It has long been known that many times well-meaning but unwitting supporters of those in mourning have offered some rather rough and unpalatable clichés in their attempt to console. We’ve all heard (and perhaps even offered at one time ourselves) heartfelt, albeit naïve, condolences such as “God must have needed him/her,” or “Aren’t you glad he/she is in heaven now?”
I well remember a time when those words rocked me to my core. Following the untimely death of my husband, Trent, my painfully bold response was, “I am glad he’s in heaven, but I’d much rather him be here beside me where he belongs.” (May I publicly apologize to anyone I offended in those very raw and confusing days.)
Of course, our greatest desire is to know our loved one is face to face with our Maker in heaven. However, losing the physical presence of someone we held dear can be a mind-numbing affair. How do we cope?
Cognitively, we know that in loss our beloved is gone. But in our grief we must turn inward to our hearts and learn that nothing we have loved can ever be lost. We take those we have loved into our very being and carry them with us forever.
We move slowly in our grief from the physical relationship that we enjoyed with our loved one to one of a spiritual nature — from here to there.
I have learned that over time we learn to adjust our lives slowly around the gap the death of our loved one creates. We begin to fill the space with what is left yet to live and, of course, the memory of what we still hold dear — our loved one.
It was well over a year that my internal clock adjusted to the fact that Trent was not going to walk through our door at 6 p.m. and call out his cheerful daily greeting. I knew when I finally stopped looking toward the door at dinnertime that I was moving toward healing.
Missing the physical presence of our loved one can sometimes be immobilizing with its aching loneliness. Moving through those early days without just one more chance to work, rest, play, dance, talk, laugh and cry with our loved one becomes a matter of simple survival.
But out of the ashes God creates gems. If we do the hard work of mourning — that is, listening to our hearts, minds and bodies when they speak and responding with gentle kindness and care — we can move from here to there, giving new form to the relationship we cherished with our loved one. We learn to think of our loved one in a different way.
Some may respond by saying, “I don’t want a spiritual relationship, but rather my old physical one.” I couldn’t agree more. However, because death is the ultimate leveler, we simply have but one choice — to move with our grief into healing and live with the joy of memory.
On our journey of grief we learn that we can continue to love that which is no longer physically in our lives. We learn that even though we can’t see or touch someone they are still alive in our hearts. The fond memories of those lives well lived can bring great joy to healing hearts.
I have wondered though of our death avoidant culture and its need for the bereaved to move on with life as quickly as possible. “Leave what’s past in the past” it seems to shout. I believe that we can never forget our past, even if we wanted to. And why must we?
Part of the healing movement of healthy mourning is creating a new normal life step by step in which we carry our loved ones with us. Our hearts will tell us when it’s time to make changes in our lives that will move us from here to there. It was a slow process for me to decide what belongings of Trent’s to share with others as well as when to do it. I was able to recognize as I let go of those tangible things of his, that my relationship with him was shifting and that it was okay.
The memory of Trent’s presence in my life became part of who I am as I followed my path of grief. I was not forgetting my past but keeping what was important to me close to my heart as I moved into the future.
Now almost 24 years later I see the good God has worked in me and in those I have walked with on their grief journey. Moving from here to there has been a challenging task, but well worth the effort. Our loved ones are just a whisper away in our healing hearts.