Dear Donagh, My father died three years ago and my mother is not coping with his death. I’m sending you this letter she wrote to you.
“My husband died in August 1998 after 10 months of cancer. He was always so strong, doing everything, but in the end he couldn’t lift a cup. There isn't a day but I miss him. I should be getting over it by now, but sometimes I think it happened only yesterday. I'm blessed with good friends and family who take me out and do their best for me, but it’s always there when I come back. I can't really enjoy my time out with them because I know it’s waiting for me when I come home. My daughter was telling me about your internet and your answers to people, and I wrote this and I'm asking her to send it to you. She has her own family and troubles, and I don’t like to be bothering her. His name was Jimmy. Is there anything you could say to me that would help me? May God bless you. Yours sincerely, Bríd [ ]”
Thank you for your heartfelt letter. It will touch the hearts of many people who read it here on the internet. The internet is like a great family spread all over the world, and I'm certain that very many of them will feel as if they had written the words themselves.
I showed your letter to Simon, who runs this internet site with me, and he gave me these words for you. They are from an ancient Irish source. Your husband’s name is still Jimmy; think of him saying this to you: “Grieve not nor think of me with tears. But laugh and talk of me as though I was beside you. I loved you so. It was heaven here with you.” God alone knows who wrote those words, or what kind of life that person had, so long ago. But it was someone who knew the sadness of separation, and also knew that the final word about death is not separation but a new kind of presence. Life can go on, and has to go on. It need not be a constant looking back with regret; it moves forward, and there is still joy for you. I remember the words of Peig Sayers, the storyteller from the Blasket Islands. She had lost several of her children, yet she could be wrapped in a kind of joy. One day, walking down the hillside she was gripped by the beauty of the island and the sea, and she prayed, “Well I know your holy help, because I was often held by sorrow with no escape.” She had emerged from her great sadness and could still find joy in her life.
We often say, “Tomorrow never comes,” because when it comes it is today. Now, why not look in the same way at the past: at our yesterdays? We never lived through a yesterday, because every day we lived was a today! The past is not full of yesterdays, it is full of today's! I often pass the house where I came into the world more than fifty years ago. It was a nursing home then. I always think of my mother on that day, September 3, all those years ago, emerging through that door, looking much younger and holding a squalling bundle that I have to admit was me. She has been dead for twenty years, but somehow that moment (and every moment of her life) still lives, somehow, mysteriously. Everything is held in the presence of God. To God there is no past: every moment is equally present. As Jesus said, “God is a God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive" (Luke 20:38). He didn’t say: ‘We can remember them and think of them as if they were alive;’ that would only be make-believe. He said, “They are alive” - God. You could say, God is their address; that's where they are to be met, that's where they are alive. Jimmy is in the care of God. Jimmy, c/o God. We could even improve on those ancient words; we could strike out the words ‘as though’, and change ‘I loved you’ to ‘I love you’, and ‘it was’ to ‘it is’.
A piece of practical advice, Bríd, if I may: if you haven't done so already, change some things in the house. Don’t keep it trapped in the past, because then it will keep you trapped. Put in some new things, give a few of the older things to your daughter. Every time you look at that new chair or picture, you are reminded that you and Jimmy and all of us live in an eternal Now, which is not stopped but flowing.
May it flow into ever greater and greater depth for you, Bríd, so that your pain of loss becomes an open way to God.