By Mia Ong
My brother, Joe, died unexpectedly in a hiking accident in February 2014. He was 43 years old, healthy, married, with two young sons. I had seen him just five weeks earlier, over Christmas when we gathered our families at our parents’ home in Pittsburgh. Everyday I think of him and feel sadness. Like for so many other people dealing with loss, the holidays have become especially painful for me.
Last year was the first Christmas season following Joe’s death. I did not feel the holiday spirit. Displaying forced cheerfulness, to match the surrounding joy, was exhausting. The heightened merriment and revelry marked by the season only brought into high relief, for me, Joe’s absence and my family’s grief. Yet, whether I liked it or not, Christmas was coming.
In early December 2014, I received an invitation in the mail to attend The Church of Our Redeemer’s Service of Healing and Remembrance. I remember being surprised that something like this even existed. I also remember being quite touched that, at the bottom of the invitation, was a kind, handwritten note from Rev. Kate. Most of all, I remember being grateful to have the opportunity to participate in a holiday ritual towards healing and remembrance. Grieving and struggling are universal human experiences, and Redeemer gently acknowledged this.
I attended the service. There was a small gathering of congregants. Rev. Andrew said some words, we prayed together, and there was some music. At some point, we stepped forward, one by one, to light a candle in honor of our loved ones. I confess much of the event was a blur to me, because I cried from the time I arrived in the parking lot to the time I left. It was the most honest hour of Christmas I had last year. By the end of the service, though, I felt a release of some tension and sorrow. There is healing in God’s grace and in being with others who understand because they are grieving and struggling, too. I will be attending again this year.
This year, The Church of Our Redeemer is hosting its Service of Healing and Remembrance on December 17 at 7:30 pm.