There are no recipes for such moments; we just need to let love find its own way.
We prepare for almost everything in this life. We (try to) save money, we get insurance, buckle up, get vaccines, eat our oatmeal, apply to the best universities so we can get professional degrees leading to successful careers, but for the only thing that surely we will all experience – that is, death — we simply do not prepare ourselves. In fact, we don’t prepare to face our own personal death, or that of a loved one. But is there really something like a proper preparation for death?
In my opinion, yes and no. Yes, we can be prepared to face, assume and understand death if we happen to keep our eyes on eternity, meditating on the final realities of eternal life and heaven, in faith. Finding oneself one day face to face with God is the most beautiful hope that we can live with.
But then, how do you prepare to say farewell to your loved ones? One might say that by living life in profound and honest detachment, reminding oneself constantly that every single love is but borrowed, and constantly expressing gratitude for the time we get to share. But of course, this is easier said than done. That’s why it hurts so much to say goodbye.
However, it is quite clear that grieving is experienced very differently when lived from the perspective of love and gratitude, than when lived from fear and remorse. This is not to say death will not always impress, surprise and hurt us to the point of feeling our own hearts have just been ripped out of our chests. But then, time passes and one realizes grieving in a healthy way also purifies and transforms our hearts.
But what is exactly what hurts us the most? Is it just the absence? That dreadful feeling of a knife piercing your soul is not just a metaphor. Only those who have suffered deep losses could express such feeling accurately and, above all, understand it. It hurts to say “goodbye” (although for those of us who believe in eternal life we know that this is but a hopeful, momentary farewell).
Absence hurts. One misses the smell of that person, the words and the tone of his or her voice, and listening to a random song can bring back the feeling of those moments we might want to bring back, just to have the chance to express, with or without words, how much you loved her or him. How could you know it was all about to end?
Memories and unsaid words hurt, just like the plans we never got to carry out, our never-solved problems, the promises we didn’t fulfill, the hugs we never gave, the caresses we did not receive, and the kisses we failed to steal. Seeing the world forgetting the traces of love our beloved one left behind can be painful to the point of turning the brightest day into a stormy night, and the cumulative pain in our chests won’t let us breathe. That’s when we start wondering how we are ever going to be able to keep on going.
So, what’s next? Learning to live differently, embracing one’s own pain to the point one learns to live with it. This is when pain and suffering finally acquire a different meaning.
Some experts claim there are five to six stages of mourning. Actually, this is a model Elizabeth Kubler-Ross created while working with terminal cancer patients, which at first included five stages (negation, anger, negotiation, depression and, finally, acceptance) a person who is going to die usually goes through, but is today applied to all grieving processes, without distinction. But when you are mourning, how good is it to know what stage you are in? In any case, one just would like to know in which of these stages one would stop missing the person who’s no longer there; in which one will suffering finally stop; in which one will one stop crying whenever a memory seizes one’s soul; when will I no longer want to scream with the impotence of an orphan daughter who cannot figure out why was she left behind? In which stage does one no longer suffer when thinking of a child or a brother who simply did not deserve to die?
As your time of mourning passes by, you will often have to deal with people of good will trying to give you comfort with words that will just sound absurd. Someone will tell you “she is already in a better place” and you would be willing to reply “well, no! there’s no better place than our dining table, together.” Others will tell you that “you now have another angel in heaven to take care of you,” but you don’t want another angel, as you already have a Guardian one. Some others will simply tell you to “have courage” when all you want is to give up. We need to learn to allow those who grieve to live their mourning as they can, quietly accompanying them. In those moments, the only one who can truly console anyone is God.
Mourning processes are personal and unique, simply because each loss is also unique. Such uniqueness deserves –and needs — being lived according to our personal capacities. Here, the only important thing is to live it as deeply as we can, welcoming God into our suffering.
They say time heals everything, and I do not agree with that. Time teaches you how to live with certain absences, but we cannot fully speak of “healing” when the pain we feel derives from true love. Only what is ill needs to be cured, and love is not a disease. When it springs out of love, grieving does not need to be cured but to be lived. Moreover, if healing means no longer thinking on my beloved ones, I would rather not heal: they will live as long as their memory lives in me.
Why are we so foolish, not enjoying the presence of our loved ones as if today were really our (or their) last day?
From my heart to yours, LI.
This article was translated from the Spanish.