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Monday, June 30, 2008

Losing a Parent

Several years ago, I read a book called "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy, and while I don't remember a lot of the story, I do recall the one phrase and idea that holds me to this day.

One of the characters in the book spoke of death as something that leaves a "hole in the universe." So, when a family member passed away, it left, for example, a "Sophie-mol-shaped hole in the universe."

I loved that imagery, for I read that book after my own father had passed away, and it helped me to define that emptiness in my heart; for I realized it described perfectly what I suffered. I had a "dad-shaped-hole" in my universe. As Catholics, we don't tend to think of things in New-Age terms such as "universe", but rather, our beliefs are far more personal and substantial, just as our understanding of God's love for us is personal and substantial.

And so, when we lose someone close to us, they don't leave a particular-shaped-hole in the universe, but they leave that gaping hole in our hearts, and it is our hearts that we use to love them both here on this earth and beyond. We never lose our hearts for our hearts are joined to our souls.

To this day, I have a "Dad-shaped-hole" in my heart, although at the time of his death, that hole was bleeding and piercing and agonizing in its emptiness. We who have lost loved ones always experience this emptiness, and it is this sensation that is so awful and so wounding. Grief isn't about what is's about what ISN'T there anymore, and because we can't grasp it, we suffer all the more.

We have to find something to fill that hole, that emptiness that has suddenly pierced us with an indescribable pain.

Over time, the wound heals, helped by our belief in the Resurrection, in God, in the sacrifice of Christ, and in our eternal existance. But here on earth, that person-shaped-hole of grief bleeds copiously for a long time. Even after it has healed, the scar remains in the exact same shape, and it is that scar that reminds us of the love we continue to have; as long as it hurts, we know we still love and we keep that person present with us, believing in eternity, hoping we will be reunited in the next life.

But we still need others to be present with us in our grief. They can't fill the hole in our hearts, but they can bleed with us, understanding us through their own losses, and in the lack of their own losses, be present through their love.

In the book of Job, in the very beginning, when Job sat in the ashes weeping, his friends joined him, and they wept with him, silently mourning his losses in union with him. We are all called to do the same.

We cannot understand the depths of another's pain, but we can join them in the ashes and we can weep with them and be present with them, in the moment and beyond. We can't heal the pain, but we can unite our own, and in friendship, love, and limited understanding, we can help the one who is grieving know that he is not alone and will never be alone.
May God bless all those who are grieving, and fill that hole in their hearts with the love of Christ himself.


uncle jim said...

moving - thanks

Anonymous said...

What a great way to explain the loss of especially a parent. I've lost both my parents. My mom died a little over 10 years ago and sometimes I miss her the most when my boys go through changes or major life experiences. I know she would be so proud of them. She really doted on them ( my dad died about 5 years before my oldest was born).
And you're right having friends and family there to support you in your grief is very comforting. I for one couldn't do it alone.


Melody said...

The "hole in our hearts"; somehow it is comforting that it remains. Shows we're not really like drops in the ocean that leave no empty place.
My mother-in-law is in her 90's; not long ago she said that she still missed her parents, she is just used to them being gone.
It is good to know that love lives longer than death.

Argent said...

It happens, too, for moms who lose their babies, even before they are born. There's a memory there of the kicking feet, the hiccuping, the gymnastics....then silence...sorrow, especially, for never having tickled the kicking feet, or patted the hiccuping chest.

Adoro te Devote said...

MJ ~ I really did go through it alone...I did not have the ability to open up to anyone, and at school, although people made themselves available to me (especially Br. Craig, the Vice Prez of the school), I couldn't really talk to anyone.

I'm sorry for the loss of your parents. I still have my Mom,and I know that we'll be losing her and quite honestly, I'm terrified I'll do the same the same thing I did when Dad passed away. I don't handle grief well. But friends and family..they do make a difference, even in small ways.

Argent ~ I hadn't thought of that, but it makes so much sense! Mothers who lose children suffer hard and long, I think even more so than mothers who have lost infants. Because they can't grasp that special life. I'll remember that. Thank you!