I shared in two public ceremonies of remembrance in the last week where bereaved families came to remember their loved one. In both cases the churches were full to capacity. The first was for those who are bereaved following the death of a baby or the loss of a pregnancy and the second was for those whose loved one died in the care of our local hospice services. In a very poignant way I had a deep sense at both events that I was treading -hopefully very softly- on sacred ground. The sacred ground of hopes, dreams and memories. I was for a short time treading very gently in the land of grief where our sensitivities are heightened and our rawness very bare. Grief is a strange land.
Remembering is at the very heart of the Christian tradition. We remember every time we gather for worship. We recall the saving, generous and loving acts of God in Jesus Christ. However, it is more than simply recalling in a nostalgic sense. Rather, it is about keeping alive the bond of love and connection across time and space. It is hard to adequately express in words -which are so conditioned and limited by time and space- just what this means. How do we convey what it is to be still connected, to still have communion with those 'we love but see no longer'?
At each service of remembrance there was a sense of collective and shared experience of loss, yet, we all grieve differently. There is something very powerful when we can gather together in this way acknowledging the experience that we share yet being able to have a time where each person can be with their own grief. At each service I think this happened.
At the end of the Service for those who were grieving the death of a baby or a pregnancy there was a profound experience where the staff of the hospital each lit candles and formed a ring of candlelight around the church with parents and families each holding their own candle. The lights went down and the music faded. In that silence we were treading in a land without the limits of time and space. It was a time of deep presence and supportive love.
In the second service for our local hospice I was struck by the number of young people there. A full church of families marking the death of a loved one. A service where once again we were in a space of memory and love. Each person there with their rich memories of love and pain. Stories which were shared afterwards with me through the tears and the knowing looks as I reconnected with families I had journey with earlier this year. Young people, parents, children, grandparents, spouses, partners. As a Christian the abiding sense I had during this service was of God coming alongside each person and holding them, embracing them and loving them as if they were the only person in the world. Personal and individual love in a collective setting. To remember in this way is profound and transcends religious and faith systems.
There was no easy way to escape the painful fact that we miss the one who has died. we miss their voice, their physical presence, their smells, their habits -even the ones that annoyed us, their company, their laughter, their playfulness, their support and so the losses can go on...
Death is painful and grief is hard. None of us will escape it so why do we find it so hard to talk about it? Why do we find it so hard to reach out to someone who is bereaved? Instead we don't know what to say, so we duck into a shop to buy something we don't need rather than stop to ask a grieving friend how they are. We are afraid they might cry, that they might get upset. Yet those tears are healing. Let's be real and have the courage to come alongside those who mourn. Words are not necessary, presence is everything.