I am grateful to share some of my reflections with you as you and I seek to remember, to be made whole again, and claim the future as the legacy that has been left to us by our loved ones who have departed this life. I want to reflect briefly on a theme which suggests that healing of loss, grief, emptiness, happens at “Intervals of Remembrances” – moments in which in the quietness of our souls, and the stillness of our spirits, we let ourselves become open to loving messages from the Beyond that our loved ones continue to share with us. I would like to begin as abruptly as I can, as abruptly as the news arrived that I have lost someone, thus keeping my reflections in a context of intensity that is shattering and healing at the same time. In this abruptness, when I am given bad news, the loss, grief, emptiness, is staggering, complete, pervasive.
It is a time to encounter the strange, that which is different, an alien self that I am just coming to be aware of, a vulnerable “me” that is emerging in a compelling way at a time when I resist being compelled, when I want nothing to do with my own sense of tragic injustice forced upon me by my loss. That is why my loss is not something I carry around on my insides that I can shed by desire or whim. I am my loss. I have become someone who shall forevermore be defined as one who has suffered a loss. Suffered? Is this not what my suffering really is, my wanting, yearning to be re- united with my beloved, but my fearing to leave my world? For this is what my world has become, a place of loss, grief, emptiness. It is my entire world, the place in which I make my home. Home? How can I still call this Home? When there is this profound absence, this gaping emptiness that is my most present terrible reality? What message of hope can this home still hold for me?
Here time stands still, at least for me it does, for now you and I are different, we inhabit different worlds, yours full of fun, laughter, joy, in your world perhaps there is no such thing as time. But in my world, time stands still, firmly holding me here in a pattern of grief painted against a background of helplessness. Such pervasive helplessness. This is a place where no one can reach me, a place of stretched-out moments of vagueness, where lost meanings remain lost, un-regained, never to appear again; while new meanings gestate in some remote breast that does not seem to be me or mine. I am bereft of meaning. It is as if my beloved has taken my meaning, our meaning into a Beyond through which I cannot reach, that I am left here with memories distorted by this throbbing emptiness.
In this world that I seek to understand and describe, I am assaulted at every turn by shapes, sounds, senses, that come at me threateningly. I cannot yet feel their comfort and warmth, I am yet too vulnerable to receive another. As yet, I do not know myself well enough to open my life to new shapes, sounds and senses. Shapes, sounds, senses define, demarcate, constrict me. Gradually, I become aware of you. Your shapes – blurred images of myself. Are you my sorrow, my grief? I am still afraid that you will be blurred into me, and I push you away to a distance that is comforting to me. You can give me comfort only from this distance. I am still afraid of your warmth, your closeness. I know now what it means to lose someone. What I know makes me afraid. 1 do not want to lose another. Yet I know, somewhere in my own depths, that one day, perhaps one day soon, I shall be able to embrace you and be whole again.
And then there are the sounds, sounds – dull and un-inspiring, rippling though the fabric of my days. Distant, comforting sounds that you make that seem to be words and sentences full of meaning. But 1 resist you, too, because I resist all new meaning, I resist and reject anything new because my time stands still and I cannot move, I cannot rise above the pain, I cannot see tomorrow, and even nightfall seems as far a country seen in dreams. Yet I know, somewhere in my own deep depths, that one day, perhaps one day soon, I shall be able to hear you, and share your joy, and be whole again.
And then there are the senses – senses benumbed and un-alive to the deeper needs for another, for relationships that redeem. And these senses of sight, touch, smell, taste and feel, rush in upon me as waves upon a tired swimmer, engulfing me, shoving me to some depth where I cannot breathe, where I long for air. I suffocate. My loss, grief, emptiness, how you suffocate me! I want to rise, to come to the surface, breathe again as if for the first time, the first full breath taken upon this good earth. And I cannot. Yet I know, somewhere in my own depths, in my own deep depths, that one day, perhaps one day soon, I shall be able to see, touch, smell, taste and feel. And I shall be whole again.
There is something holy in remembrances, especially in these brief “Intervals of Remembrances.” It may not be that kind of holiness associated with cathedrals, temples and churches, nor even the kind of holiness that arises from finding ourselves in the immediate presence of the Divine. What is holy in remembrance is this: in remembering the departed, we bring them back from the Beyond and make them present again, in thoughts, prayers, wishes and hopes. We re-create situations of fondness in which we once again can cherish them. When we remember those whom we have lost, we raise them to new levels of spiritual presence, so that they can touch us again, and in touching us, change us.
