I know everyone is having a tough time right now. What with race relations being on the forefront of everyone’s mind, the decision on whether or not to meet during a national pandemic, and managing budgets during an economic meltdown, it’s a high-stress season for anyone.
Add to that list for me a family death.
I tell people if a youth pastor gets asked to do a funeral, it’s either a very sad occasion where a student passed away or the pastor was out of town for the occasion.
This last week was sad, but not because a student passed. I had to perform the funeral of my older brother.
It was unexpected and very sad. I found myself having a hard time properly grieving because I was also filling the role of pastor to my family. I had really good but emotionally draining talks with my cousins, my brother, my mom, my wife, and many others who were close to my brother and grieving his passing.
During the week, I knew I had to take care of myself as well as my family. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are trying to pastor not just your congregation but your family, let me encourage you to take some steps to take care of yourself:
Move your body
I don’t know about your family, but when mine gathers together we typically sit and talk for hours on end. While that’s good for gathering, it’s not great on the hips (and the brain). Suggest taking a walk. Go throw a football in the back yard. Go to a store to help run an errand.
My wife and I actually found a gym close to my mom’s house that we’ve adopted as our gym away from home. It was really beneficial to get out and work out, for our sanity and for our bodies.
Eat good food
My mom is from the south, so food is a really important way to show love. And my mom was shown A LOT of love by her church. There was enough food brought over to her house to feed an army. And not all of it was the healthiest of choices. If you’re like me, food can be both a comfort and a crutch. Eat the veggies people bring you. Make healthy snack choices. And, even if it means your cousins look at you strangely, cook some food for yourself that’s healthier than a four-cheese lasagna.
If you’re the pastor of your family, you’re probably going to be asked to fill those roles you would in a normal funeral situation: to pray when family gathers, to read scripture at the graveside, to bring the funeral message. That was certainly the case for me. One of my college professors told me whenever you preach a funeral, preach the Gospel. I’ve taken that to heart. Just because it was my brother’s funeral, it didn’t mean I was “off the hook.” I spoke truth whenever I was given the chance to speak. Do the same.
This is the one I’m working on. As I write this, I’m traveling back home. To normal church life, normal family time, and normal routine. But I’m also going to take a moment to grieve my older brother. I don’t have to be strong for anyone else at the moment. I’m going to remember him and cry and pray and grieve.
Make sure you FEEL in your time of family loss. Don’t JUST be the strong one. Process. Cry. Grieve.
Request Time Off
If you’re the one running things when you’re at the family funeral, consider asking your supervisor for more time off once you return. You’re practically “working” if you’re planning the funeral and delivering the message. Ask for another day off or three so you can actually rest when you return home.
My family funeral folder is growing too large. I’ve preached my grandmother’s, grandfather’s, dad’s, and now my brother’s funerals.
I don’t enjoy being used to family funerals. But as a pastor, it’s the role that I accepted along with weddings and baby dedications and counseling sessions.
I pray that if you have to be the pastor at a family death, you’ll honor God and take care of yourself.