The chair I sit in to write faces east and I can see the sky lighten every early morning through my big picture window.
I love greeting a new day, watching the world wake up, hearing the birds twitter around my home scooping up random bits of grain and cat food left behind by the outside animals.
And for a period of about two weeks, twice a year, I love something else-the rising sun is positioned in the perfect spot to cast it’s first golden glow above the trees squarely in my face as I sit here pecking away at the keyboard.
I could move out of the glaring light and continue my work.
But I don’t.
Instead I pause and turn my face toward the sun, soaking up every bit of warmth and light and feeling the energy flow from it to me for as long as it lasts.
And then it moves on.
Doing the work sun does for the whole earth-providing warmth and light for every living thing.
Grief can feel like one long dark night. It can wrap itself so tightly around a heart that no light penetrates the heavy cloak of sadness.
Then one day, one moment, one tiny heartbeat, the sun of gladness or laughter or sweet memory or act of kindness will be positioned just so and make it through.
Don’t move out of the glaring light of hope.
Turn your face and heart toward the gift and bask in its warmth. Let the energy of an extended hand, a thoughtful word, a precious bit of joy energize you.
It will move on and sadness will once again be your close companion.
But if you let it, the hope planted by the light will grow.
It will strengthen you for the journey.
It will sing courage over your heart and remind you in those darkest moments that night doesn’t last forever.
I especially love them as the days get shorter and we creep toward the longest night of the year.
I love them more since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
Every time I light a candle, I remind my heart that even the smallest light can chase the darkness.
When hundreds, thousands and even millions of candles are lighted together, it does more than chases darkness, it undoes it.
This Sunday, December 8, 2019 is the Worldwide Candle Lighting Memorial Service (WCL) sponsored by The Compassionate Friends (TCF).
Millions of parents and others will light a candle at 7:00 PM local time for one hour to honor sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and grandchildren gone too soon.
As the earth turns, a wave of light will sweep across the globe one time zone after another.
It’s natural for parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers to mark the light and life of one they miss.
It’s less natural for friends and extended family members to do so.
One of the greatest fears of every bereaved parent is that his or her child will cease to be remembered or that the light and life of a son or daughter will simply fade as time goes on.
Year-end holidays accentuate the place where our children should be but aren’t. Merry making and picture taking emphasize the gap between grieving hearts and those untouched by death of a close loved one.
That’s why TCF has chosen THISweek for the annual WCL.
If you want a simple way to bless someone you know who lost a child, grandchild or sibling, a single candle and a quick picture or post on social media will do it.
My heart is always encouraged and strengthened when others take time to remember Dominic.
Buy a candle.
Set an alarm on your phone.
Light up the night with us.
Together we will remember. Together we will chase the darkness. Together we will declare that our children are out of reach but not forgotten.
I like to greet the early darkness of winter by lighting a single candle so I can sit in its glow.
I’ve always felt a holy hush in those quiet moments as birds and beasts and other living things settle into night.
There’s something very personal about striking the match, lighting the candle and drawing near to the small circle of light it casts instead of flipping a switch to blaze away the darkness with brash, overhead fixtures.
So when a friend who posts encouraging things every day recently posted this quote by Anne Frank, I loved it.
Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.
Imagine Anne and her family in cramped attic quarters, whispering and walking oh, so softly to avoid detection by the Nazis.
How precious that single candle must have been to this curious, bright and lively girl! A tiny bit of hope in an otherwise dreary and dreadful world.
As long as a candle burns it declares that darkness has not won.
As long as a candle burns it helps a heart see the difference between wrong and right, hope and despair, death and life.
Candles can’t last forever. Eventually the wick burns down, the wax runs out and darkness comes again.
But there is one Light that cannot be extinguished. One Light that always points the way.
Later, Jesus talked to the people again. He said, “I am the light of the world. The person who follows me will never live in darkness. He will have the light that gives life.”
John 8:12 ICB
This world is a hard and cruel place. Bad things happen. Evil men commit atrocities.
And yet, the darkness never fully conquers because the light of the love of Christ lives in the hearts of some people everywhere.
There is always a candle somewhere as long as those who love Jesus choose to shine-a light that both defies and defines the darkness-and points the way to life and hope.
We walk in a “ravine as dark as death” (Psalm 23:4), and still we have nothing to fear because God is at our side: God’s staff and crook are there to soothe us (see Psalm 23:4). This is not just a consoling idea. It is an experience of the heart that we can trust.
Our lives are full of suffering, pain, disillusions, losses and grief, but they are also marked by visions of the coming of the Son of Man “like lightning striking in the east and flashing far into west” (Matthew 24:27). These moments in which we see clearly, hear loudly, and feel deeply that God is with us on the journey make us shine as a light into the darkness. Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. Your light must shine in people’s sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
Some things happened that mean the next few months are going to be extra painful, extra stressful and extra challenging.
But I had a grace-filled, heartwarming visit with another bereaved mama who came all the way from Maine just to hang out with me. And that was so, so good.
As she and I shared over coffee and tea, shopping and meals, lounging and walking we found so many ways in which our journeys have been similar even though the details are really very different.
One is this: There was a distinct moment along the way when each of us began to see light and color again in the midst of our darkness and pain and it was a turning point.
When I was forced unwillingly on this long, hard journey, everything was dark. Nothing sparked joy. The whole world became a grainy black and white image on an ancient TV and it was fuzzy, flat and utterly uninteresting.
