book for personal reflection, as well as a recording and music collection, round out the offering. The elegance of this resource is found in its simplicity and accessibility. I used I Will Live On in school, parish, and small group settings, each with great success.

This most striking feature of this resource, though, is not the consolation it offers to people who experience grief and loss, although it certainly does! Instead, I Will Live On equips members of the community with words and prayers to walk with their sisters and brothers who are living grief and loss. The prayer experience and supplemental resources model the Christian accompaniment we are called to live. In the introduction to I Will Live On, Haas writes, referencing Henri Nouwen’s Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life

“Compassion means ‘to cry with, to be broken with, to suffer with.” When we embark on this kind of solidarity we are truly ‘in line’ with Christ, and walking in the solidarity of God. When we give ourselves totally to this movement of care, we are truly ‘the Body of Christ.”

What are some of your “go to” prayers, songs, and resources for accompanying the journey of grief and loss in your own community? How do you model accompaniment?

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