When my mother was dying in 1994, I, along with my sister and brother, were keeping vigil at the hospital where she lay in a coma. Exhausted, I went back to my sister's house each evening to regain a little strength for the next day's waiting. Part of my time each evening was to clean my contact lenses which ended up dirty with salt from my tears during the day, and I couldn't wear my glasses because they were broken. I returned home one evening and Stan had repaired my glasses for me. A small act of kindness, but one that has stayed with me all these years. It meant so much because I was too spent to do anything for myself, and to come back and find my glasses waiting for me meant that Stan had thought about me during the day and had some compassion for how my eyes were hurting each evening. It was a gift that carried tremendous meaning for me.The story of Stan's death is not a pretty one. Despite hospice care, he suffered greatly, I think. Still, he died knowing that his family members--Susan, my sister, and Ashley and Keith, his daughter and son--were there, and they loved him greatly.
Thirty years is a long time to have someone be part of the family; I haven't yet really processed what it will be like for me to visit their home and Stan not be there to greet and welcome me. And that's just me. Stan was always there for my sister, her confidant and best friend. As she herself said on the day after the memorial service, "So now my journey begins." Poignant words. Her journey of grief and tears and anguished adjustment now begin. It is a journey of creating a new identity for herself, even though in a very important sense Stan will remain with her. She'll have a different relationship with him now, but no relationship ever really dies, for we are forever changed by loving others. They become part of who we are.
It was truly wrenching for me to leave Susan and Ashley and Keith; I very much wanted to stay and feel like I was helping them somehow. But all of us knew that these journeys of grief must be taken alone. (Not that other people don't help; they do. It can help tremendously to be in the company of one who cares and loves.) But the internal work of grief is just that -- a work of inner transformation that each of us must undertake as individuals-in-relationship.
I know they'll be fine; they are fine. And I know that it's through the pain that true joy can be made known. Christ shows us that. Still, part of me wishes they didn't have to go through any pain at all. I'm praying that even in the midst of heartache they'll be able to sense God's loving and gracious presence with them, sustaining and healing them.
Yes. May it be so.