Infection risks during the pandemic kept many people from the deathbed or interment of a loved one. Sue McDermott OBE, whose bereavement work has focused on children, reflects…

In thinking back over the year, my mind is a patchwork of emotions. There have been devastating times when friends have died, a close friend unable to be with his dying wife, a family unable to hold a meaningful funeral; so many feeling unable to say goodbye, our children and grandchildren unable to visit us because of lockdown, shielding and social distancing! And throughout all of this, an unexpected life-threatening health issue denied us the opportunity to gather in support with friends at church. What a difficult year this has been!
Yet through all of this there have been great moments of unexpected hope and joy: speaking with a neighbour for the first time in years; receiving people’s offers of help while we have been shielding; creating new ways of celebrating significant events including my seventieth birthday; making long-intended but hitherto unfulfilled phone calls to friends; seeing friends and family in a new virtual reality. The love I have experienced from my family and friends has brought me great happiness during exceedingly difficult times. Together we have understood that great sadness and uncertainty are also part of our lives, and we have shared many tears over the phone.
All these experiences have brought new meaning to my choice of fabrics while creating and working on this year’s Christmas patchwork quilt. The colour and pattern of each piece of fabric speaks to me of this unique year and my hope for the future. It is a real mixture of love, devastation, loss, celebration, strength, courage and, above all, hope. It makes me think that a simple parish patchwork quilt of this year could help us all on our shared road to adjustment and hope.

Many of us didn’t expect to say goodbye to loved ones this year. Nor did many of us expect not to be able to say goodbye – without a funeral service or a reception to share our memories, our thanks and our sadness. While we know that death is the natural end of life on this earth and the greater the love the greater the grief, not to have a funeral service for one we love is a tragedy beyond words. Their death needs to be marked and their life remembered.
Through my bereavement ministry over many years, I know that the human response of sensitive listening, kind words and practical help really matter and can be life-giving. We need time and space to grieve alone and in our communities.
Many of us will have been able to gather this November for some form of service of remembrance and thanksgiving. Hopefully, this will have brought us some comfort in the midst of our loss and grief. As we journey through Advent, this year as every year, we will naturally think of those not with us. This year we may need to find a way to express our love for those we couldn’t be with when they died, for those friends whose funerals we couldn’t attend, and for other bereavements and losses.
In my own parish we will be offering a number of opportunities during the last week of Advent to anyone living near our church for a time of prayerful reflection, gentle music and the opportunity to light candles for loved ones. Tea and coffee will be available and a chance to share our stories of loss with sensitive listeners. Parishioners and those visiting will be invited to create their own square of remembrance for our parish patchwork quilt.

During our Christmas liturgies we will especially remember loved ones who have died this last year. In addition to the usual candles lit in church, others, blessed by the community, will be gifted and lit at home as a sign of love for those who have died, of thanksgiving for those who have helped us this year and a sign of hope in the year to come. These little ways of marking this unique year at Christmas will enable us to be truly present to each other – journeying together in love and hope, true companions on our journey.

Of course, Christmas this year may be especially difficult for some children. Some children will have experienced the death of a significant person in their lives and may not have been able to share the final times with a mum, dad or grandparent. The support that they receive at home and at school on their journey of grief will be crucial and will help them cope in their changed world. They may need reassuring that nothing they did or didn’t do contributed to the death of a loved one. They will need “permission” to be happy at times in a routine which is as “normal” as possible. Hopefully, all schools will offer ongoing bereavement support. More and more schools use the services of Rainbows Bereavement Support GB. Its website ( offers much practical help and guidance, to schools and to parents and carers.
At the height of the coronavirus crisis the words of hope and encouragement that Pope Francis expressed really mattered to me and have stayed with me over the months. They seem even more important now for the coming year:
“Tonight, before falling asleep think about when we return to… when we can hug again… when normality will seem an unexpected and beautiful gift. We will love everything that has so far seemed futile to us… when every second will be precious. Strength and courage…” Pope Francis, April 2020
“Strength and courage when alone and when together!” seems to be a mantra to carry forward through and beyond this Christmas. While living with our grief, we journey on into 2021 in love and hope with family and friends. My Christmas gift to myself and those on this journey is one of hope: hope that all the positive effects of our “patchwork year” will be maintained and deepened, living one day at a time.

Sue McDermott OBE is a former Executive Director of Rainbows Bereavement Support GB,, and, following her retirement, remains a patron of the charity.

Please Note: This Article is Copyright protected and is reproduced here with the kind permission of Redemptorist Publications.

The article was originally printed in the Redemptorist Publication Advent Extra 2020, a Kindle version can be purchased via Amazon by clicking on the link below :

Advent Extra 2020: Out of the Wilderness eBook: Fearns, Janet, McBride, Denis, McDermott OBE , Sue, O’Sullivan , Moire , Lumley, John , Kelly, Des, Russell, Lucy, Adhagiuno, Mabel, O’Hanrahan, Emerald, Colwell, Mary: Kindle Store

One thought on “UNABLE TO SAY GOODBYE”

  1. Beautifully written and so meaningful at this difficult time . The quilt is a lovely way for people to express their thoughts and feelings . Thank you Sue for taking the time to write this article and make the lasting memory of the beautiful quilt .

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