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Remembering lost loved ones in candlelit harmony

Personal reflections on her first St Luke’s Light Up a Life service by St Luke’s Communications Copywriter Jackie Butler.

As Christmas approaches, the classic song reminds us that this should be the “most wonderful time of the year”. Yet, for many of us, the festive season is when the pain of losing a loved one can hurt the most.

Gathering with others in a place of worship to remember and celebrate those we miss can be uniquely comforting, whether you are a regular churchgoer or not, and that’s exactly the opportunity St Luke’s Light Up a Life tradition provided for our local community last Tuesday.

Hundreds flocked to St Andrew’s in Plymouth city centre for three special Christmas remembrance services that were making a welcome return after a three-year absence, and I felt heartened to join the throng.

Preparing to venture out on a bitterly cold evening, I wanted to make sure I’d be toasty warm. Opening the jumper drawer, one very precious item caught my eye – a rich green toasty warm mohair polo-neck, hand-knitted by my mother for herself a year or two before she died. When I put it on, it felt like I was taking her with me, which seemed appropriate, given the occasion.

As I entered St Andrew’s, the whole place looked magical, illuminated by dozens of church candles, and I was handed my own hand-size version, ready for a poignant moment later in the proceedings. Taking a seat near the back, in the pews in front of me were men and women of all ages, some alone, others in groups, but all well-wrapped up in warm, winter coats, sitting side by side in quiet unity.

It began with a procession down the aisle, led by relay runners Paul Griffin and David Matthams who had carried the flaming Olympic-style Light Up a Life torch all the way from St Luke’s at Turnchapel just as they have done for more than 20 years. Members of the St Luke’s nursing team and loyal volunteers walked behind in pairs, carrying flickering candles.

With the original Christmas story at its heart, the thoughtfully crafted programme of words and song that followed acknowledged not only the pain of people’s grief and loss, but also the hope that light in the darkness can bring.

Team vicar Tim Partridge recognised the painful reality of people’s struggles this Christmas, reminding us that “Life is full of tears and it doesn’t get put on hold for Christmas Day.”

St Luke’s CEO Steve Statham welcomed the crowd and reminded us that St Luke’s care doesn’t stop at Christmas and that it’s the generosity of the community keeps the organisation going, year after year.

Loyal volunteers Dazzle Tighe and Adrian Frost stepped up to read a passage from the Bible and a poignant poem about treasuring our memories of people who are special to us. The Tamar Concert Choir performed two exquisite Christmas songs – Oh Holy Night and Christmas Lullaby.

The emotion was almost palpable when it was time for us to light and dedicate our personal candles, retreating into our own private worlds. It was a moment to remember those “we love but no longer see” and feel grateful for the light they brought into our lives. I thought not only of family members and special ones who are no longer with us but also of the dear friends who have lost their life partners recently.

There were prayers and a chance to raise our voices together singing Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, transporting me as if by magic back to school nativity concerts.

But the occasion wasn’t quite over yet. The camaraderie of mutual understanding, forged in the pews, carried on in the church hall, with smiles and chatter, new connections made, and old friendships rekindled, over welcome hot drinks and mince pies.

It felt very special to be part of such a heart-warming occasion that didn’t shy away from sadness but offered the chance to celebrate the memory of our loved ones in a positive and hopeful way.

If you weren’t able to join in the Light Up a Life services this year, there’s still time to record your precious memories and post photos of the loved ones you are missing this Christmas and make a donation to St Luke’s on our special online Light Up a Life memory wall.