Prayer Theme for February 2024

For the lonely and especially the bereaved

In the Acute Medical Unit of Blackburn Hospital on Christmas Eve, the corridors were lined with beds and people looking as if they were not long for this world.  That part of the hospital was crowded with doctors and nurses, a sense of urgency pervading, whilst in the Acute Stroke Unit, where the patients were also very poorly,  there was a sense of calm, a sense of hope too.

Elsewhere in the hospital the corridors were quiet, the reception desk, café and shop closed, almost peaceful, but many of the visitors still coming and going felt no peace. Unless people tell us, we never know how they feel.  Bereavement and loneliness rarely show on the faces of those around us.  Loneliness by definition is something people bear on their own. For the elderly when there are fewer and fewer loved ones left, death loses its sting, but for some that release is a long time coming.

One woman wrote in the preface to her memories, “She reached his grave, and kneeling beside the headstone gently and lovingly removed the flowers from the previous week, replacing them with the ones she had brought.  She was glad no-one was near to see her lips move, hear the murmured words.  If only they could reach him. Perhaps they did.  Who is to know?  At last she rose from her knees and having thrown the faded flowers on to the dump not far from the entrance to the cemetery, walked briskly back the way she had come.  She did not feel sad.  Why should she?  He was at peace and there could be but little time left for her before she was laid to rest beside him.  In the meantime there was still work for her to do and she had locked away in her heart a store of wonderful happy memories”.

It was another 15 years before her own death came and in her handbag were a few of the many letters he had written to her nearly 50 years earlier.  Her memories and the thought of an eventual  reunion must have brought much solace over all those years.

In a world where everybody seems to be enjoying themselves, buying new things, browsing the shops, filling the restaurants and aeroplanes,  it is easy to forget the lost and the lonely, many in our midst but many also partly or fully housebound.  We forget too, the ones who lost loved ones prematurely, young lives taken in their prime, leaving a gap that can never be filled.  When we visit the graves of our lost relatives there is often a peace that comes with a feeling that they had lived their lives to a completion and went when their time had come.  But one sees the graves of those whose time had not come, who were taken early.  It is those that wrench at our hearts most, with the momentarily realisation that death can be so cruel to those left behind.

It has always been so.  In the little graveyard at Eyam, during the plague of 1665, a woman buried her entire family and after WWII there were so many women whose loved ones never returned from the trenches, war widows, or young women never now to marry.  It still goes on with conflicts across the globe but it is near to home too that loneliness exists in quiet solitude and where it is so easy for the majority to lose sight of the many lonely and bereaved people in our own neighbourhood.

Bereavement is a process of gradual adjustment, and an adjustment that comes with a slow acceptance of loss, and letting go gradually.  Letting go gradually means allowing the past to pervade the present with memories, reminders and shared experiences.   For many the best time following death is the funeral and a good wake when the departed person is all but there, a virtual reality and perhaps even more.  Loneliness comes later when people expect adjustment and don’t understand that the need for continuing talk and company is an essential part of that adjustment.  We must never forget that people never forget and that listening and accompaniment, is an essential Christian duty as well as an act of great love.

Anniversaries are times when loss is experienced the most, but loss and loneliness can come without bereavement.  The need for affiliation is natural if not universal.  Its absence comes as people become isolated, marginalised, forgotten, features increasingly prevalent in the modern world where community fragments or ceases to exist at all.   It is a symptom of the consumerism and hedonism that comes with the affluence of some and the deprivation of others.   In a sense we are complicit in this society of ours where loneliness is locked away behind closed doors or hidden in plain sight on inscrutable faces.  The signals are there.  We must remain alert to them.

For the bereaved the words attributed to Bede Jarratt can bring comfort.

We seem to give them back to thee, O God, who gavest them first to us. Yet as thou didst not lose them in giving, so do we not lose them by their return. Not as the world giveth, givest thou, O Lover of souls. What thou givest, thou takest not away, for what is thine is ours also if we are thine. And life is eternal and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing, save the limit of our sight. Lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further; cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly; draw us closer to thyself that we may know ourselves to be nearer to our loved ones who are with thee. And while thou dost prepare a place for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that where thou are we may be also for evermore.

For the rest of us, our mission is to bring comfort and love, and as we move into the second month of a New Year let us remember the lonely and especially the bereaved.  Let us pray that we might make a special effort to keep them, not just in our thoughts and prayers, but in our actions too.



About Patricia Duxbury

I have lived in Lancashire for over 30 years, the last 15 of them in Clitheroe. I'm a former teacher and a member of St. Mary Magdalene's Church. I sing in the Church choir and am in the Open Church Group.

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