As we gather this Thanksgiving at the table, I am acutely aware of the relatives who will not be there and whom we cannot phone anymore. My throat tightens up and my eyes water. Absence is like a silent presence in the room, when I think of them.
Today is my sister-in-law’s birthday. Mary Beth would be sixty-five and newly retired, enjoying a renovated condo in Florida. She kept a youthful figure and preferred her lipstick ruby red and hair jet black. Hers was an interrupted life; she never got to enjoy her retirement from being a school librarian, a profession qualifying her for sainthood in my book. Mary Beth said, “Never trust a man who doesn’t drink.” She loved her life to the fullest and had a lot of deep friendships. She befriended gay people way before that was acceptable or chic. At our wedding in Hawaii, she whooped it up with the best of them and took in the sites. She was not ready for the party to end, much less for her time on earth to end. She had a reoccurrence of breast cancer with metastases to the bones, stage four. Cancer stole her life. My husband and I (and many others) miss her very much. Our laments are full of, “If only…” and “It was too soon…”
Someday, the way we miss talking to her on the phone or physically seeing her will be transformed. I know this because it is like this with my other Beloveds, who have died and I have fully grieved. In time, I have noticed a different relationship with the ones I have loved and lost. John O’Donohue describes this change in prose:
“Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.” – For Grief
For the grief you bear this holiday season, may you find the support and care you need to walk through it.
May you harvest what is loving and profoundly good, emulating what values you admire and leaving the rest by the side of the road.
May you continue your journey with your desired loved ones ever in your heart.