[Based on the reflection shared at this year’s HOPE Service]
In the midst of grief, Christmas is the most difficult time of year. When the expectation is that families will gather, the empty seat is most noticable at Christmas. But all the “firsts” are really difficult – Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc.
When we lose someone we love we are never the same again; life is never quite the same again, experiences are never quite the same. But for those of us left behind, life goes on, and we have to find a way to go on.
Grief does get easier with time, but the trite phrase “time is a great healer” is often insensitive and unhelpful, especially in the early days of grief. The Queen Mother offered a more helpful perspective; some years after the death of her beloved husband she was asked if the pain of loss gets better with time, and she answered: “I’m not sure it gets better – but we get better at it”.
In the early days grief will feel like a high tide which consumes everything, and with time the high tide becomes a low tide which allows some normality to resume; big waves, relentless waves over time turn into smaller and less frequent waves.
But there is hope even in the midst of grief, which can help us to keep going and move forward, however slowly. Desmond Tutu defined hope as: “being able to see that there is light in spite of all the darkness”. Sometimes we need someone else to point out the light and to share their hope when we struggle to find any.
Ultimately that hope is found in Jesus whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, at the end of this season of Advent – which means “Arrival”. Advent is a season of hopeful aching, longing for the arrival of a better time; grief can feel similar.
The story of Christmas reminds us that the Angels announced the arrival of Jesus as “good news of great joy for everyone” (Luke 2) and when His arrival was foretold (Isaiah 9) we were told His name would be Emmanuel, which means “God with us”; with us in our loss and grief. And Jesus’ coming was described as “light dawning on people who have been living in darkness” (Isaiah 9).
There was a BBC New story a few weeks ago about a Landscape Photographer, Jack Lodge. He ventured down to Durdle Door in Dorset early one morning to capture the sunrise with his camera. He said “arriving under dark grey skies and the smallest of gaps just above the horizon, there was a little hope which is all that we need as landscape photographers”.
He had hope – just a little – but he says that’s all you need, just a little.
He continued, “Lo and behold, 15-minutes after sunrise and BAM the light broke through and illuminated the untouched beach, casting the most incredible glow on the sea spray as it burst through the archway.”
On arrival he’d seen the thick cloud to the horizon & doubted he’d get the shot he wanted, but then the smallest gap appeared and through it came the sun, and led to such a glorious sight.
“On those living in a place of deep darkness, light has dawned”
For those who are grieving this Christmas may not be able to see the light or feel it’s warmth. Even though the sun had risen the photographer couldn’t see it straight away; he got his shot 15 minutes after the sun rose. It came at the right moment – in God’s timing, not the photographer’s
Then something even more beautiful happened; whilst he was admiring the glow of the sun through Durdle Door on the water and the sand, he chose to take a step – to move forward toward the light. And what he saw amazed him. In the moment he couldn’t even find words to describe it, simply relying on “Wow!” as he felt the warmth on his face.
To quote Jack Lodge, the photographer who captured these amazing images, “all we need is a little hope”. Even in darkness & grief – the light will come again, break through.
“light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”
John 1 (speaking about the arrival of Jesus)
Whatever the depth of your grief, whatever the length of your journey with grief, you can choose to sit or stand in the darkness, to stay there, or, following the example of the photographer, you can choose to take a step forward, and move into the light. It’s not always easy – it’s not always comfortable – but it is important and necessary.
Where do you need to take a step forward, toward the light?
Support for you as you seek to take steps forward:
News Steps (Bereavement Friendship Group) – meet weekly to socialise and chat with others who share and understand the experience of loss. Friendship & support is just one “New Step” away. [Wednesday lunchtime]
Hope Explored – will explore the life, death and resurrection of Jesus over three sessions, and provides an opportunity to discover how he fulfils three great longings we all experience: the longing for hope, peace, and purpose. [Tuesday evening]
Wellbeing Space – open every week for anyone who wants to come and ‘just be’, a safe place to ‘not be ok’, somewhere to find rest, belong and connect – have a cuppa and chat and/or engage in one of the available activities. [Wednesday afternoon]
Community Cafe – a space to enjoy light refreshments and friendly chat – a warm welcome awaits [Thursday lunchtime]