This wonderful sculpture can be seen at Beckley Parish Church and is one my favourite pieces by the artist and sculptor Nicholas Mynheer.
Although the Dedication of the Church is to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the sculpture is on a plinth in the Lady Chapel, the statue itself is deliberately entitled ‘Mother and Child’ and was given by the sculptor ‘on behalf of all of the families who have lost children’.
For me that is particularly poignant because it always reminds me of my niece, Helen, who died in a horse-riding accident some twenty years ago. It was one of those events that was a genuine accident. She was not riding carelessly; no one else was to blame. The horse she was riding simply slipped on a bridge and fell on top of her.
But whether a death like that happens because of a genuine accident — or if someone, somewhere is to blame — the pain and that awful sense of loss are very much the same. Particularly in our culture, where infant and child mortality is so much less than in many parts of the world, we expect our children to outlive us, which makes it all the harder when one of them dies.
Yet death does come to the young. For some it may come through an illness or a genetically inherited problem. For others, thankfully very rarely, it may come through neglect or suicide. For yet others it may come through what are sometimes called ‘accidents’ but where there is very often someone who is to blame.
Each year for the past few years the Thames Valley Police have organised a ‘Road Death Memorial Service’ at St Mary’s Thame. This year it is at 3pm on 17 November and it is always immensely moving to be there with dozens of families whose lives have been turned upside down by the death, very often of a child, or young adult, on our roads.
It is a service that is full of grief – but also of thankfulness and a gentle ray of hope. The people who come are from all faiths and none and from every age and social background and there is something very powerful about simply being there together.
That same sense of ‘togetherness’ will, I am sure, be present in the many other services at this time of the year at which we remember the loved ones we have lost. Interestingly too a number of support groups are springing up all over Oxfordshire that are run by Age UK Oxfordshire specifically for those who have been bereaved and my hope is that we will work together in developing these.
But whatever such groups offer – all of which is very good – there is always a strongly personal element in grief. For me Nicholas Mynheer has captured that beautifully in this statue. The tenderness and the warmth are suffused too with a sense of pain. It is indeed a statue to bring comfort to all those who have known the pain of the loss of a child.
The Rt Revd Colin Fletcher is the Bishop of Dorchester.