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.

Love Song for a wounded warrior- first anniversary of publication!

This week, it will be a year since the publication of ‘Love song for a wounded warrior‘ a book aimed at telling the story of the late Colin Gardner, to publish his poetry and writings of his time in the military, and to share something of his experiences as a civilian coping with disability and trauma.

I am so thankful to everyone who has shared this journey with us, with grace, patience and prayer. I am so thankful for those who have listened and shared insights. I am so thankful for people who have become more aware of the plight of veterans, who often just can’t come to terms with what they have been through, and who struggle profoundly.

The book ‘ Love song for a wounded warrior’ is available by contacting me directly, or through Amazon. It costs £10, and all the proceeds are split between the Coming Home centre in Govan, and Epilepsy Connections. So far, over £3,200 has been raised, so thankyou again. There is purpose in raising money for these two excellent charities, so others might be supported.

One of the outcomes of this process that I did not understand when I set out, was the privilege of getting to know a new online community interested in this theme. It has been a real joy to hear your stories and we all seek to support each other. It feels like a healing community, gathered under this umbrella.

I found it very difficult to share our story- it was too intensely private and personal. A song that really helped me was Mandisa ‘s ‘Born for this’ based on the story of Esther. The idea is that there is there are times you feel compelled to speak, even if you are not invited, you don’t have the floor, but you feel you need to stand apart from the crowd, and find courage to speak.

This story is a tough read. Colin’s experiences were harrowing, and for us as a family trying to help him find the support to find peace, it was messy, frustrating and often bewildering. In the midst of it, our Christian faith gave us strength, and there were many poignant and humerous moments!

I am really humbled by people’s responses, and would encourage all of us to have the courage to speak, even when we feel hesitant or if feels painful. Much prayerful discernment is needed, and talking it through with the people closest to us, and listening to God. Sometimes however, we just can’t remain silent…..

Over this anniversary week, I hope to blog a few times about some of the themes of the book, and why I want to raise awareness. As a Christian too, I want people to have freedom to be able to express the messiness, heartbreak and trauma of life. Life is often tough, and we need to be real. Hopefully this encourages others to realise that they are not alone.

I am inspired by Psalm 45 verse 1- this is the New Living translation: ‘ beautiful words stir my heart I will recite a lovely poem about the King, for my tongue is like the pen of a skilful poet.’

I am not a skilful poet, but I do want to honour God, by telling our story, and the difference that Jesus has made in our lives, so that it might encourage others in difficult and painful places.

Gracious Father, You are our Hiding Place in life’s storms, and You keep us safe. Lord Jesus You understand the ugliness and sadness of our stories, and You are with us, holding us in your love, forgiving our doubts and rebellion, and reminding us of your presence, even in the darkest places, when we feel alone and afraid. May your holy spirit always guide us, to reveal when we should be silent, and when we should speak, and may all our stories be a blessing and encouragement to others, Amen.