A wistful emptiness

Anniversaries and birthdays of those no longer with us.

Today would have been Colin’s birthday. The date is etched in my soul forever. But what happens when the person is no longer here? For most people, it is just another date in the calendar- of no special significance. Yet for the people left behind, you are marking the date with the key person missing. There is no one there to open the cards and blow out the candles, There is such a mixture of emotions, sadness, thanksgiving, guilt and a longing for things to be otherwise.

Listening to other people’s experiences of loss, the guilt of remembering a significant date, is that other people think you should have moved on by now. As the years go by, in some ways, part of you does process things differently, but I think there is still a feeling of profound sadness.

In some situations of grief, feelings are exacerbated by the circumstances of a loss. Very often people choose not to talk much about these, as they can be distressing, and as a society maybe we need to make more space for people to talk more honestly about the messiness of it all.

At the risk of repeating myself, I find it hard to come to terms with what happened with Colin, as it was so unjust, and involved so much suffering, over decades. His head injury led to a long term degeneration through poorly controlled epilepsy. It was hideously painful to witness.

My consolation comes from my faith, that even in the darkest, most bleak and challenging days, God was with us. God blessed Colin with the knowledge that he was loved, even when nothing made any sense.

In psalm 86:15 it says: ‘You, Lord are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness.’

I understand when people question where God is, when something awful is happening in their life, the illness of a child, a gradual loss of faculties, a painful treatment. Watching someone you love suffer is excruciating.

Yet in the most tearful circumstances, there can be a moment of lucidity, a glance of understanding, a loving connection, that can be transformative. And the power of prayer to help find meaning and hope can never be underestimated.

I just want to write to encourage people to know no-one is alone, even when we have bad days, or when we question, or when it all seems too much. We need to find people we can trust to talk to, even if it is to say the same thing for 100 times. There are some days on which that is just what it takes.

Gracious God, on the outside all looks well, but You see into our hearts- the painful memories, the regrets, the lament- why did it have to happen that way, why did that loved one suffer so much? Lord Jesus, you understand us, for You suffered at the hands of others, when it didn’t need to be like that, and You come alongside us with compassionate eyes and cascades of grace. Holy spirit, lift from us our pain and grief, and help us remember the moments of beauty and trust and love, that transformed even the hardest times. And on days like today, bring healing and a sense of peace, Amen.

Poignant celebrations.

Joy intermingled with sadness round the edges.

I feel so very privileged to celebrate my son’s birthday at the weekend. It was a lovely day, of being able to meet up with some family and friends. After so many days of not being able to meet because of all the covid restrictions, it is so appreciated to see real people again, and to talk and catch up.

The things that is tough though, is all the empty spaces. There are so many people missing for one reason or another, it was a little sad around the edges. It is such a mixed feeling of thanksgiving, but also of a realisation that things have changed, and they are not going to go back to where they were.

When you are grieving, this realisation seems to come back a thousand times. You think you know, that you understand, but then the loss of your loved ones take you unawares yet again. Your heart becomes immersed in old memories, the way it used to be, and for better or worse, it all feels so different and disorientating. The meaning is deeper, but somehow also more remote.

In Matthew chapter 5 verse 4, Jesus said ‘ blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’

At times however, I don’t think those who mourn feel very blessed, rather just tearful, confused and exhausted! Yet the thing is, when we are at the end of ourselves, then that is when we rely more heavily on God, when we cry to Him for help, every moment of the day, and truly learn to shelter under the shadow of His wing. It takes all our energy just to rest in His love, and pray for healing. And we know that God never forsakes us. God us so patient and so merciful.

For anyone whose heart is sore and hurting, may you know the love of God enfolding you, and His healing grace, and the hope of things one day getting better. And may we all persevere meantime.

Gracious God, You watch over us with your angels, Your provide for us with such tender care, and sometimes we feel guilty for questioning or being sad. Lord Jesus Christ, thank you that you know your sheep, and you love us even when we groan or grumble that our life is tough. Please lift from us that need to pretend we are ok – yes to give thanks, but to acknowledge also that the ache is still there. Holy spirit, comfort us, strengthen us, and help us to smile even through our tears, for You say that all will be well. May we trust this promise, Amen.