If you really loved the one who died, however, don’t expect to “get over” your loss anytime soon. No one can replace the one you lost, and you can’t just put on a happy face after a little while and tell yourself that everything is fine now. It isn’t. It may take a long time, and there will always be little reminders, memories, and other experiences to renew your sense of loss and your tears. There’s no simple solution to human sorrow. Each of us has to live through it as best we can, trying to keep the balance between a healthy sense of grief and the courage and hope to go on living the rest of our life.
You still can grow through the experience, you can learn valuable lessons and benefit from all the ways your loved ones have enriched your life. Then go on living—while keeping them in “eternal memory.” Life is not meant to be easy; it is meant to be good. Sometimes it is only through experiences that push us to the limits of pain and endurance that we can feel the supportive hand of God, stand in awe before the Cross of Jesus, and begin to sense the dawn of a New Day breaking over the weathered graveyards of this sorrowful world. If we struggle with the will of God in times of grief or suffering, let us be patient. Though our vision is now veiled, we will at length recognize with crystal clarity the utter goodness of God—and we will know why things really couldn’t have been any other way—when our mortal slumber is gently awakened by the divine command: “I say to you, arise.”
Once we have accepted the hard fact of death and of the pain of our own bereavement, the healing can begin, hope can surface, and life can once again become joyful—perhaps with an awareness of a new and more spiritual relationship with the one who has departed. In his Letter of Consolation to the Bereaved, the Greek Archbishop Augoustinos Kantiotes writes: “Death does not break the connection between those living on earth with those who have passed on to the other world. Preserve those bonds. Commemorate those who have gone to the world of eternity.”
Our whole life on earth is a journey toward death, and our death begins our eternal journey into the inexhaustible riches of the life and love of the All-holy Trinity. If we make the necessary and sustained efforts to stay on the “narrow path” that leads to eternal happiness, we have nothing to fear, for the Lord has created and redeemed us so that we can live with Him in joy forever. We must encourage our loved ones now to share the blessed vision of the Gospel, so that when death strikes we will not only grieve but will go on with hope that we are all moving in the same direction, all sharing the same glorious destiny, and that we will all be united forever in holy joy.
Laura has gone home; she has completed her earthly journey. None of us is very far behind, so let us pray for the grace and mercy of the Lord, who has created and redeemed us so that we may have everlasting life. “The Lord will protect your journeying and your homecoming, henceforth and forever” (Ps 121:8).
I would like to conclude this chapter with a few excerpts from an article included in an anthology of the works of Thomas Howard. He speaks in a straightforward yet eloquent manner of the struggles of suffering, death, and grief, and he leaves us with a profound hope in what the goodness of God is working behind the scenes.
“Someone finds he has cancer; the medical treadmill begins, with its implacable log of defeat; hope is marshaled, begins the march, is rebuffed at every juncture, flags, rouses, flags again, and is finally quietly mustered out… everyone is dragged into the maelstrom that marks the place where our experience eddies into the sea of the divine will. The whole question of prayer gapes open… And meanwhile, the surgery goes on its horrific way, and the radiation burns on, week after grim week; and suffering sets in, and the doctors hedge and dodge into the labyrinthine linoleum-and-stainless-steel bureaucracy of the hospital world, and our hearts sicken, and we try to avert our eyes from the black flag that is fluttering wildly on the horizon, mocking us.
“And the questions come stealing over us: ‘Where is now their God?’ ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’ ‘He trusted in God that he would deliver him…’ and so on… We look for some light. We look for some help… But only dead silence. Blank. Nothing…
“For [those whose loved ones died despite their prayers] there was no walking and leaping and praising God. No embracing and ecstatic tears of reunion. Only the silence of shrouds and sepulchers, and then the turning back, not just to the flat routines of daily life, but to the miserable duel with the tedious voices pressing in upon their exhausted imaginations with, ‘Right! Now where are you? Tell us about your faith now! What’d you do wrong?’…
“But there is more. Turning again to the disclosure of God in Scripture, we seem to see that, in his economy, there is no slippage. Nothing simply disappears. No sparrow falls without his knowing (and, one might think, caring) about it. No hair on anybody’s head is without its number. Oh, you say, that’s only a metaphor; it’s not literal. A metaphor of what, then? we might ask. Is the implication there that God doesn’t keep tabs on things?
“And so we begin to think about all our prayers and vigils and fastings and abstinences, and the offices and sacraments of the Church that have gone up to the throne on behalf of the sufferer. They have, apparently, been lost in the blue. They have vanished, as no sparrow, no hair, has ever done. Hey, what about that? And we know that this is false. It is nonsense. All right then—we prayed, with much faith or with little; we searched ourselves; we fasted; we anointed and laid on hands; we kept vigil. And nothing happened.
“Did it not? What angle of vision are we speaking from? Is it not true that again and again in the biblical picture of things, the story has to be allowed to finish? Was it not the case with Lazarus’ household at Bethany, and with the two en route to Emmaus? And is it not the case with the Whole Story, actually—that it must be allowed to finish, and that this is precisely what the faithful have been watching for since the beginning of time? … And is not that Finish called glorious? Does it not entail what amounts to a redoing of all that has gone wrong, and a remaking of all that is ruined, and a finding of all that has been lost in the shuffle, and an unfolding of it all in a blaze of joy and splendor?
“A finding of all that is lost? All sparrows, and all petitions and tears and vigils and fastings? Yes, all petitions and tears and vigils and fastings. ‘But where are they? The thing is over and done with. He is dead. They had no effect.’
“Hadn’t they? How do you know what is piling up in that great treasury kept by the Divine Love to be opened in that Day? How do you know that this death and your prayers and tears and fasts will not together be suddenly and breathtakingly displayed, before all the faithful, and before angels and archangels, and before kings and widows and prophets, as gems in that display? Oh no, don’t speak of things being lost. Say rather that they are hidden—received and accepted and taken up into the secrets of the divine mysteries, to be transformed and multiplied, like everything else we offer to him—loaves and fishes, or mites, or bread and wine—and given back to you and to the one for whom you kept vigil, in the presence of the whole host of men and angels, in a hilarity of glory as unimaginable to you in your vigil as golden wings are to the worm in the chrysalis” (“On Brazen Heavens,” from The Night is Far Spent).
Laura’s story has not yet come to its full finish, nor has yours or mine. But when the Whole Story is finished, we will see clearly and rejoice eternally in the loving designs God has had for us from the very beginning. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1Cor. 2:9).