A few years ago I was chatting to a friend about our blog and he asked me whether writing about my experience of pregnancy loss and childlessness made me sad. He was worried that if I continued to write and talk about the impact of my losses that I would get stuck in my grief and not be able to move forward. The choice to remember loss can seem almost counter-intuitive to those who have not learnt how to grieve; I know that just like my friend I used to question whether the decision to remember loss would actually do more damage than good. I had my first miscarriage ten years ago now and whilst the pain of my grief no longer dominates my life I will still choose to light six candles this evening to remember my losses and I just wanted to share why I think it’s important to still make space to remember your loss.
A Candle to Help You Own Your Story
I think a lot of the fear around grief and allowing ourselves to grieve, comes from the realisation that we cannot control it. Grief cannot be contained, it explodes into our lives and no matter how much we try to push it down, we cannot leave it behind. Over the years I have met many people who have lost children through miscarriage, still birth and genetic diseases and whilst the impact of their loss is always part of their story, I’ve always found that the people who struggle to move on the most are not those who regularly remember their loss and talk openly about it, but those who never truly expressed their sadness. Suffering invites you make a choice, whether to continue to pretend that it doesn’t exist or accept it. I never accepted my suffering willingly, but when I realised it was impossible to ignore I eventually chose to own it and it was this act of acceptance that enabled me to move forward. In the words of Brene Brown; ‘owning our stories is the hardest thing we will ever do.’ ‘When we deny our story it defines us. When we own our story, we can write a brave new ending.’ So whilst lighting a candle or pausing to remember your loss on a significant date may also remind you of your grief, it is also an opportunity to own this part of your story which will in turn enable you to write a brave new ending.
A Candle to Remind You That You’re Not Alone
Grief is isolating; it can feel like everyone else around you is moving forward in their lives apart from you which simply just adds to the pain of living with loss. You may be on your own when you light your candle tonight, but you are not alone. The Wave of Light is a great reminder that you’re not alone in your grief; across the UK tonight there will be many homes where candles will be lit in memory of the lives that are no longer with us. There are also some cathedrals and churches in the UK that will be lit up blue and pink in an act of solidarity with those of us who grieve. There is something really powerful and very releasing about grieving with others. In a world where we’re encouraged to prove we don’t need anyone else’s help, the act of corporate grief is a powerful reminder that we’re not meant to do life in isolation. So as you light your candle, may you be comforted by the knowledge that yours is not the only candle flickering in the dark.
As a Christian I also believe that we do not lament into a void. Although there may be times when you fear your friends and family have had enough of your laments, God will never grow tired of your grief. Psalm 56:8 says ‘You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.’
God wants to hear your laments. The Bible is full of voices declaring their pain before God; of angry prayers, weeping, depression, hiding, frustration and broken hearts and the inclusion of these different laments is a great reminder that grief is part of the human story, that God is big enough to take whatever we throw at him and that as we lament we join with those who have wrestled with suffering before us and come out the other side, still limping but still proclaiming God’s goodness.
A Candle That Declares There is Still Hope
One of the most amazing books I’ve ever read on grief is by a guy called Jerry Sittser, who lost his wife, mum and daughter in a car crash. In his book A Grace Disguised, he talks about a dream he had shortly after the crash where he saw a setting sun and was frantically running west, trying desperately to catch it and remain in its warmth and light, but he was losing the race and when he stopped and looked over his shoulder he saw a vast darkness closing in on him. He was terrified by the darkness and wanted to keep running after the sun but realised his efforts were futile for the sun had already proven itself faster that he was. So he lost all hope, collapsed to the ground and fell into despair, believing in that moment that he would live in darkness forever. He shared this dream with his sister one day and she told him that;
‘the quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise.’
The light of a candle is a beautiful illustration of the fragile hope that can still be found in the darkness of grief, so let the light of a flickering candle shining in the darkness remind you that you are more than your suffering and that your loss and your pain is not the end of your story. You may not feel hopeful right now, but maybe the act of lighting a candle could be a declaration of hope that the darkness of your grief will not consume you.
At the beginning of John’s gospel introduces Jesus to the world by declaring ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are a great reminder that death is not the end, suffering does not have the final say, light will always shine brighter in the darkness and the sun will rise again. Remembering your loss does not stop you from moving forward, in fact it is the opposite; the act of lighting a candle helps you own your story, it reminds you that you’re not alone and it declares that there is still hope.
Below is a prayer of lament taken from another of my favourite books on grief called ‘The Louder Song’ by Aubrey Sampson, which you may find helpful to pray as you remember your loss.
How have we come to this? You and I, who used to be so close, so connected.
Are you near?
Loneliness, unseenness, surround me. And my
hips, oh God, my knees, my ankles, my toes,
my hands, my neck, my fingers all embody
my sadness – they ache with sadness and
I don’t want to think of you as a withholding Father
but I have thought of you that way.
I’m asking you, God, for healing, but it feels like
you are ignoring me. Where are you?
Are you even real? Are you a figment of my
imagination, or a construct?
I’m panicking that I’ll never hear from you again.
Yet I remember how you have carried me in the past.
I remember, God, all the ways that you have
stepped in to show me you are real.
I remember how you have cared for my family,
my loved ones, my community.
I know, Jesus, your rugged cross and
your resurrection power.
Please take my confusion, doubt, grief, and
suffering in your capable hands.
Place them near your heart; care for them,
transform them – and me – while you’re at it.
Redeem this pain somehow.
God, you are judge and King.
God, you are comfort.
God, you are peace.
God, you are love.
Without your hand pulling me up.
I will never be able to move from my mourning bench.
But with your hand at my side, I will make a joyful
noise unto the Lord.
Jesus, you are my strength, my salvation,
and my louder song. ‘
Much love to you, Lizzie, and to Dave too. Grief has its own timeline for each person, doesn’t it? I personally think that it’s perfectly acceptable to mourn the what might have beens as well as the things that have been. Xxx
Absolutely, I definitely think there is a grief for what could have been that needs to be expressed. This blog post was written specifically for baby loss awareness week but the grief of what never was is still very much legitimate and something we’ve written about a lot as well. Hope you have a good Christmas x