Friday, December 21, 2012

On the Shortest Day of the Year

I love Christmas.  I love experiencing Christmas through the eyes of my children, remembering the wonder and the seeming magic of this time of year when you are small.  My thoughts lately are never far from the heartache of those families in Newtown though, and how Christmas will never seem the same to them again.

Even if you are choosing to avoid news coverage of the Connecticut school shooting (is that even possible, those of you who are trying?), please read this article by Rev. Emily C. Heath "Dealing With Grief: Five Things NOT To Say And Five Things To Say In A Trauma Involving Children".  These guidelines transcend traumas involving children; they are  applicable to so many other situations.

When my husband had cancer, or when we experienced two miscarriages, people who loved us and had nothing but the best of intentions sometimes unwittingly said very unhelpful, and, at worst, hurtful things.  Being the recipient of such words necessitates grace and humility, because nobody really knows what to say in those situations.  Failed attempts to bring comfort in tragic circumstances are still attempts; the perception that you are being avoided in those situations only adds loneliness to grief.  To mourn with those who mourn can be an intimidating, uncomfortable experience, and the fear of saying "the wrong thing" only adds to the awkwardness.  If you can't find any words, your physical presence, and certainly a listening ear can bring comfort.

In my experience, those who are grieving need space, even permission, to grieve, and not to be forced to searching for a silver lining in the situation.  Platitudes might feel like the right thing to offer up to someone in grief, but they are of little comfort, and usually not even true.  I've experienced difficult things in my own life and yet I find myself saying some of these things to others.  I can't help but wonder if it is a protective instinct to say something that is supposed to make the grieving person feel better, because it distances me from their pain.  How much easier it is to offer up a silver lining than to acknowledge and enter into the pain of grief with that person, to say "I don't understand why this happened.  I'm so sorry."

And, truly, who can understand such things?  Try as we might to determine all the reasons for this tragedy in Connecticut, reasons which have validity, and need to be explored and acted upon: access to guns, access to mental health resources, the cult of celebrity in (North) America, we are still left without understanding.  American President Obama was right in saying of Newtown "Evil has visited this community."  Like many before me have concluded, evil escapes all explanations, and defies our attempts at understanding it.  It is a fruitless, hopeless endeavour to chase after a satisfactory answer to the gnawing question "Why?".

Today, on the shortest day of the year, when we celebrate that there will be more light in each day from now until the summer solstice, I can only hope and pray for the families in Newtown, and others who are experiencing grief, that they will somehow experience healing.  That as each day brings a few more minutes of light, they might experience even a glimpse more of comfort, of hope for a future, of strength, from the true Light of the world.

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