Silence hung in the adult Sunday school classroom the week after the Boston Marathon bombing. The death of eight-year-old Martin Richard had dampened the classes' typically dynamic discussion.
"These children were practically babies," one man said, connecting the Boston bombing to the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting the previous year. "How is a parent supposed to go on living after something like this?"
"I know I couldn't get through anything like that without my church," answered the woman sitting across from him. "What do people do without God and faith?"
"God and faith, yes," another gentleman answered. "But, what does the church have to do with it? What does the church, as a community, do for those who grieve?"
Silence hushed the room yet again.
Six years of pastoral ministry have given me a unique perspective on communal Christian grieving. Wakes and funerals offer spaces to cry, moan, and express sadness. Emotional outbursts shock bystanders, but people are quick to allow them and empathize with the one hurting. Folks send food and cards, and visit the family and dear friends of the deceased. Trained lay people such as Stephen Ministers walk alongside the grieving. Pastors refer hurting congregants to counselors and/or group therapy, and check in on them from time to time.
However, most of this care tapers off within one to three months. Beyond the funeral, American Christians don't afford each other space for talking about death and permitting the full rage of grief's emotions. The grieving person is effectively forced to put on a happy face so no one feels uncomfortable.1