This is a message given at St Paul's Anglican Church Boronia, Victoria, Australia. December 2011, at A Remembering Service, specifically designed for those who have lost loved ones over the year.
Today we are all united by our love and our loving memories for someone we have lost. Today we are brought together, linked with each other to form a community of support for each other at this time of our similar shared experience. Like you, I too have precious family to remember. I’m remembering our son Brendan, both my parents, my sister Lesley, among other important family and friends. Four weeks ago our much loved niece Joy Maree died very suddenly, so as I was preparing for today I was also remembering her.
1. Remembering someone we love is really important and brings with it many precious gifts. Every photo becomes precious; the name of the person becomes precious and every time we hear it spoken we remember with love and longing; little things they may have given us, and made for us, become important in an entirely new way. Each of us has a store of memories related to the person we have lost - conversations we had, little ‘in-jokes’ we shared, unusual idiosyncrasies they had, funny little habits, ways of expressing themselves, perhaps their laugh – even their wrinkles, especially when we recognize that we are developing exactly the same wrinkle in the same place - all of these memories are incredibly precious now and it is important to hold these in our hearts, and to recall them frequently, for they keep the person alive within us. For our relationship with this person will never be replicated.
2. As we remember today, we are invited to look back over the life of our loved one as a completed whole. From this perspective, we are able now to ask ourselves, what needs to be held on to: What unique qualities have we gained from our relationship with that person?; in what ways they have taught us how to live our lives?; what have we learnt about ourselves from this relationship?; which values and traditions of theirs are important for us to continue on, in their absence? What example has been set for us to emulate?, What have we learned about suffering? About death? About courage? About life? About memory? It is important to blend these new understandings into ourselves as a result of our experience.
3. Whilst remembering, we often need to look at what needs to be laid to rest too, for there is also a call for letting go. There may have been tensions, family discord; there may have been much physical pain, perhaps hurtful words spoken, and perhaps upsetting remarks by well-meaning friends. There may be some very difficult memories. It’s important for us to let these memories drop away, for they are no longer helpful for us. I have had some painful memories relating to my mother, for our relationship was not close, and whereas I prayed all my life for a mother who I sensed loved me, that didn’t ever occur. So I have learnt, like many of us here that sometimes we need to let go of some of our dreams and our hopes, too, and relinquish these over to God in order to live our lives well now.
4. We also need to remember that we are now living in a new kind of reality, where we have real needs that are valid and require our attention. Loving and nurturing ourselves is really important. Caring for ourselves in no way diminishes our commitment to the memory of our loved one; in fact it may be the best way of all to do exactly that, for our loved one would want us to be well. We need to get sufficient sleep, and if sleeping is difficult, or nightmares persist, we need to see our doctor. We need to eat healthily, for our whole body has been assaulted with this pain and loss. We need to exercise according to our energy and capability levels. We need to find and join in with the company of others. That might mean joining some of our church activities here, or beginning a new interest such as a new sport, learning a musical instrument, joining a gym, a craft group, a book club, or helping in the community in some way. We may find we want to reach out and help others who are travelling a similar road to ours.
5. So how do we move on, respectfully yet freely? For me, a change occurred in my grieving over our little boy Brendan as I changed my thinking about him and the way he died, for he died as a result of a doctor’s and then a nurse’s error. Originally, I thought about Brendan as being OURS, OURS by right. He was OUR son. This way I felt cheated, I was angry because I thought Brendan belonged to US and had been snatched away. But when I began thinking of Brendan as the gift he was to us, a gift that ultimately belonged to God, not us, then the anger over losing him from our lives began to give way to gratitude over having had Brendan in our lives for the time he was given to us.
Gradually as I viewed Brendan as God’s gift to us, I changed and I stopped demanding a big answer from God for my many questions. Instead, I allowed myself to simply be, I learnt to live with the questions and reach resolution and peace by resting in the presence of God, trusting him for the courage to move on, without the need for answers.
6. If we allow it, God can be more fully revealed to us through this experience. God loves and cares for us very dearly. In Zeph. 3:17 it says, “He, (God,) will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing”. Imagine that! God sings over us and quietens us much like a new mother sings lullabies to her troubled little one. God is one who delights to calm and settle us in our times of distress.
The Bible tells us that God gathers us up just like a mother hen gathers her chicks and places her wings completely over the top of them, keeping them warm and safe from harm. Isn’t this picture of God a beautiful one? Here we see a picture of a God who gathers us to himself, shields us and protects us.
In Isaiah 46: 3-4 God says: “Listen...you who I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried you since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you”. God is one who carries us and sustains us, right through our lives, with everything it holds.
God speaks again, “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”. Let’s grasp that! God, who knows all about our precious memories, our present pain, as well as our future, has us in the very palm of his hand. God is one who is always holds our unique needs and situations ever-present in his awareness.
In Isaiah it says: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like eagles, they will run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint”. Let us wait on God today, and as we learn to lean into the waiting arms of God, dependant and resting on him, we can trust him to take us from where we are now to where he wants us to be. God will do the changing and adjusting for us and in us if we allow him in to our lives to do just that – all we have to do is wait, close to God, and allow him to lift us up. This is a gentle movement. We don’t do anything, but lean into God, and gradually, ever so gradually; he will raise us up with the breath of his Spirit – little by little. And one day, a year from now, or maybe more, we will look back and realise that, yes, in fact we have moved, we have risen that little bit. Gradually God will raise us up on wings like eagles. As we accept God’s love, protection, care and comfort for us, we will desire not just to lean and rest, but actually run without hesitation into his open outstretched arms, and he will catch us, hold us, and comfort us, and in time, raise us up.
May each of us be strengthened today, as we recall our love and our loss; as we remember with joy and gratitude; as we find new ways to move on in healthy ways; as we continue to care for ourselves and to become involved in our changed world; and as we learn to wait close to God and allow him to lift us up. May we each be encouraged today and filled with peace.
(c). Christine M Jones.
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