Yes, time is linear and therefore always on the move. November is a month of remembrances and for remembrance.
At the beginning of the month we remember All Souls tide, which calls to mind all the faithful departed. On the second Sunday of the month we keep Remembrance Sunday and recall the supreme sacrifice paid by the ‘Glorious Dead’ (as the Cenotaph in Whitehall, calls them).
I can remember the first weekend we had a television set in our home as a child. It was rented from a local company and had a large wooden cabinet and the relatively small screen was in black and white! It was November 1959 and was Remembrance Sunday weekend. My grandfather was staying with us and we watched the scenes of the British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance from the Royal Albert Hall.
Grandad had been a a member of the Royal Flying Corps in the first World Ward and a founder member of the Royal Air Force on 1st April 1918. Grandad wept as he watched. Together we sat in silence observing both the TV and the tears streaming down his cheeks. Was he weeping for his former service colleagues who had been killed in action? Was he weeping for family and friends killed in the Second World War? Was he weeping for my Grandmother who had died three years earlier? I know not, but I do know that it was an accepted fact that he could weep, albeit in the privacy of our own front room.
We are in the business of being ‘memory makers’; that is our vocation, our experience, our training, our heritage and our gospel.
There will be countless other stories to tell of personal and public grief across the span of time. All those losses are both personal and significant. Once we have been bereaved we are always bereaved and time doesn’t heal because it does not possess that quality.
In Jesus, death has lost its sting; therefore we become people of hope. As we adjust and learn to live with loss, we come to realise there are many other people in our own community, our own nation and across the world who are similarly bereaved.
When I was Vicar of Lynton and Lynmouth in picturesque North Devon I had the privilege of helping that community ‘commemorate’ the 50th anniversary of the Lynmouth Flood of 15th August 1952. On that occasion we released 34 white doves (one representing each life lost), from the Rhenish Tower at Lynmouth Harbour. Untrained, the doves flew straight up the river. Doves, of course, were the creatures that told Noah the Flood was over.
I have discovered that with significant deaths the use of stones can be helpful. After our elder son died twenty years ago some friends took us to the beach at Seatown to throw stones from the beach. The throwing of those stones was extremely helpful. However, I kept a flat one that was suitable for ‘skimming’. I never did skim it, but it fell out of my coat pocket one day and part of it broke off leaving a very sharp edge. I replaced it in my pocket and found that, over the years, constant rubbing has worn off the sharpness and the stone is now much smoother. That stone is a rich metaphor for bereavement. It now has pride of place among many other ‘memory makers’ in my study.
‘Peace I give you, my peace I leave with you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’ (John 14:27)
Revd Philip Ringer
Chaplain at Bridport Community Hospital