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Why It Hurts to Be Away from the Ones You Love


U.S. Navy

Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 06/02/16

... and what a joy it is to be reunited

What are the greatest pains and joys of human life? Among the greatest pains must surely be missing a loved one. And among the greatest joys must be a reunion with that loved one so painfully missed. Consider these words from Saint Augustine:

What drew me closest to my brothers was the delight of chatting and laughing together; of showing our affection for one another by kindly services; of reading together from books that spoke of pleasant things; of joking together amicably; of disputing now and then but without resentment, as one is wont to do with himself; of awakening by rare contest the pleasure of being one in mind; of mutually instructing one another; of longing for the absent one, and of tasting joy at his return. We loved each other with all our hearts, and these marks of our friendship that were shown in our faces, by our voices, in our eyes and a thousand other ways were among us like ardent flames that fused our souls together, and of many made but one.”

Who would not want to be part of such a fellowship? (Do we Christians know that we are meant to be?) Sometimes, when we have been separated from a loved one for a very long time, we don’t realize how much we have missed him until we see him again. And then the joy of the reunion is tinged with sorrow. Why? Because the pain of the separation has finally stopped. We experience a kind of shock at the ending of the pain, as we do when a bad tooth is removed and the pain of the tooth is removed with it. We didn’t know how much it hurt until it stops hurting. And then there is a sorrow, a kind of proper pity for ourselves, when we see, upon the ceasing of the pain, how much pain we had been living with for so long. We are shocked by the tolerance we have for our own pain, but we don’t realize it until the ache finally stops, as it does when we are reunited with a loved one. All of the ache of missing the beloved seems to come up and out all at once when we are reunited with the beloved. And like the ending of the toothache we had somehow learned to live with, so too the pain of separation ends when we are united with our beloved, a pain that we were not quite fully aware of until the joy of the reunion both brought forth and ended the pain.

So a reunion after a long separation can be bittersweet, as we embrace the long distant loved one we had missed so dearly, and we see all at once with pity and compassion our own pain at missing the one we love.

What does it mean to miss someone? Is it an absence merely acknowledged? No. Most of the people I’ve ever met are absent from me today, but I can’t say that I miss them, at least not the great majority of them.

The French have a wonderful way of expressing the active ache of missing someone, something that can’t quite be communicated through the English phrase, “I miss you.” The French say, “Tu me manque,” that is, “You are missing to me.” That is so much better, isn’t it? It says that you are present to me as being absent. It says that I feel you being absent from me. Somehow, we learn to live day by day with the present pain of those who are absent, even as we long and work towards a happy reunion with distant friends. Because we are Christians, we have hope of a happy reunion even with those now separated from us by death. We hope for a happy and everlasting reunion in Heaven.

There may well be tears of grief now, as we Christians grieve for ourselves and the pain we endure as our loved ones are missing to us. Let’s promise to console each other, and promise each other that we will help each other home to our Heavenly Father’s house, our only true home.

And as we console one another, as we keep faith with our beloved dead by praying daily for their eternal rest, perhaps these words of Saint Ignatius Loyola will help. Shortly before his death, Saint Ignatius wrote:

If we had our fatherland

            and our true peace in our

            sojourn here in this world,

it would be a great loss to us

            when persons or things that

               gave us so much happiness

               are taken away.

But as we are pilgrims on

            this earth,

with our lasting city in the

               kingdom of heaven,

we should not consider it a great

            loss when those whom we

               love depart a

               little before us,

for we shall follow them before

            long to the place where

               Christ our Lord and

Redeemer has prepared for us a

            most happy dwelling in his


When I write next, I will speak of the privileged pain of visiting a sick friend. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

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