Tomorrow is All Saints’ Day. Traditionally it is a day where the church celebrates those in heaven and the spiritual bond that those left on earth have with the departed. Many cultures have similar celebrations – the Mexican Day of the Dead which goes back to the Aztecs, the Qingming Festival in China, Chuseok in Korea and the Nepalese holiday of Gai Jatra. All of these cultures choosing to remember and honour loved ones that have passed. Understanding the value of ancestors, celebrating the lives lived and respecting the losses.
I have been thinking about loss lately. And in particular, the loss of those still living. While I understand the finality of death is a deeply emotional and painful experience, there is something about losing someone who is still living that presents a challenge that can be devastating. These losses can significantly impact our lives – as when a marriage/relationship ends or a close friendship is broken or simply diminishes. The camaraderie, companionship and love disappear but the need for these comforts does not. Sometimes amidst anger and hurt and even a need to move on, the longing for what once was, or what could have been, can be very strong, and very painful.
As I looked for a hymn that might address this kind of loss, I found an old poem by Charles Wesley (1742), set to music by François H Barthélémon in 1833. It wasn’t familiar to me, but the words struck me as a guide to a beautifully simple approach – bear each other’s crosses. I think it’s what most of us try to do when we see a friend faced with these losses, but perhaps it’s something to also consider when we ourselves are experiencing the loss.
Help us to help each other, Lord,
each other’s cross to bear;
let each his friendly aid afford,
and feel another’s care.
Up into thee, our living head,
let us in all things grow,
and by thy sacrifice be led
the fruits of love to show.
Touched by the lodestone of thy love
let all our hearts agree;
and ever towards each other move,
and ever move towards thee.
This is the bond of perfectness,
thy spotless charity.
O let us still, we pray, possess
the mind that was in thee.
As I ponder the losses to be faced, I am conscious of how difficult it is to share the weight when the loss is our own. When we feel alone. When we feel as though our kind of loss has never been felt by anyone else in quite the same way. For many of us it is hard to receive care and it is hard to move beyond the loss. For many of us it is hard to provide care when it is not easily or well received. And yet, Wesley’s words remind us that moving towards each other begins to create a “bond of perfectness.” How beautiful.
Whatever our losses are, I hope there is space to accept those that draw near and attempt to carry part of the load. I hope that we find ways to move past our shame, our pain and our anger in order to feel another’s care. I hope we offer that care, and I hope we receive it. And mostly, I hope we can help to help each other.