From a woman whose husband just died: “I don’t know what to do. How am I going to live without him?” From a young man whose father died unexpectedly: “What did he do, what did we do to deserve this?” From a mother whose daughter committed suicide: “Will God forgive my daughter for having a bad mother?”
All of these statements are great opening lines for a lamentation. An expression of woe that concludes with a statement of hope, there are times when a lament just rolls off the tongue or pours out of the heart, when the feelings of loss are almost too much to bear or too big to hold in. Loss can come from anywhere — certainly from the death of someone close to you, but also from the loss of a job you loved, or the loss of your health. And with any loss, there is grief, and grief demands expression.
Often considered a “religious thing,” lamentations can be secular in nature. Wikipedia defines a lamentation as “a passionate expression of grief through music, poetry, or song, most commonly a grief born of regret or profound mourning.” Lamentations take many forms, but all follow a common formula as to their structure.
A proper lamentation has four parts:
- A Cry of the Heart — this section is an expression of complete and utter despair and misery. The lines above are good starts, or: Oh, how I suffer!, or: God, why have you forsaken me?
- The Cry Contextualized — this section puts the cry of the heart into the larger context of a person’s whole life or the life of the community. This part places the despair and misery front-and-center to a larger suffering and a larger story.
- Remembrance — this section begins the transition from misery to hope and focuses on remembering good things that happened in the past, or good things that God has done. It connects the past to the present with statements like: Since good things happened before, good things can happen now. This section may also include a statement of hope that the misery and suffering will serve a purpose.
- Hope for the Future — this section connects the present to the future and is an affirmation and statement of hope. This statement should focus on hope for the future through repentance, recovery, or the vanquishing of enemies.
Examples of lamentations are abundant in the Bible and other sacred texts, but I like this one from a chapel prayer book. Visitors to the chapel are greeted with a blank book on a table and an invitation to share their prayer requests. Probably unbeknownst to the anonymous writer, this entry is a lamentation: “My God, show me, help me. I had so many friends. Now I have cancer. Help me to see and forgive why they have left me. I am still me!” It has all the elements of a proper lamentation: a cry of the heart, the cry contextualized into the larger cancer diagnosis, a remembrance of friends in the past, and a statement of hope: I am still me!
My work as a psychic medium brings me into the heart of people’s grief and despair. I don’t get called when things are going well, or when someone’s great-grandmother dies of old age and a full, happy life. I get called when a 22-year-old commits suicide or when a 26-year-old only child dies in a car accident or when a 40-year-old dies after just one cancer treatment or when a 46-year-old is murdered and the police have no leads in the case. All situations where a lamentation seems appropriate.
And so, if you are in a place of profound grief from a recent loss, I encourage you to write a lamentation of your own. Because grief demands expression.