And so 2018 begins.
Christmas and New Year celebrations are over, and for many people who are grieving at this time of the year, it can come as a relief not to have to put on a false veneer of joy when that’s truly not how they’re feeling. On the other hand, the bereaved also have a right to be happy, and if you’ve been able to enjoy this season, then that’s great.
Like many of you, I had some good moments and some that were more difficult. Some genuine laughter when friends visited, and other times for quiet reflection that could be quite sad.
Generally we kept busy. We ate well, spoke with friends, watched TV, went to church a few times, had a lovely Boxing Day walk. On Christmas morning itself our tradition is to help out at a church that does a big meal for the elderly, homeless and lonely. This year I didn’t end up packing the gift bags or serving meals, but I spent most of my time talking with the guests.
I ended up in a long conversation with a bereaved mother – she had lost two children over the years. Her financial circumstances are not good and her car is now off the road. When she told me about the struggle she has with transporting food bank donations back home, I thought about Catherine’s shopping trolley.
I still have lots of Catherine’s things. Much has gone to charity and good causes, but I still have some items that could be useful to someone when I’m ready to part with them. I’d kept the shopping trolley – it is in nice condition – thinking I might use it myself eventually. But as I’m learning to drive (!) it is less likely. But more to the point, I felt that this lady could use it more than I could.
So after Christmas we brought it to her , and she was very pleased.
Her pleasure in receiving it was more than matched by my pleasure in being able to talk about Catherine and feeling that once again Catherine had given a gift to someone else. She was so generous when alive and I could imagine her befriending this lady. Yes, it was the right place for the trolley.
Life’s like that, isn’t it, we give and we take. Grief is no different. When we sit together and share our sorrows, we take some comfort from each other. This reminds me of a Bible verse:
God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. (2 Corinthians 1 :4, the Message)
It’s such a good word picture isn’t it – “being alongside us” – that’s what we need when we are sorrowing, someone who will be there for us. And then later on perhaps we can offer similar solace to someone else.
(On a spiritual note: it might feel like a stretch to believe that God was alongside us in our worst times. We often lack evidence or the “feeling”. Looking back though, I do think we might recognise his little mercies.)
Back to the subject of being there for one another: I don’t think it’s usually one-sided, where one of us does all the giving and one does all the taking. It is mutual comfort. We sit alongside him or her, and by doing so, they’re sitting alongside us. We find our solace together, though it might not be an even exchange.
It seems whatever our circumstances, the best is to continue as we do – giving according to our ability at the moment, receiving according to our need at the moment. Being kind to ourselves, being kind to others. Being alongside each other, whether in person or through a phone call or a letter or social media.
In the closing words of Robert Burns, that you might have sung on New Year’s Eve:
And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
PS. This post is written on the eve of 3rd January – Pax’s 39th birthday – if you’d like to know about Pax, then visit here: Pax is 38 today! Happy Birthday!