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Life Chez Dee Episode #76: Advent Thoughts At a Distance

Monday night again, and time once more to meet with those others I have joined to talk through advent, and it’s meaning today. This week was entitled “At a Distance” and we looked at family life in lockdown and the Holy Family’s isolation at the time of their son’s birth.

We reflected on how Mary had to give birth far away from her family, and what this might have been like for her; and also thought about those who have had babies this year, during a pandemic, and throughout lockdown.

I think about how it was in the first lockdown, when women weren’t able to have their partners with them at the hospital to support them in childbirth, only the midwives would be there to support them. Of course this isn’t such a novel idea; going back some years … and a few more, women wouldn’t have had their partners with them at hospital when they gave birth. Even those who had home births would not have their partners with them … men would keep a respectable distance from the room where their wives were in labour and birthing, and only the midwife, or female family members would be with them.

Of course, at the time Mary would have been having her baby, she would have been relying heavily on her mother and the community where she lived for help and support. The way of life back then would have been very different, and with no mod cons, would have been necessary, essential even, to rely on families and communities to help and support and rally round for one another.

Let us also not forget how young Mary was. She had no life experience, this was her first child, and this would compound her need for her family to support her. We think about first time mums today, and how much support is available to them through antenatal and postnatal classes, mums and tots groups, health visitors, GPs, irrespective of whether there is family support available. The bonding in these classes and groups is such that strong and special friendships are formed which are carried throughout life, and we can’t help but think about how this pandemic has maybe prevented these classes and groups from happening, and the knock on effects the absence of these has had.

We think of the ease at which it is to ask for help nowadays, just by picking up a telephone to be in touch with someone; and to be able to share the news of the baby in this way too, and we think about how Mary wouldn’t even have been able to speak with her family to share her news.

When Jesus was born, albeit away from their families, Mary and Joseph were surrounded by visitors who came to see the baby. Thinking of those who have had babies in lockdown, how sad it is that they have been unable to have visitors in their homes, and that they too have been unable to visit anyone. We’re thankful for technology that this has allowed families to still communicate and connect, but how this is no replacement for being face to face, and having real contact, that human touch, a hug or a kiss.

My thoughts turn to how it was when I had William, and indeed when I had Edward. We lived quite some distance from both our families, and so both Justin and I were without both practical, and emotional help. We did have visits from the family but only the odd day trip, because being so distanced, they couldn’t come too often, and didn’t want to impose themselves on us by staying for a long time. I think back to when I had Edward. Mum and Dad popped down when he was due, but with no sign of Edward’s arrival, they were unable to wait around any longer as they were going away on a cruise, and it was almost touch and go whether my sister would be able to stay as the Easter holidays were drawing to a close. When Edward eventually arrived 10 days late, friends kept away, thinking that our family would be with us, and yet this wasn’t the case, and I felt a little isolated. Being Easter time, I was thankful when William went back to school, so that there was some contact with meeting up with people again, have company, and indeed show off Edward and let friends have cuddles with him.

We reflect on other significant times in people’s lives, and our own lives in particular, where we have had to cope without people around to support us. There is lots of talk about this, each of us being able to give examples of where we have managed without support from families and friends. Much of the times we have been able to manage and cope without support, has been when we have been able to plan ahead; we have had an expectation of how much, or how little, support to expect, and we have been prepared. For Mary however, her circumstances were different, she probably expected lots of help and support from her family and community, and by not having her expectations met, this must have caused her some distress. I think about the times which have caused extra distress, and I concur with this thinking, that it is when our needs and expectations are not met, that we have more difficulty coping.

I do feel saddened that those who have had babies during lockdown have missed out on this experience of being able to share the delight of their baby with others, particularly if this is their first child. Not only have they not had any visitors, but they have been unable to visit others too, and talk about their experience, and share in their good news. They have been able to go out for walks, but they have been unable to go to groups and have access to friendship and support networks.

Our discussions lead us to reflect on the difficulties we have faced during lockdown and think about the creative and thoughtful ways we have we have managed. We all had one thing in common in having the gift of time, where we have been able to pause, reflect, and be kind to ourselves, find new hobbies, get jobs done, filling the time, being productive, finding new hobbies, or pursuing existing ones. For me, I’ve loved doing lots of baking. I’ve always loved baking, but since March I have been baking pretty much constantly, making cakes for Justin and the boys, who now seem to be disappointed if the cake tin isn’t stuffed with goodies on a daily basis. Baking, and delivering cake to friends and family has given me lots of pleasure … and indeed a thicker waistline. I’ve managed to spend an enormous amount of time in the garden, and have walked many miles on my daily walk with Justin. Family time together has been precious, and walking with Justin has not only given us time together, but we have walked different routes, and managed to talk with people at a distance from ends of driveways.

Slowing down, refocussing, recharging is good for us, and has certainly been good for my mental and physical wellbeing. There is often an element of guilt about taking time for ourselves, but after much reflection and self-counsel, I know that in order to be there for others, I need to offer the same care to myself; self-care, is not self-indulgence.

I’m grateful for the gift of time I have to be able to focus on who I am, and who I need to be. We reflect on what our role might be; what is our purpose; what is the next step in our journey. Like the wise men journeying and bringing gifts, what is it that we bring on our journey … to the world, to the community, to our family. Time has allowed us to decide what to continue with, and what not to continue with, and we hope we can recognise, listen, and respond to our needs and the needs of others.

Children change our lives forever, and so too does all that we experience in life, the pandemic being no exception. Things happen and cause change, we have a new normal, and when we come through this there will be another new normal. We will never be as we were, just as things happen and things change, so we are changed too, and we never return to how things were; we are not the same.

We long to meet again with our friends and our family, we long for personal contact, we long to touch and hold each other, but meet again we will. Some haven’t been fortunate in this pandemic, lives have been lost, leaving loved ones consumed by grief to face their time alone. Let us be thankful if we are one of the lucky ones now counting the weeks when we will meet with our loved ones in person again.

Again I reflect on how much I miss Edward, and how much I long to see him, speak to him, hold him; but that will never be so.

This week we add Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus to our nativity scene. Mary and Joseph are intact in the nativity set I have, and so they are now put into the scene I am creating this year. The baby Jesus I have put into the nativity is a little knitted figure which was so kindly given to me from Fairhaven Methodist Church, as they reach out to people in their church, and the wider community. A family photograph and a candle are the other items we add to the scene this week, to represent the good news of Jesus’ birth, and to share something of our own journey. My family picture is one with Edward in the picture, as he is as much part of our family as he ever was. And my candle is The Edward Dee Fund Firecracker Candle. It seems so appropriate again this week to include Edward, as it has been such a difficult weekend, as we remember the fourth anniversary of his death.

We finish with a prayer to ask God to help us through this strange time which none of us planned. That there have been significant life changes for many of us, some joyful, some painful, and we pray that God hears all we say, whether spoken or unspoken, and he hears and knows the names of the people we pray for who are in our hearts and minds. We give thanks for the gift of time; that we are able to be creative and thoughtful in our ways to get through our difficult times and situations, and which allow us to discover who we are, and who we need to be on this journey of ours.


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