The following is a brief reflection I wrote for Kirkwood UCC's "Longest Night" service on the Winter Solstice of 2013. This annual service allows people who are grieving at Christmas to express their grief and find communal solace and hope. My reflection was in regard to the candle we lit to remember those we have lost. I intentionally left the ending without good news to allow people the space to enter into sorrow if they needed to. Later in the service words of hope were shared.

Have you seen the one where the husband took pictures capturing his wife's battle with breast cancer? The images lingering over her beauty and then her struggle - and then the pictures showing a priest giving last rights, a communion wafer. The final image of her empty bed. The sheets folded at the foot.

Or maybe you saw the one of the man who recreated the wedding pictures he and his wife took in their house. After she died he took those same shots again with their daughter as a way of saying good-bye to that place - that house where so much joy and sadness unfolded - before moving on.

Or maybe you saw the latest photonarrative - an elderly couple taking pictures over the years in their front garden capturing the change in seasons. The final photo showing the man alone in the beauty he created with his wife - a garden in full bloom.

These photo projects popping up on Facebook these days capture exactly what it feels like to lose someone so close and so special to us - it's a change in landscape. The ground shifts and we see the empty places where that person would have been standing. And it's an entirely different picture for us.

That is what Christmas is - what it can be. Christmas is hard because it is like those picture projects - the same each year, the same each time - same places, same people, same look, feel, and smells... until suddenly it's not. And we can't help but painfully see what's missing.