Over the years I’ve witnessed many painful happenings: slow illnesses; sudden deaths, timely and untimely; people parted cruelty from those they love; young children losing parents; worst of all, parents losing their child. I never pass unthinking the words in the memorial service: ‘Our children, in whom are garnered all our love and hope’.
And this in peacetime in Britain, without the horror of war which so many earlier generations endured with courage, fear, and the gritty determination to live.
Mercifully, I’ve seen many causes for joy, tenderness, thoughtfulness, generosity, courage, and sheer beauty, – beauty in simple things: the winter sun in the branches of orange witch-hazel; a stock-still squirrel, watching the child watching it.
I often think how those whose hearts are broken might find enough love, purpose, meaning and healing to live with wounds which no one can take away. I know that life, which visits us with blessings, will inevitably bring us all, unpredictably, unequally, sorrow. We will all come to know what we don’t and cannot know, until…
So I hope… These are things I hope when pain visits those I care for. I hope love will be present, from family, a closest friend, to take her hand, to hug her, when the man she loved so long passes through the strange, bewildering gateway of death, where the living may not follow and they cannot turn back.
I hope that at the halvayah, the final accompanying journey… “I don’t know what to say,” people tell me often…I hope the hand with which we touch the mourner’s shoulder, take his hand, is a hand of faithful kindness, our presence at the prayers the promise of enduring solidarity.
I hope that in the numb days when it’s hard to believe it really happened, – “It feels unreal”, I’m so often told – there will be people, community, who’re attentive, listen, don’t ask, “How are you?”, know when to offer memories, when to take out the photograph and say “I knew your father”, when to laugh and when to keep silence.
I hope that when the daily rush has reabsorbed everyone in their customary preoccupations and the community has moved on to the next wedding, the next bereavement, steadfast friends won’t just leave a message “Don’t forget to ask me if there’s anything you need?” but say “Can I ask you, if you’re up to it, tomorrow at 3.00… If not, may I ask you in a couple of days again?”
I hope that over the searing months, when it’s impossible to know round what corner or inside what envelope memory waits in ambush with new pain, it may somehow be possible to begin to find purpose: “She cared about that; I’ll devote myself to that in faithfulness to her”; even, “My child loved music; I’m going to do something for children and music… I can’t have him back, but I can do a little of what he would have done.”
I hope that God will speak, not the God of “this happened because”, not the rationaliser or the blamer’s God, but the God of life, who talks in snowdrops, in the wren in the hedge, the God whose unspoken words translate simply as “I am here”.
I hope the Kaddish doesn’t feel like gestures, lies, homage to a past when others really did believe; I hope there’ll be moments when shirata are nechmata, when songs are truly comforts and praise, for a moment, makes sense.
I hope that slowly, over years, those we love, who once held our hand, traverse into our heart and speak to us from there, retelling us their wisdom, their bad jokes, listening when we need them, so that we say “She would have said…”.
I know there’s no gainsaying the empty room, the unoccupied space beside you which follows wherever you go, the dread of reaching for the key to unlock the empty house. I know that grief works to no time-table, conforms with no calendar.
Yet I hope that, somehow, there’ll be sufficient love, enough purpose to go on and live.