Our Light up a Life service is always a very special and poignant event for us at St Andrew’s Hospice; but quite different this year in that we find ourselves here in St Margaret’s car park looking on to our partly refurbished hospice. We extend a grateful thanks to Fr. Breslin for accommodating us on this occasion.
In January of this year, we decanted our inpatient services from this site to Wester Moffat Hospital while our hospice building is refurbished to meet today’s standards.
However, as I think of the many patients and families who have been cared for in St Andrew’s Hospice over those 30 years, I think it is fitting for us to gather on this site to remember them.
During that period more than 12,000 patients have received palliative and end of life care at St Andrew’s Hospice and upwards of a further 50,000 people have been touched by or used the services of the hospice, whether they be families of patients or grieving people from the Lanarkshire community.
Let us take a moment and pause in remembrance of all of those people who were cared for at the end of their lives in St Andrew’s Hospice over the last 30 years and those cared for at Wester Moffat in the current year.
Most of you, like me, will have grown up with the belief that “Christmas is a time that is spent with loved ones”. Facing the Christmas holidays without a loved one can bring a huge sense of apprehension, and the thought of taking part in any kind of celebration can feel just too much.
Some people might think that simply trying to avoid Christmas altogether is the best option, while others will want to keep everything exactly the same as usual. Having thoughts like “I just don’t know how I will cope” is very much part of the uncertainty that grief at this time of year brings.
Christmas marks the passage of time in our lives. It is one of the milestones we share with each other and it generally represents time spent with family. But since Christmas is for being with those we love the most, how on earth can anyone be expected to cope with it when a loved one has died?
For many people, this is the hardest part of grieving, when we miss our loved ones even more than usual. How can you celebrate togetherness when there is none? When you have lost someone special, you often feel that you have lost the ability to celebrate.
Christmas only magnifies the loss. The sadness feels sadder and the loneliness goes deeper. The need for support may be the greatest during the Christmas holidays. Pretending you don’t hurt and or it is not a harder time of the year is just not the truth for you. If it wasn’t harder you probably wouldn’t be here.
You can and will get through the Christmas holidays. Rather than avoiding the feelings of grief, lean into them. It is not the grief you want to avoid, it is the pain.
Grief is the way out of the pain. Grief is our internal feelings and the mourning that ensues is our external expressions of our grief.
There are a number of ways we can incorporate our loved one and our loss into Christmas.
Have a prayer before Christmas dinner, about our loved one.
Light a candle for your loved one.
Use a favourite recipe that your loved one passed down. (Granny’s cock-a-leekie soup)
Share a favorite story about your loved one. (Stroke the elephant that’s wondering round the room…)
Have everyone tell a funny story about their loved one.
Stories awaken our imagination!
They can be a way of empowering ourselves and sometimes others, in getting to a deeper understanding of our life experience and what it means to us.
Through story we tap into ageless themes that connect us to our friends and loved ones. … Our stories contain the same human elements that express the common twists and turns of the paths of all our lives.
There isa power in story telling that can transform our lives. The stories told from generation to generation about living life, carry this power as they are passed on. The life story of each person is a reflection of another’s life story. In some mysterious amazing way our stories and our lives are all tied together.
Reflecting on the life-story of another can shed light on our own story, it can help us discover what it means to hope what it means to face the difficulties of life and importantly … what it means to enjoy the moments that most of us don’t even notice.
Story is a way of reconnecting with the memories, the smiles and the spirit of those we honour and love.
Have a Plan A and a Plan B;
Plan A is you go to the Christmas Day or Christmas Eve dinner with family and friends. If it doesn’t feel right, have your plan B ready.
Plan B may be a movie you both liked or a photo album to look through or a special place you went to together.
Many people find that when they have Plan B in place, just knowing it is there is enough.
Try Christmas in a new way.
Grief has a unique way of giving us the permission to really evaluate what parts of Christmas you enjoy and what parts you don’t. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to handle Christmas in grief. You have to decide what is right for you and do it. You have every right to change your mind, even a few times.
Friends and family members may not have a clue how to help you through Christmas and you may not either. It is very natural to feel you may never enjoy Christmas again. They will certainly never be the same as they were.
However, in time, most people are able to find meaning again in the traditions as a new form of Christmas Spirit grows inside of them.
Even without grief, our friends and relatives often think they know how our Holidays should look, what “the family” should and shouldn’t do.
Be gentle with yourself and protect yourself. Don’t do more than you want, and don’t do anything that does not serve your spirit and your loss.
Do allow time for the feelings.
Do allow others to help. We all need help at certain times in our lives.
Do pay extra attention to the children. Children are too often the forgotten grievers.
Whatever you experience, just remember that sadness is allowed because death, as they say, doesn’t take a holiday.
Tonight we gather here to especially remember our loved ones, family and friends, many whom have died. Many have experienced, or indeed will still be experiencing the emotions of grief , but we also know or hope that there is a light at the end of the darkness we’ve known.
The lights of our trees – here at the Hospice and across other towns and villages in Lanarkshire – can act as such powerful images of hope and comfort. They are a symbol of our connectedness with one another and with those we honour, remember and love.
We remember so many individuals through these lights. Each of us knows what those lights signify and whom we remember through them. As we gaze on the light of our tree let’s each reflect on the stories of our loved ones, connecting with them, drawing hope and inspiration from their story.
Earlier we heard the words of Jesus in the story from the gospel of St John
“I am the light of the world;
Anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark;
They will have in them light for life.
May that same Jesus also light up our lives through the Lights that we have placed here on our Tree?
Let the light of hope help us remember the ones we love who have died, and let us pray that they will be forever with the one who gives Light and hope to us. As the lights shine once again on our tree we take time to honour and remember our loved ones.
O Lord, support us all the daylong of this troublous life,
until the shades lengthen, and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done.
Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us safe lodging,
a holy rest, and peace at the last;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.