Tag Archives: bereavement

18 June: The Battlefield

The Battle-Field


 They dropped like flakes, they dropped like stars,
    Like petals from a rose,
When suddenly across the June
    A wind with fingers goes.
 

They perished in the seamless grass, —
    No eye could find the place;
But God on his repealless list
    Can summon every face.”

(from “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series)

I’m not sure how literally to take these two stanzas from Emily Dickinson, I have no clue what particular battle, if any, she had in mind, but this is Waterloo Day, when great horse-backed armies clashed and Napoleon was finally beaten.

The British troops that day were led by the Duke of Wellington who later became the honorary Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and had his official residence at Walmer Castle in Kent. Like its nearby companion, Deal Castle, it was built by Henry VIII to fortify a vulnerable stretch of the English Channel coastline.

It is the chapel of Deal Castle that we see here. This was built in the 1920s for the Captain of Deal, another honorary position then held by another military commander, General Sir John French, the First Earl of Ypres who commanded the British Expeditionary Force in the First World War.

The chapel is a memorial to all who have died in armed conflict. The petals on the altar are from British Legion poppies, which represent those who died in the First World War and conflict since then.

On this summer’s day, let us pause and pray for peace; for all those who are fighting around the world, for those injured in battle and for bereaved families.

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Filed under Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, PLaces, poetry, Summer

23 April: lighting a candle. (Going Viral CV.)

Saint George, whose feast falls today, famously rescued a young woman from being devoured by a dragon, not an everyday problem in Canterbury today, but there are many of us nursing sorrow and distress, often unknown to others.

One such is my friend Marie. Though we go into town at about the same time as each other, we may not see each other for months, especially under covid restrictions. I realised not long ago that it had been at least three months since our paths had crossed, and looked out for her often.

Then today, a ring of my bicycle bell and she stopped, just where our ways diverge; ten seconds later and I would have missed her.

After our usual pleasantries, Marie asked, had I heard about Callum. Thinking she meant her great-grandson, I said, no; was he alright? ‘Not little Callum, OUR Callum’: she was talking of her own son. Little Callum’s mother had told me how her uncle had died in his armchair after a family gathering, as the covid restrictions were easing.

Of course Marie wanted to talk about it.

‘It doesn’t feel right, at all’, I said.

‘I speak to him and light my candles, that’s all I can do. But some people are embarrassed to talk to me, they avoid me now.’

‘Well, Marie, I hope I haven’t passed you by without noticing. I would always say hello’.

Lighting a candle, talking to the person who has died, by these actions Marie acknowledges the truth of Easter, of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

Let us pray for all those who have died since last Easter, for those they have left behind. Let us pray for ourselves, that we may shake off covid-induced avoidance of human contact and use any opportunity to offer an ear and a few words of comfort, rescuing our friends from the dragon of loneliness and loss, step by step.

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Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter, Justice and Peace, Mission

Going viral XCIII: Christmas is planned!

Mary and her Child, St Mildred, Canterbury.

I had to collect a couple of things from Saint Mildred’s. It was good to see the church all empurpled for Advent, the place is truly beloved.

Rev Jo Richards was in evidence too, alleluia. She has been isolating, even from her family, after a positive test for Covid-19. Sharing meals with the family via Whats App took some getting used to, but the rectory has an annexe that could have been designed just for this.

Not being able to get out and about enabled Rev Jo to spend time preparing for the next few weeks. As she told me: ‘Advent is planned, Christmas is planned!’

Thank God neither Jo nor Jenny, her curate, had many symptoms of the disease, and are both back at work. And let’s pray for all those who continue to be affected by the disease, and all for whom Christmas will mean an empty place at table which cannot be replaced by Whats App.

And may all who have died from the disease rest in peace, Amen.

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16 November: Ready.

Here is Walter Savage Landor writing ‘On his Eightieth Birthday’. His loss leads to a narrowing of horizons in earthly life, but he is ready for the call to eternity.

To my ninth decade I have tottered on,
And no soft arm bends now my steps to steady;
She, who once led me where she would, is gone,
So when he calls me, Death shall find me ready.

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15 November: digesting grief III. Can salt lose its taste?

It was caring for a mutual friend that brought Dermot and me together, so far as she allowed anyone to care for her, that is. Dermot and Margaret did more than most, living opposite. But our friend had to go into a care home, and finally to hospital where she died. Soon after that Margaret’s cancer returned and she went to her Maker, and now Dermot’s brother Joe has died.

‘Everyone that made me laugh has gone’, he told me, and all younger than me.’

He carries on, taking on the responibilities his wife had had around their home, adrift at times, but ever ready for a few words of conversation, for he has hope, despite the encircling gloom.

LEAD, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
          Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
          Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.


I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
          Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
          Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.


So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
          Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
          The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

John Henry Newman

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14 November: Grief must be Digested, II

Elizabeth’s Rose

Here’s a story that follows on naturally from Dr Johnson’s wise words yesterday.

The first lady had just celebrated her birthday. ‘I always buy myself a present from my mother out of the money she left me when she died 14 years ago. This year I bought myself a red rose bush.’

Her friend’s reaction was quite different. ‘I can’t bear roses in the garden, they were my mother’s favourite flowers and I just can’t look at them now. And you remember that I gave you all my lilies of the valley for the same reason. Those pretty little bells and the gorgeous scent. It was too much for me. But they are creeping back in the corner by the shed. I don’t like to think of ripping them out again.’

