“Yes, there are times when being present feels out of reach or too much to bear. There are times when false refuges can relieve stress, give us a breather, help lift our mood. But when we’re not connected to the clarity and kindness of presence, we’re all too likely to fall into more misunderstanding, more conflict, and more distance from others and our own heart.” ~ True Refuge
December 20 and 21 mark the Winter Solstice this year. Well, every year, actually.
The shortest day and longest night of the year
Many Christian Churches hold a service of grief and remembrance on this night. They are called, alternately, Longest Night Services or Blue Christmas Services.
I do not attend church regularly but have attended one of these services, the year after Tom died. It was moving and hard, but I appreciated the fact that grief was acknowledged, and clearly I wasn’t the only person in pain that Christmas. I was constantly looking for that connection with others as miserable as I was, and this was a good and safe place to start. I haven’t attended a service since then, but the other day I happened to be at the church that Tom and I attended for years and I found myself asking if they were having a service. They were, this Sunday night.
I feel like I want to go; I’m not sure why this year. I think it may have something to do with the whole TBTH idea….because, as hard as I try, I have to acknowledge that I do get sad, I do feel grief, and since I no longer drink those feelings away, or shunt them to the side, the idea of acknowledging them in a safe environment with others seems enticing.
I picture myself in the service, in the same church where we got married, where he sang in the choir for years, where his memorial service took place. The place is haunted for me, and forever will be, and I wonder again why I want to go.
The true work of TBTH is not to forget, or act as if nothing has happened. It is to find more and more ways to coexist with the dichotomy of the holiday season, one of joy and gifts and the senses and yet one where my heart is full of sorrow, closed. How do I open it this time, how do I allow the joy of the season to re-fill me? I’m actually doing it, I am having a very nice holiday season, but I am working at it.
The idea of attending a Longest Night service, of being present in my grief , of allowing that which will never go away to just be….it seems necessary to me, as necessary as the family coming over Xmas Eve, as the parties and the presents and the joy.
I wrote to my nephew the other day that I hoped his dad (Tom’s brother) could start to see his way to being grateful for what we had vs. so destroyed by what we don’t have. That shift is happening for me, and it is profound. I have invited that shift in and am so glad I did. But I also have to acknowledge the pain it took to get here and the people it took to show me the love that I want to reflect back into the world. The ability to be present and openhearted in both sorrow and gladness, in memory and hope does not come easily, but it does come.
I think I will be attending that service on the 21st. I just got invited to a party the same night…what to do? Maybe a little party and the service, I haven’t decided yet. I know that some of you will read this and identify, and so I wanted to write about this service. Wherever you are, in a service or not, I’d like to remind you to honor your grief, make space for and allow it, even as you enjoy this merry season. The Solstice, the Longest Night, is symbolic of that grief and, as such, a perfect night to indulge in, or ritualize your feelings.
Grief has a place in our lives. The people we grieve WERE, and ARE. But in learning to find the joy again, I believe we need to acknowledge and love the grief. I know, for me, it is a necessary step in my TBTH journey.
I’ll let you know how it was if I go. If anyone else attends a service (they are all over the country, I checked) please let me know how it was for you.
and speaking of Blue Christmas…