Our Light up a Life service is always a very special and poignant event for us at St Andrew’s Hospice; but it is particularly special this year as we commemorate the 25th anniversary of Light up a Life.
An event that has grown over the years from the small gathering of people who were present at the first event, to the large numbers gathered here this evening. All gathered with the common purpose of remembering those whom we have loved and lost.
However as I think of the many patients and families who have been cared for in St Andrew’s Hospice over the years, I find it poignant reflecting on how that roll call of patients and families grows year by year and how this realization is a reminder of our own mortality.
As we prepare to begin our service tonight 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 years and those cared for at Wester Moffat in the past year.
Whether we like it or not, bereavement is a time of letting go. There are many times in our life when we have to learn to let go of the past.
For parents, the first is when their wee one first goes to infant school. Some schools allow parents to come in with their children on the first day to ease the transition, but before long comes the day when the parent is left standing at the school gate, only too well aware that their little one isn’t a baby any longer, but has started a life of their own in which they’re no longer totally dependent.
A wise parent will think back over the past few years at this moment, enjoying the happy memories of having a baby of your own, but knowing that those days can never return.
Refusing to try and recreate the past helps the child to move on into the future, too. The child beginning at school hardly ever looks back, if the parents take a positive attitude, but is full of the excitement of beginning a new stage in their life.
There are many rites of passage in a person’s life which draw a clear line between the past and the future. Another one comes when the father gives away his daughter when she becomes a bride.
Everyone knows that it’s nonsense, because she’s not his possession to give or keep, and he may have had no control over her behaviour for many years. But giving Dad something to do at the wedding ceremony; helps everybody, because it gives a clear sign that relationships have changed.
Children, when they marry, embark on a new relationship; parents will continue to offer support and encouragement, but know that they should no longer interfere.
The marriage service is what we call a ‘rite of passage’, a ceremonial way of letting everybody know where they stand, drawing a line under the past and moving on towards the future.
A funeral is another such rite of passage. Everyone’s very upset when somebody dies whom they’ve loved. Many are completely broken with grief, though they may have different ways of showing it, or not showing it if they prefer.
Even those who were only acquaintances feel sad to know that they’ll never see again in this world someone whom they counted as a friend. Can we look at the other rites of passage, and learn lessons from them, about how to handle this one?
When Jesus knew that his end was near, he tried to comfort his grieving friends. He said:
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.’
The word we translate as ‘mansion’ literally means a guestroom, somewhere where someone’s given warm hospitality when passing through on a journey.
This doesn’t mean somewhere grand; a mansion was a wayside inn, standing beside the Roman roads, where people could stay temporarily as they travelled across the Roman Empire.
So, says Jesus, life in this world is a journey, and it carries on into the world to come.
So dying is only a stage in our journey into God. The funeral is the rite of passage which marks that moment, so that everyone knows where they stand.
Of course there’ll be grief, but whether we realise it or not, grief doesn’t go on forever, it lessens over time. We can concentrate on giving thanks for the past – going through our memories, treasuring the happy ones, and laying the others to rest.
Then, like the parent at the school gate, we find the ability to let go, knowing that the past can never be brought back, and perhaps begin to concentrate on the future.
For those who die they have a new future ahead of them on their journey, and Jesus assures us that it’s a happy one.
For those of us left behind, we begin to learn to live with the grief and try to move on from the past and start looking towards our future.
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. If it wasn’t harder you probably wouldn’t be here tonight.
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.
Far be it for me to advise you how to manage your Christmas. However;
There are a number of ways we can incorporate our loved one and our loss into Christmas.
Have a prayer before Christmas dinner, about your 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 favourite story about your loved one (Stroke the elephant that’s wandering round the room…)
Do you know, there is a power in storytelling 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.
If Christmas is difficult for you, try having aPlan A and a PlanB;
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.
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.
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 Christmas 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.