The rose shown here has a story of grief and remembrance, which you can find here. You can find Elizabeth’s rose next to Saint Mildred’s church in Canterbury.

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Filed under Autumn, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace

13 November: Grief must be digested: I


While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till grief be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.

From Life of Johnson, Volume 3 1776-1780″ by James Boswell.

It can be difficult to get alongside someone grieving. We want to take the pain away, but our attempts at comfort are rejected, quite possibly irritably. Johnson lost his wife young and never remarried; she had been the love of his life. Although he was a thoughtful, believing Christian, he was acutely aware of his own sinfulness, and had to make an effort to accept that God’s forgiveness was indeed extended to himself. He was melancholic and understood all too well how well-meant kind words can sound like hollow platitudes.

Waiting till grief is digested does not mean shunning a bereaved relative or friend, but something like a waiter in a restaurant: attentive waiting, not fussing. A hard role sometimes.

WT

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10 November: A brave airman

Grave of Henry Allen Litherland, Berlin 1939-45 War Cemetery. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/18404090/henry-allen-litherland

It is a sobering reflection that opinion divides over whether the carpet bombing of German cities was morally right or even effective, but the young men of bomber command were people of great courage who knew they had every chance of not getting home alive. 55,573 lost their lives, including Henry Allen Litherland of Manchester. Casualties in Bomber Command were the highest of any branch of the British armed forces during the Second World War, and the life expectancy of bomber crews was appallingly short. Their wives and families were also painfully aware of the risks.

Henry Litherland worked at the John Rylands Library in Manchester city centre until he was called up to serve in the RAF in October 1941. He became a bomber pilot, and was decorated twice for bravery.

He was 22 when shot down near Berlin, where he is buried.

You can read more about Henry Litherland in John Hodgson’s account in the John Rylands Library Blog.

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Filed under Autumn, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace

6 September: Season of Creation VIII: Unloved?

the sun-flower, shining fair, Ray round with flames her disk of seed.

In Memoriam Stanza CI

Unwatch'd, the garden bough shall sway,
    The tender blossom flutter down,
    Unloved, that beech will gather brown,
  This maple burn itself away;

 Unloved, the sun-flower, shining fair, 
    Ray round with flames her disk of seed,
    And many a rose-carnation feed
  With summer spice the humming air;

 Unloved, by many a sandy bar,
    The brook shall babble down the plain, 
    At noon or when the lesser wain
  Is twisting round the polar star;

 Uncared for, gird the windy grove,
    And flood the haunts of hern and crake;
    Or into silver arrows break 
  The sailing moon in creek and cove;

 Till from the garden and the wild
    A fresh association blow,
    And year by year the landscape grow
  Familiar to the stranger's child; 

 As year by year the labourer tills
    His wonted glebe, or lops the glades;
    And year by year our memory fades
  From all the circle of the hills." 

(from In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson.)

After Tennyson lost a dear friend of his youth, Arthur Henry Hallam, he worked through his grief in his epic poem, ‘In Memoriam, AHH, which took some 17 years to complete. Here he reflects upon mortality, and how the time will come when no-one remembers us, and others will be at home in what was once home to us. Does this melancholy stanza express despair or acceptance of mortality? To have been composing this epic for 17 years suggests that Tennyson’s love for his friend did not fade away, though it will have changed.

The loss of a friend’s love affects how the poet sees the landscape as unloved, uncared for: but others can love it into freshness. Perhaps there are neglected plots near you, in town or country, that would benefit from a little love, a few poppies or sunflowers.

Poppy Bridge, Didsbury, Manchester. Poppy seeds were sown on the land to the right and came up in profusion the following year.

During the Great War, British POWs grew sunflowers for decoration, passing the seeds to their Russian counterparts who regarded them as a delicacy. *

Notes:

  • The beech trees’ leaves turn brown in Autumn, the maples’ become red and yellow
  • Lesser wain, or lesser bear, Ursa Minor, the constellation that includes Polaris, the Pole Star, which appears constant in the Northern sky.
  • Hern is the heron, crake is the corncrake, a bird that nests in cornfields.
  • A glebe is a parcel of land, usually allotted to the village priest.
    • * Where Poppies Blow, John Lewis-Stempel, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016, p225.

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3 April: If we will hear.

white violets

It’s that in-between day. The day when fresh linen is spread over the stripped altar, when church dusting is done, the floor and brass polished, the flowers gathered in and arranged. Christina Rossetti invites us to Consider the lilies of the field; her message, one we have been reminded of more than once this week, is HOPE. Jesus found Mary in the garden, after all. Consider that one small seed that was laid in the garden tomb.

A Scottish Rose.

CONSIDER THE LILIES OF THE FIELD.

Flowers preach to us if we will hear:–
The rose saith in the dewy morn,
I am most fair;
Yet all my loveliness is born
Upon a thorn.
The poppy saith amid the corn:
Let but my scarlet head appear
And I am held in scorn;
Yet juice of subtle virtue lies
Within my cup of curious dyes.
The lilies say: Behold how we
Preach without words of purity.
The violets whisper from the shade
Which their own leaves have made:
Men scent our fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read.
 

But not alone the fairest flowers:
The merest grass
Along the roadside where we pass,
Lichen and moss and sturdy weed,
Tell of His love who sends the dew,
The rain and sunshine too,
To nourish one small seed.”

From Poems by Christina Rossetti.

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