Here I pause in the presence of this holiness that changes me, and I inquire of myself further, more expansively than ever. What does this holiness tell me of myself? What word of hope may I find when I cherish again my beloved? And slowly I become aware, achingly aware that there is also something holy in knowing that the wounds never heal fully. The loss, grief, emptiness is everlasting, it is here, now, and will be here tomorrow, wounds reminding me that each moment is precious, that each moment does not draw me further from my beloved, but instead draws me closer to them. Holiness is something that closes the distance, that mends the separation, that fills the void. This is a sacred sense that tells of a beloved, departed in hope, present in love, memorialized in an oozing of love that never dries up, just as the wound never really dries up. Remembrance brings to mind the holy woundedness that inspires us to live on in hope, and to be made whole once again by hope.
And in this holy remembrance is given a truth hard won by a dying and a death, a truth that breaks forth from graves and urns and ashes. It is a truth that each of us must come to learn, to embrace and to celebrate. It is a truth that says that we, mortal to the core, by these holy remembrances, reach places that mortals merely visit in dreams. They are places of the spirit, of the heart, places made real by remembrance. Places of mysteries and mercies, of mercy and compassion, of compassion and absolution. This holy remembrance by which the beloved becomes present to our spirit, absolves us of the guilt we have borne for being separated. There is a good reason why we need to be absolved of guilt, a reason that ultimately will be found to be life-giving and life-sustaining.
But let us proceed there slowly so as not to lose the precious meanings we have uncovered so far. Let us instead make a fresh start in seeking to know whom we have become as a result of our loss. Perhaps we will come to know just how much, and how greatly we have grown. Perhaps we will learn just how nurturing our losses have been. Perhaps we have only barely turned the corner, and there is a whole new road stretching ahead of us, waiting to be traveled.
On this next leg of the journey, we begin by acknowledging that all our experiences so far have taught us that death binds us to an unreasonable world. We just can’t navigate it in any kind of logical way. It forces us to deal with it emotionally, sentimentally. Death listens to our ravings and accusations and always refuses to answer us. It still demands absolute trust from us. It reminds us that we cannot see beyond the veil, and because we cannot see we must believe.
So, this much is clear now: Each death demands faith, and maybe not the “believing” kind of faith, but the “knowing” kind of faith, that faith that looks for certainty. And each death speaks an absolute truth: a death and a truth that neither spares us nor pampers us, one that claims the beloved in an un-letting embrace, and so forces from us a new conversation with our beloved, a conversation that offers another absolute: now the beloved leads us to absolution, and in so doing sets us free.
Now we can claim another new meaning, the death that is binding is also freeing. And I have suggested this new meaning, this freeing that death allows, comes about through a conversation,
through words, through messages. By a conversation? What word can there be from the beyond? What breaks through the silence, the many, unending silences, if anything? I remember that the immediate result of my loss is that pervading, numbing silence that leaves me completely helpless. I do not experience this as freeing. I cannot emerge out of myself to speak to the world, to embrace the world, to experience the world. I am completely self-contained. All access to others have been denied to me. I live in silence and, gradually, I let the silence speak to me, give me its message and its wonder, its mystery and its miracle.
And then my heart inquires, “Does not the silence from the Beyond indeed reach my silence Within? Does not the silence of the living match the silence of the dead? Is there not one continuous silence? This silence is the first message of hope. Now I know that we are still connected in an unspoken way. I begin to see that this silence is the veil that prevents others from intruding upon my grief. My beloved has given me this silence as a gift, as a protection, a shield against the harsh drowning reality.
I come to understand the inner meaning of the message from the Beyond, that silence is the path through which grief must pass before it becomes grace. Now I know that grace is born of silence. That there is a stillness from which no answer emerges, because the stillness is itself the answer. A stillness that now says to me, “peace” “rest” “renew.” Now T experience for the very first time in my loss that there is profound hope for us in this silence. That here is profound healing for us in this silence. That silence holds out this hope not with arms outstretched inflexibly but as welcoming, beckoning, as if saying, “Be reverent before the mystery,” and further, “In silence, touch the anguish! feel the pain! claim the healing!” Long before I am grasped by this meaning and shaped by it, I struggle with the silent emptiness, that often, and too often has come to us as something terrible to bear. Who can endure the Terrible? It is something lingering, compounding the loneliness, elevating the loneliness, highlighting the emptiness, the total, insoluble emptiness that only that which is Terrible can create.