What’s worse, my heart could only REALLY feel two things-pain and love-and they were so inextricably intertwined I was no longer sure which was which.
I couldn’t run fast enough or far enough to escape the darkness or the pain.
I had to face all the awful of child loss, embrace it, feel it, work through it, talk about it in safe spaces with safe people and sit quietly for hours with my thoughts and uncomfortable emotions. I had to let time do the work that only time can do.
There are no shortcuts on this journey.
And then there was a moment when I saw something beautiful and felt something wonderful and I didn’t have to TELL my heart it was beautiful and wonderful.
I just KNEW and I could FEEL it.
At first, these moments didn’t last long and were isolated. But eventually the moments came faster, lasted longer and were closer together. I learned to embrace them, hold onto them, build upon them and look for them.
Now, the moments of light, life and color make up most of my days.
I have not forgotten Dominic. My heart aches to see him again, hold him again, share life with him again. But I’ve learned to hold that yearning for the life I used to have and gratitude for the life I live now in the same heart. I’ve found that allowing joy to fill my soul doesn’t push him away or to the side as if he doesn’t matter.
So if you think there is no way you can survive this awful, awful journey, keep going.
If you are still in the dark days and fearful light will never penetrate the depth of your pain and despair, hold on.
Who wants to air the good, the bad and the ugly for everyone else to see?
In today’s world where photo filters on our cellphone cameras can turn a pretty rotten picture into a magazine worthy masterpiece no one is anxious to be seen as less than polished and put together.
The pressure is on to pretend that all is well even when all is, well, going quite the other direction.
If you are trudging through a tough patch, let folks know.
You might be surprised by who reaches out saying, “That was me just a while ago. Would you like to know how I made it through?”
If you’ve already walked the long and lonely road of grief, loss, trauma, depression or other difficult circumstance-share your story!
Don’t sugar coat it. Don’t clean up the messy bits. Don’t gloss over the hard spots.
How can anyone learn to walk the hard roads, the rocky paths, the treacherous terrain of life unless someone else is willing to be a guide? And who can trust a guide that hasn’t also made that journey?
Tell it like it was.
Then tell it like it is.
Map the path from there to here.
Shine a light for a soul that thinks darkness is all there is.
I realize not every parent enters child loss with the same reverence for Scripture and trust in the promises of God that I had when Dominic left us.
So it may be hard for your heart to believe the words we’ve been reading and studying this month. It may be near impossible for you to feel that God is a good Father, that He has not abandoned you and that He has a purpose and plan for your life, even here in this awful Valley.
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that while I still have faith, it’s a tested faith. I have dragged every single thing I believed before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, held it up and scrutinized it in the cold light of loss.
Some things I don’t clutch so tightly anymore. Many things I wouldn’t spend five minutes defending anymore. But there are absolute, rock-solid, foundational truths that I will declare with my dying breath.
The character of God is flawless. His ways are holy and good. He will not allow the enemy of my soul to have the last word. Death is (ultimately) defeated and victory is sure.
When I was on my face in mourning, when dust was my food and bitter tears were my drink, these are the promises that breathed life back into my broken heart.
Remember [always] the word and promise to Your servant, In which You have made me hope. 50 This is my comfort in my affliction, That Your word has revived me and given me life.
Psalm 119: 49-50 AMP
When people in the Bible asked God to “remember” it wasn’t that they thought He forgot. It was a way of reciting truth to their own hearts and praying God’s words back to Him.
So when I was just on the other side of the awful news but past Dom’s service and all the people and activities surrounding it, I began most days in my journal with something similar.
I would write out a verse confirming God’s promises to me and my family. I would make it personal-put our names in it- and pray it back to Him. The more I did that, the more my spirit was revived. The more my spirit came back to life, the more I was able to listen to and hear from Him.
It’s a slow, slow process.
The blow is sudden, severe and debilitating (no matter how your child left this earth).
Recovery cannot be rushed along.
I feel most days like I’m still receiving hope and life in drips and dribbles.
But the more I focus my mind’s attention and my heart’s affection on God’s sure promises, the more alive I feel.
And one day I’ll be fully alive-as Dominic is right now- dancing, laughing, singing to the tune of millions of rejoicing voices.
Until then, I’ll keep pointing my heart in the right direction.
My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise. ~Reepicheep
C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Do you have hope? Why or why not?
Do you think you can influence whether or not hope lives in your heart? Why or why not?
What do you do each day to feed hope in your heart?
If you are new on this journey of loss, you may be certain you will never feel alive again. You may think you will never feel hope or joy or anything besides sorrow again. I promise that if you will let the words of God sink in, if you will take your heartache to Him and allow Him to touch the broken places, you will begin to revive. How do Reepicheep’s words speak to you today?
If you are farther along the road of loss, record some specific moments when you felt God met you and breathed life into your spirit.
Truth is that all life comes from You. There is nowhere else to turn but to Your face, Your hand, Your heart. Part of me wants to give up and give in. I want to be rid of this pain, this heartache, this sorrow and unrelenting despair. But I know You have a purpose and plan for me even here, even now.
Help me choose to make space for Your word and Your love to penetrate my heart. Help me offer up my broken bits to You and wait patiently for You to weave them back together into something beautiful.
When I have nothing left, touch me. When I give up, encourage me. When I can’t see the light for the darkness, shine on me.