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Resources in the case of Sudden and Unexpected Death

Resources in the case of Sudden and Unexpected Death



Pastoral Guidelines

1.                   Clergy, licensed Lay Ministers, Lay Pastoral Workers and Chaplains (referred to as ministers below) are called upon at times of bereavement, especially when sudden and unexpected, to facilitate mourners to express their shock and grief, to minister the love of God to those who are bereaved and to balance sensitive pastoral engagement with careful liturgical provision. In such situations a recurring question can be a simple but profound ‘why’ to which there are no simple answers.  For the most part listening to the question and allowing people to express their pain and frustration is the most sensitive response.  Acknowledging that the question is valid and shared by those ministering is far more effective than giving glib or simplistic answers.

2.                  Close bonds do not unravel with death and in Ireland there is a strong tradition of ‘the wake’ and/or the general expression of community support when friends and family can extend consolation and sympathy. This time may also offer times when personal reminiscences of the deceased can be shared or recalled.

3.                   At difficult times in families historic fault lines may refracture and the experiencing of overwhelming emotions may cause previous negative feelings to re–emerge. It is very important to frame liturgy in the context of Christian hope.

4.                  The provision of these services is an acknowledgement that one size does not fit all and that each minister has to meet the particular pastoral needs of the bereaved in each situation, to acknowledge their grief, pain and confusion, and to assure them of God’s unfailing love.

5.                   Ministers may be called upon to minister liturgically in a less formal way before or after the funeral itself, whether in the home, a funeral home, or in a school or hospital setting.  For example, in a school or college setting or where there are large numbers of young people involved, careful attention need to be given to the planning and aftermath of the service.  Transitionary time will be needed after the service before normal school/college activities can be resumed.  This might include the provision of refreshments during which the ministers and other supporting people should be present.

6.                 In the event of sudden or unexpected death the bereaved have had no time to prepare and experience sudden acute bereavement. Pastoral sensitivity is required in this event. The ministers’ liturgical provision needs to be as sensitive and competent as their pastoral response.

7.                  Family members and close friends should be included both at the planning stage and during the liturgy. Loved ones can create tokens of remembrance such as a written or spoken prayer, art, letters, symbols etc. which can then be appropriately presented and/or woven into the prayers. The use of the deceased’s name is essential throughout all the services, both their full name and the name they were known by.

8.                  Whilst positive language is very important in supporting the bereaved and in conveying the message of Christian hope, ministers should not avoid the expression of the depth of emotion and pain being felt by all involved. Any service or liturgical expression should at the same time honour the life of the person who has died, the pain of loss, the loss of hopes and dreams and the hope of the loved one now being in God’s care.

9.                 Some passages of scripture are provided, and any alternative choices should be made with great care. Readings that communicate any sense of guilt, shame or blame should be avoided.  This is especially important in the case of sudden death by suicide where there may be a spoken or unspoken sense of apportioning blame which should be sensitively but firmly avoided.

10.              The use of symbol, gesture and music is important and should be chosen in consultation with those closest to the deceased. Ministers should be generous and flexible in this regard.

11.                Those ministering in situations of sudden or unexpected death should be aware of the need for self–care.  It is not unusual for those ministering to have feelings of shock, pain and helplessness themselves.  Support may be needed from colleagues or those who provide ongoing support and oversight for those in ministry.

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