Comfort in Community
When I remember all
The friends so link’d together
I’ve seen around me fall
Like leaves in wintry weather;
I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some banquet hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garlands dead,
And all but he departed!
Thus in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Sad memory brings the light
Of other days around me.
From ‘The Light of Other Days’, by Thomas Moore (1779-1852)
This Irish poem, copied down in my mother’s commonplace book decades ago, meant little to me then. Now it catches at my heart, as a party-lover beginning to lose some of my fellow banquet hall guests, feeling that aloneness at times ‘in the stilly night’. Perhaps you have too.
As a Manse child, I grew up watching what happens within the community when someone is terminally ill, or has been bereaved. I didn’t hear many personal details - quietness and confidentiality were the watchwords of my father’s pastoral visits to parishioners. “We didn’t talk about these things,” as many folk have said to me. But congregation members were often the first to call round, visit the hospital, leave some cooked meals for freezing, take care of the shopping - though perhaps not directly discussing the diagnosis, the loss, the searing pain of grief. It might have felt inappropriate, even self-indulgent, in those times.
We are beginning to open up about it these days, with TV and radio programmes, podcasts like Cariad Lloyd’s Griefcast and many more I’ve appreciated lately.
The Truacanta project ‘will support local communities across Scotland who are interested in taking community action to improve people’s experiences of death, dying, loss and care.’ In my community of North Berwick there have been some thoughtful, creative initiatives for the annual To Absent Friends festival, from a local Book of Remembrance to creative writing workshops. A group of us hope to spark off further community responses on Saturday 9th November, helped by resources from the Truacanta project - starting with a public meeting and a workshop where we’ll create mementoes of someone we’ve lost.
No matter how much kindness there is within the community, however responsive our churches and other local groups, we may still slip through the cracks at times. It can happen to any of us, at some point in our lives, and I’ve experienced that vividly several times. So we hope to increase the outreach, multiply the means of connection, make it easier to find the support, training and resources we need to help each other more effectively and sensitively.
Whether working as a celebrant or simply as a woman getting older, increasingly aware of mortality and loss, I know that nearly all of us will need to feel the comfort of community at times. You might feel the same. Take a look at the Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief website for some resources towards that first step if you’d like that for your own community. Wishing you all comfort.