We Carry the Light for Each Other

We Carry the Light for Each Other

By: Rebecca Garrett Pace

I need All Saints Sunday this year. I need the candles, the families gathered, the slides of each person we’ve lost, the tolling handbell, the long pauses as people walk forward, the frustration of a candle that won’t light, the inevitable misspelling of someone’s name (I spell check those slides at least 20 times but there’s *always* one error to remind me of my humanity). I need the tears. I need the space.

I need All Saints Sunday because this year, one of the slides will show a picture of me and my dad when we stopped at Bojangle’s on the way home from the airport. I need All Saints Sunday because cancer is unfair and because he and my mom were married for 49 years and because I have days when I struggle to get out of bed, and because passing a mini storage marquee with a dumb joke makes me cry, because it’s exactly the kind of joke Dad would have sent on our family group message.
I need All Saints Sunday because grief feels so lonely, and All Saints Sunday reminds me that I’m not alone.
That I’m going to make it. That not only is it ok to grieve, but it’s expected, supported, and can be beautifully ritualized. It’s given space to breathe. It’s given time to be what it is.
“Mortal, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3)
Our society as a whole is tremendously bad at long-term grief. Over the last 6 weeks, people have asked me repeatedly, “What’s wrong?” and have looked surprised – confused, even – when I say I’m struggling with grief over the loss of my dad. Once the meal-train food is eaten and the containers are washed and returned; once we’ve thanked the flowers for their service and sent them on their way; once the social media feeds have gotten enough stuff posted above the memorial service post, we’re supposed to be over it, right?

A friend who lost her mom last year texted me recently and said, “I never understood the Victorian mourning customs until I lost Mom.” (Quick history lesson: in the Victorian era, people who experienced death would wear black for a full year afterwards – two years if it was your spouse – as a signal to the entire community that you were in mourning. You still attended church, went shopping, cared for families, even went to weddings and parties, but grief and mourning were the undercurrent of all of it.)

Now, I’m not saying we should return to these mourning customs, because those also came with way too many prescriptive elements and assumptions about how people were to be treated (especially women and children and anyone not-white). But there is something rather comforting about a community that expects you to be somewhere on the spectrum of “Mildly Functional” to “A Complete Mess” for at least 12 months.

On All Saints Sunday, I just want to give you a heads up, I will be closer to the “Complete Mess” end of the spectrum. And I’m here to tell you that it’s ok if you are, too.
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Revelation 21:1)
Also on All Saints Sunday, we will be returning to the ancient tradition of acolytes lighting candles at the start of worship. (If you would like to nerd out on the etymology and history of acolytes, you may do so here.) During the first hymn, you’ll see two people walking down the center aisle carrying long candle lighters with a wick and a bell-shaped candle snuffer. They’ll walk forward as we sing “For All the Saints,” and they’ll light a candle on either side of the altar table, symbolizing the presence of God in our midst during worship. At the end of worship, Rev. Kerry will light a candle and carry the light back down the center aisle, symbolizing the presence of God that goes before us and is offered to everyone in the whole world. Together, we share the responsibility and blessing of being light-bearers, acolytes bearing witness to each other that we are not alone, and that we are beloved by God.
“And God will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, and mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for these first things have passed away.”
(Revelation 21:4)
We look forward to a day when death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more, but friends, I am here to tell you that we are not there yet. So on November 6 (and any other day, too), it’s okay if you’re a mess. Whether you experienced a loss yesterday or last year or 40 years ago, it’s okay if you’re still grieving. It’s okay if those dumb jokes on those dumb marquees make you tear up. It’s okay. Let the community light the candle that reminds you that you’re beloved. Let the community speak her name, show his photo, celebrate their life. Find ways to carry the light for one another, and to sit in the blessed darkness once in a while, too. 

Lean on me, and I’ll lean on you.
“And the One who was seated on the throne said, ‘See! I am making all things new!’” (Revelation 21:5)
White Rock UMC is here for you. If you are struggling with grief or another issue and need to speak with a pastor, please do not hesitate to email Rev. Kerry Smith (ksmith@wrumc.org) or Rev. Phil Dieke (pdieke@wrumc.org). Our staff can also provide resources for finding a therapist or counselor, as well as recovery resources. For more information on recovery resources, visit wrumc.org/recovery.

4 Comments


Becky Bordrlon - October 27th, 2022 at 4:10pm

Thanks for your thoughts on grieving. I’ll be a mess right along side of you.

Bette Stanford - October 27th, 2022 at 11:16pm

Rebecca,

Your memories will become more important to you even with the pain that comes with those memories but so many will make you smile. Someone you love and who loved you made such a difference in your life. I stayed with my aunt most weekends while growing up and, in her cranky wisdom, she shared her words and ideas that help mold me and stayed with me. She was a true women's liber and worked hard rarely spending money on herself. I still glance and think I see her in her red lipstick that was applied outside her lips, her clear rainhat, bright red coat and galoshes that covered her shoes in case it rained. She cussed at the pigeons that sat on the window sill of her apartment making noise, made me play the trumpet in school, and on Saturdays we went by bus to the library downtown, after my ballet and elocution classes that she paid for, loading up on books. She took me to church. We ate Neapolitan ice cream while watching Lawrence Welk together...She paid for my college, bought me a Pinto after I graduated high school and raised me when my parents could not and made an undeniable difference in my life. I love these memories of her that make me smile. Thanks for letting me share.

Phil Dieke - November 3rd, 2022 at 10:43pm

Bette, what a beautiful reflection. Thanks for sharing and allowing us into that space!

Patience - October 29th, 2022 at 10:37am

Beautifully said, Rebecca. Grief really does come in waves as it did yesterday on the 19th anniversary of my son’s death. It is probably made harder for you being so far away from your mom & Michael. Know that you are forever loved by so many, & I will always be among them. ❤️

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