In struggling with this terrible thing that demands so much of me at a time of my severest vulnerability, my heart inquires again, “Must we first tame what is Terrible in order to embrace it? To love it? Is it not rather that the Terrible is precisely something that lacks love, that pleadingly demands love? Is it not rather that only by loving what is Terrible can we be changed by it? Again from the Beyond comes assurance. Feel the feelings! These terrible feelings of death, loss, grief, great loneliness, emptiness, a hope receded into obscurity, mornings of ambiguous meaninglessness. Feel the feelings! This is the word from the Beyond. These feelings are the conversation that announces something healing from the silences, and only by engaging the feelings, by surrendering to them, grasping them and cherishing them can we find healing for the wounds of loss. The feelings cry out, “nurture us! feed us! nourish us! that we can grow fully and completely to maturity, and grow with us! become one with us! find healing with us once and for all!”
Let me proceed softly, gently here, and see what I gain if I listen, not only with my ears, but with my whole self. This is the word that I receive, this is the meaning that is comes to me, that in embracing the loneliness we are embraced again. In claiming the emptiness we are filled again. In acknowledging the loss we are acknowledged again. In affirming the grief, we are affirmed again. Death, grief, loss, all of which are “Other” than we are, reminds us as we are remembering, that by embracing the Other we find our wholeness again. Death is life in its pure otherness. Loss is gain in its pure hopefulness. What a wonderful message to receive from our beloved, this healing message, when we listen intently with our whole hearts. But we cannot rest from our meditations yet. The road is long, waiting for the traveler, so we take the next step.
We remember the whole of life: birth, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, death. Even if we remember only in part, our reflections will convince us that birth and death are not parentheses between which we live out our lives. There was family here before our birth, and there will be family there, after our death. Beginnings and endings are never as clear as we would like them to be. We learn to be content with their fuzziness and distortions. For this will lead us to glean new meanings from our losses. We begin to see the world differently because we have become different. We are no longer what we used to be. We have grown. But how is this so? Listen carefully now. Birth and death are the creative edge of our yearning and our fulfilment. It is a certainty of that knowing kind of faith that birth is a beginning catapulted into a future where we share our lives communally, transforming one another. Now also death is a catapulting into eternal otherness that brings us a different kind of transformation, that we know is healing. Each death renews us. The loss of each beloved, renews us, we become different, larger persons.
If I ask, “Who am I now that I am without the beloved?” How shall I answer? Have I lost everything? Have I become nothing? Is this the gift that the loss of my beloved has given me? Has my beloved already forgotten me, and in forgetting me, deprived me of my self? These are questions born in pain, and it is in that very pain that we seek the answers. I would like to suggest that there we will discover holy answers, healing answers, transforming answers. We brace our hearts and take courage and walk boldly into our pain in search of these answers.
Where would we be without our dead, our beloved departed, the ones who left us “here” for “there”? Indeed if we could not feel the loss we would be impoverished. Where would we be if we could not feel pain, loss, grief that only gradually emerge into our humanity and our human sensibilities? If we could not feel the pain we would have lost much of our humanness. Where would we be if we could not feel their pain, loss, grief, for indeed they have left us here to feel not only for ourselves, but for them also, because in these feelings the beloved continue to embrace us. If we could not feel their pain, we would lose our compassion. Where would we be without our dead to remind us that the harmony once broke is not the harmony always destroyed? If we could not heed this reminder, we would be forever broken.
And there are other reminders. From the Beyond, our beloved wants to remind us of the treasures left here still to be grasped, owned, celebrated. To remind us of the wonder that awakens with each new day, and turns to mystery when darkness falls. To remind us that each moment is precious because it is a gift, even a Divine gift, and a gift not to be squandered in idleness and lament, in regrets and self-absorption.
Our remembrances are healing, always healing us from within. As time passes, the long, stretched-out grief, loss, emptiness, breaks up into shorter and shorter Intervals of Remembrances, more manageable, nurturing our spirit from within, refreshing our vision of what lies ahead. In these
Intervals of Remembrances we find healing. In the act of Remembering, our inner broken-ness, the multiple fractured pieces of who we used to be begin to be shaped again, gradually forming a new person we recognize, a person we know again. The Intervals of Remembrances are moments in which we reclaim ourselves, our wholeness, our life, and absorb into our completeness that which our beloved has left us.
With time, the Intervals disappear, and our whole life is now Remembrance.