“Come take my heart, beloveds,” speaks a gentle voice from the place between your breaths. You hear rather than see an image, wavering in watery mist, shimmery and slightly out of focus. You cannot make out a face, although through your silent silken tears you warm to the embrace of those words so gently spoken…softer than the breath of a butterfly. You feel as if you are floating and melding with the image itself, somehow your sorrow begins to lighten a bit. It is as if you feel you are being sprinkled with waterfalls of starshine that you may wrap around your quivering shoulders and hold as your very own….”What is this about?” you wonder as you settle again upon your comfort-place. You feel rather than hear that voice as if it is an echo within you—“Dream with me, beloveds,” you know the words from a distant hum from ancient ways ago…
Most of us are so far removed from death. Our loved ones die in hospitals and nursing homes – sometimes alone. Their earthly remains are taken away before we are able to properly say goodbye. It is no wonder that we often are speechless and don’t know what to say when we are face to face with someone who is recently bereaved.
Before I was bereaved – I may have said clumsy things or worse – nothing. Now that I am bereaved – I know from experience that when we are grieving – we need to talk about our loved ones.
When someone dies, crosses over, passes away… she lives on in the memory of those who loved her.
Ask the bereaved “Tell me about your mother” then wait – do not be alarmed if tears begin to fall. Let them fall. Do not rush to silence them by saying “there, there” or stopping them with a tissue. Let them fall. Hold sacred space for the bereaved and let her weep. When she is ready, she will tell you about her mother. If you are patient – you may even see the transformation from grief to joy as memories temporarily nudge the grief aside. Sometimes a funny story – laughter through tears. Sometimes silence – companionable silence – where tears are welcomed and not dried.
- We honor our loved ones when we can tell their stories.
- We honor our loved ones when we weep for them.
- We honor the living when we don’t silence them.
Before my father died, I was a devout, card carrying atheist. My mother is a Christian. My brother keeps his own council. My husband is a Buddhist. My father an agnostic.
In the metropolis where my parents once lived, there was a phenomenon that doesn’t exist in my small town. There are churches the size of baseball stadiums! I was amazed to think of worshipping with 9, 999 ofmy closest friends. I was naive. I was converted. I was changed.
You see on the day my father had surgery – this church of 10,000 people prayed for me and my family. They did not tell me what the prayer was. I was vaguely aware of their habits – but didn’t think too much about it. After the surgery, as I made the obligatory phone calls to keep everyone informed – I told Manny and Sylvia – how magical the day had been. I told them that I felt weightless. My heavy heart felt light for the first time in weeks. It was then that I learned of this prayer. In this church they hold up their hands, open their hearts, and pray to their God. They ask that I be lifted up! They don’t presume to know what God’s plans are for me or my family. They don’t prescribe the miracle that God shall perform. It is a simple prayer. Thy will be done. It is powerful stuff.
To Manny and Sylvia and to all those who interceded on our behalf. Gracias. I love you.
I no longer remember how many days and nights I sat by his side through the night. He told me – please don’t leave me alone. For the first time in his life – in the life we shared – he was truly afraid. My mother was tired and sleeping a lot. In the early evening she would leave the medical center, walk outside, hurry across the busy street and return to our hotel room. There she would nibble on something small, drink a glass of wine, and try to pretend none of this could possibly be happening to her fairy tale prince.
On the good nights – I would massage his hands and feet, place cool washcloths on his forehead, and listen to him talk. On the bad nights, I would gather my wits about me and make friends with whomever was on the floor who could help us make it through the night. And at some point – usually an hour or two before dawn, he would sleep, and I would sleep, and in that delicious sleep – we steeled ourselves for another day.
At dawn the shift would change, new relationships to negotiate, new friends to make, and my mother would come. She would beg me to stay. Please stay until the Doctors make rounds. Please stay until he is stable. Please stay until… and then it would be evening and the cycle began again.
One day – as I slipped out of his room to get a breath of fresh air – I was startled to see my brother’s fiance. She said “I didn’t want to interfere. I know he treasures his privacy. Is there anything I can do for you?” And in that moment I nearly collapsed from that small kindness. After weeks of hospital food – she went out and bought me a favorite treat and delivered it to me. As I ate it, I felt filled with love and knew I would have the strength to face another night.
Three years removed, the comfort of that simple act still fills my heart with love and comfort. In a time of unspeakable pain and grief – I learned that a small act of compassion makes a monumental difference.
Jill – sister of my heart. I love you.