Monday, November 22, 2010

Where real strength lies

The phrase “be strong” are familiar words said at funeral wake visits, usually to the grieving members of the deceased family, who are in the darkness of the reality of being separated from their loved one.

Is this phrase meant to discourage the bereaved from shedding tears of sadness in public? If so, then we might as well ask that the bereaved to stop being human, because that is what is actually being advised. Lying deep in the heart of our humanity is the gift of emotional expression that allows one to be in touch with hurt, disappointment, sadness and grief. But it seems that allowing that to happen is something that is largely frowned upon, and it is deemed much more appropriate to keep up an appearance of stoicism, and present a front that is unmoved, almost statue-like.

Spiritual master and Franciscan priest Richard Rohr has this to say about crying: the young man who cannot cry is a savage, and the old man who cannot laugh is a fool. A trove of wisdom lies there. Grief work is something that has long been seen as not only good, but also necessary. When one buries what hurts, what is unhealed and what requires mending, one only really postpones a real healing and true growth. But that is, sadly, the way a large majority of people seem to operate in the face of disappointment, pains, suffering and failure.

That must be the reason why when one is brought to the precipice of the ultimate end of life, when one is faced with the demise of a loved one, a family member, a life-partner, many have ill-advised the bereaved one to ‘be strong’ and not shed a tear. The question remains - Is this really strength? Or is this faux strength? Much closer to the latter, I suspect, because we do know that when there is no need to face a sea of people, when the door is closed, when one is alone and in touch with one’s raw emotions, the real shows itself, and we need to grieve.

Jesus must have been trying address this in his beatitude where he said “blessed are those who weep; they shall be comforted”. What do many of us try to do when we need comforting? We do anything but weep. It’s called escapism. Some plunge themselves into their work, many take to drink, gambling or drugs, and to the delight of marketers, many also take to retail therapy, which has hardly any long-term effects, save for the obscene interest rates that credit card companies slap on to the unsuspecting.

But when we really know how to weep, and learn how to ‘send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears’, that is when true healing can come, and where we will really find comfort and balm for the soul.

When Jesus preached the beatitudes, he was embarking on his journey, which would eventually take him to the Cross, where he would be facing what would eventually be known as the Paschal mystery. And it is only in the light of the Paschal mystery, with its light thrown back on his teachings that we can make any sense of any of the beatitudes of Jesus. And for this particular beatitude on the blessedness of weeping, from and through which one can find comfort, it is no wonder that anyone with no sound appreciation of the Paschal mystery can only end up advising one to ‘be strong’ and not see the need to surrender one’s tears, but to instead hide behind a visage that has only gossamer strength.

So, should we or shouldn’t we say ‘be strong’ when giving solace to those in pain? Perhaps we should only choose to say it to someone who knows what the Paschal mystery is, and to only be strong in clinging on to the promises of Christ; strong in faith. And if tears are shed as a result of this, and emotions exposed to all, that would really be a show of strength.


  1. Fr. Luke,

    Excellent reflection. It is true that we should allow ourselves to feel, to weep, to heal and your points about escapism are spot on; however, to say to someone to "be strong" need not always mean not to weep, but not to give into despair, which can happen in a time of trial and tribulation. Also, we may feel the pain of loss as when Jesus lost Lazarus, but we should also be strong in faith coming to the accept that what we have seen is not the end but the beginning, for we have been given eternal life by our creator.

    To not weep during the loss of a loved one, may be as you said faux strength, and without a doubt we should feel, but we musn't be overcome with our loss for in Christ there is always hope.

    Perhaps I see things in this fashion because I am accustomed to death, which is sad to say, but once it is realized that everything is the Lord's, that he giveth and taketh away, the pain subsides some. Ultimately, we must be strong. We must be strong in faith. We must be strong to show the world the hope we possess in our hearts and that our God is our hope, and we must be strong as life goes on. We must always have the strenght to carry on.

    Pax tecum.

  2. The death of our loved ones would be as you've said a time of darkness and grief for we have to bear the inescapable loss and the feeling that all that was once familiar are now slipping away from us. So everything is darkness.

    But our faith teaches us that there is light at the end of the tunnel. We know that we have to go towards the light. However, how can we do that - to get up from this darkness to walk towards the light - this distance being a journey itself that can be fraught with obstacles and fears...? Besides we are already disorientated, confused and frightened and even tired out by our grief. So we prefer to cling to the darkness, hoping ( in the unlikelihood)for light to come. Realizing this, our friends hoping to encourage us to walk through this darkness by the strength of hope and faith would then say....'be strong'.........for this is the way of the cross??