It’s because of the dark, we see the beauty in in the spark
When I’m asked what my favourite Christmas song is, I’m always ready with the answer. It’s not Fairytale of New York, or even A Winter’s Tale by David Essex (although I am extremely partial to it), but one that I’ve seen described as “a Christmas song for grownups” – Joy, by Tracey Thorn. I’ve always preferred a melancholy Christmas song to Noddy Holder and the gang partying it up (hence the David Essex – yes, really have you listened to it? “Why should the world take notice of one more love that’s failed?”). So when I heard Joy on the radio back in 2012 when it as released as a single, I loved it immediately. My husband even bought it for me on CD (yes, we were still buying CDs then).
I always listen to it around this time of year, but two years ago it took on a whole new significance. The first line is “When someone very dear calls you with the words ‘Everything’s all clear’.” In December 2017, my husband had just been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. He was very far from all clear, in the midst of undergoing tests to establish how far his cancer had spread, and whether it was going to be potentially curable. Or not. I took my oldest son to a carol service, the words of the song echoing through my mind as I fought back tears, my 11 year old oblivious beside me in the pew. ‘That’s why, that’s why the carols make you cry.’ They gave us each a little wooden angel at that service and I held it tightly in my pocket. I don’t know where it is now.
Last year, I asked Alexa to play it over and over again (no need for the CD). There was no chance of an all clear this time. My husband’s cancer had come back a month before and there was no hope of a cure. I didn’t know how long he had – neither of us had ever asked, not wanting, I think, to know the answer. But I knew, somehow, as I struggled to make everything OK for our children, that this would be his last Christmas.
Yesterday, I lay on the sofa listening once more to my favourite Christmas song, tears streaming down my face. My husband has been dead for eight months. You might think I’m torturing myself, listening to a song that makes me cry, but actually I find it an enormous comfort because it makes me realise I’m not the only one. It’s easy to get so caught up in your own grief that you forget it’s a universal experience. Not everyone loses a partner young, but we’ve all lost someone – or we will. It’s a similar comfort to the one I found in a book my husband bought me not long before he died, Clock Dance by Anne Tyler, in which the main character has lost her husband. Although I read it before he died, I was already grieving, and had been since we were told his cancer was ‘treatable, not curable’. I read these lines over and over again: “What helped her was to walk down a crowded sidewalk, or through a busy shopping mall, and reflect that almost everyone there had suffered some terrible loss. Sometimes more than one loss. Many had lost their dearest loves, but look at them, they were managing. They were putting one foot in front of the other. Some were even smiling. It could be done.”
You are not alone, those words say, and that’s what the song does for me too. My favourite line is “It’s because of the dark, we see the beauty in the spark.” I know now how terrible life can be. Cancer drew back the curtain and showed me what had been there all along. But it’s not only terrible – it’s also wonderful, and exciting, and beautiful. There is sadness, and no one can escape it. But there’s goodness too, and hope and yes - joy.
Wow! A truly beautiful statement and one that gets right to my soul! What can I say, other than I know what it is to grieve and to lose someone and how you learn to move on, only because you have to.
I will now listen to ‘Joy’ , I am still losing someone at this moment although he has ‘been gone’ many years, he is still here fading away. I will take comfort from what you have said here. You are wonderful with words and I thank you for this today, it has soothed my soul. Bless you and I wish you love and peace x
Linda Marshall, 8 Dec, 2019
I can’t imagine the depth of your grief, Laura. May you and yours have a peaceful, healing Christmas. And I didn’t know this song - thanks.
Incidentally, this summer I have been through prostate cancer - diagnosis, surgery, the merciful all clear & return to work. The experience has given me a new appreciation for all the good things in my life (esp. my wife) and all the love around me. It’s also given me a clear sense that I want to get more out of what remains of my life.
I hope 2020 brings you healing and good things.
Simon , 9 Dec, 2019
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