Next Tuesday, 23rd March is the anniversary of the day the UK went into the first national lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Since then, there have been over 126,000 deaths due to Covid and tens of thousands more as collateral, that is those whose treatment and diagnosis were cancelled because the NHS was preoccupied.
The end-of-life charity Marie Curie, estimates that over 3 million people have been bereaved since the pandemic began. Not only have they lost dear ones, but many were unable to say goodbye, and will still be carrying the effects of the shock and trauma.
The charity has organised a National Day of Reflection across the nation next Tuesday, encouraging people to place daffodils – the symbol of hope in Windows, and lights on their doorsteps as night falls. Municipal buildings throughout the nation will be lit up in yellow.
There will be a minute’s silence at midday to reflect, and a minute of silence in the evening as night falls when people are encouraged to come to their doorsteps with candles, torches, or simply lights from their mobile phones.
There’s been a huge response from all over the country, from organisations, businesses, schools and groups as well as individuals. My charity, the Pilgrims’ Friend Society, will meet over Zoom at 11:55 for prayer and silence. It will also be held in our housing and care homes.
For the last year we’ve been living in a bell chamber of grief. Stories and pictures in the media have resonated with personal experience close to home. Churches and home group meetings over Zoom have prayed for families and relatives. It’s been the theme running through Twitter and Facebook for months.
I’m glad the day has been called a national day of Reflection, not remembrance. Like the Services of Remembrance, the word has a focus on the past, and what has gone. The perspective is very much earthbound.
But ‘reflection’ implies a different timeline, one that stretches from the beginning to the end; and for Christians the end of the earthbound is the beginning of the real life in Heaven with Jesus, the vigorous, joyful, purposeful and satisfying life that the Holy Spirit gives us glimpses of. (Romans 8:23).
Reflection includes gratitude as well as grief, hope as well as sorrow. We deal with grief in our own, unique ways, but for all of us it’s like finding our footing through a slippery bog, like Christian in the Slough of Despond in The Pilgrims Progress. It isn’t a tidy, sequential process at all – no rules apply.
Two years ago, my youngest son, Hywel, died after a 12 year battle with Leukaemia, and eight weeks later, my beloved grandson Luke was killed in a motor bike accident on a deserted country road. Over the past two years I’ve discovered what helps and what doesn’t. For example, telling someone recently bereaved that their loved one is now in a “better place” gives hope, but doesn’t help enough when everything in you screams that you want them here with you, now.
The end came swiftly with Hywel and I couldn’t get a flight in time, so I telephoned and his wife, Jana, put us on speakerphone. Hywel was too weak to talk, so I told him how wonderful he is, then prayed. I asked the Holy Spirit to fill the room and to fill him with comfort and peace. As I prayed with my eyes closed, I felt Hywel and Jana’s presence as closely as if I were in the room with them. After our “amen” Hywel simply said, “I love you mum,” and it was done, the “good night, see you in the morning” said. I knew it would be a long grief journey, but it had begun properly.
The sense of being fully there with Hywel and Jana reminded me of the Scripture that says that Jesus Christ holds all things together Colossians 1:13 – 18. In that holding together are possibilities far beyond the physical boundaries that limit us. Take a moment to reflect on those verses, and see what I mean, perhaps in The Message version that is so clear (Biblegateway.com has many versions).
In that ‘holding together’ is everyone – you, those in your world now, and yesterday, and in the future. One day we’ll see and understand it properly. For me it means that my dear ones are not far away in the past but are held together by Christ with me and mine in the now, in the present.
Next Tuesday, as I put a tray of candles on my doorstep, I’ll be reflecting on that, and praying that everyone might be comforted by it.