One of the most helpful things we can do for someone who is
grieving is to stay in touch. It often happens that within
a week following the funeral, people have forgotten about the
bereaved, or have forgotten that the person left behind is still
in a lot of pain. Remember to give a friend who is in
mourning a call each day. Ask "How are you doing
today? What are you feeling?" and allow her or him to
tell you, or else to say nothing. We can be of great
comfort to grieving hearts simply by lending an ear and allowing
those who are bereft to express just how much they hurt.
We can find solace in reminiscing about those whom we have lost,
in recounting the stories that best characterize them, in
laughing at the humorous moments we have shared. By
sharing such stories, we keep our memories of our loved ones
alive and remind ourselves of the ways our lives have been
touched by theirs. In West Africa it is believed that the
deceased continue to live for as long as there is someone to
call their names. By allowing a small spark of our loved
one's spirit to live on in us, they remain with us still.
Remember, too, that life only appears to begin with birth
and end with death. The flow of life is in fact continuous
and eternal; birth and death are merely transformations.
We are made up physically and spiritually of the billions who
have passed before us.
They gave us life, they gave us our
culture, they gave us the world on which we have built our
present world. Our values and traditions, our habits of
thought are in large measure the wisdom of their experience
passed down through the ages. Our breath, the very air we
breathe, was once their breath. We are, each of us, an
integral part of something vast beyond comprehension--a vital
link in a process so perfect that it wants for nothing and
wastes nothing. That something is life. Death, the
inevitability of it, or the illusion of it, helps us to think
about and appreciate the miracle we are moving through.
Our lives are characterized by transitions and transformations,
by necessary losses and unexpected gifts, by an unending series
of passages. Life is change. All our lives we are
confronted by letting go. Western culture teaches us how
to hold on to things, not how to let them go, but letting go is
one of the encompassing themes of life. Nothing in the
material world is forever. Throughout the many stages of
our lives we experience myriad transitions and what we might
call loss: We are forced to leave the warmth and security
of our mother's womb, give up her breasts, her lap, our
innocence, many of our childhood dreams, our youth.
Critical to our growth and happiness is learning how to live
with loss; we simply cannot have everything as we wish it.
Parents, children, lovers and friends part, and sometimes it is
we who must part.
Our lives are full of separations that shake us up, force us to
attend to our emotional selves and to learn new ways of being in
the world. Although many of our losses are painful, they
encourage our gains. The lesson life is trying to teach us
is that, regardless of the challenges and changes in the
physical world, we will abide in peace by aligning ourselves
with our inner changelessness. The power of God in us is
more than equal to any moment--no matter what it brings.
We live in a loving, supportive universe that is always saying
yes to us. Every transition, even the one we call death,
is part of a continuum of being. Death is not the end, but
rather another step in the unending process of our
unfolding. It is a pathway to God.
It may sometimes seem as if our baptisms are all of fire, but in
the fire we forge new strengths. Though we sometimes
despair, the wakes we plan for ourselves are always
premature. Time and again we emerge from this chrysalis
changed, remade, born again. This is the pattern for all
life, the end of each journey marking the beginning of new and
different ones. Have faith. When those who are dear
to us make their transitions, when we ourselves approach with
trepidation that threshold of infinity, know that their lives
and ours are cared for by a power greater than any pain.