“Where do I go from here?” I could hear the pain in my friend’s voice, his fear of the unknown, his impotence to change the circumstances he is living in after the untimely death of his wife of thirty something years.
Later, speaking to a patient, I hear her sob, “He was my whole life. And, now I will never have his babies or know what is like to grow old with him.”
Another one simply stated, “ There is not a single day I don’t miss her and wish she was still here,” as she spoke of the sadness she lives with more than five years after the passing of her youngest child.
I hear Keanu Reeves’ simple answer to a TV host who asked him, “What do you think happens after we die?” has recently gone viral. Maybe the TV host wanted to trick the famous actor. Perhaps he meant for Keanu to admit no one knows, or fumble a long winded discussion that would somehow start an esoteric debate. But Keanu’s simple answer of “I think the people who love us will miss us,” disarmed him and moved the audience.
Why, could we ask? Why would so many of us find comfort in knowing that somehow leaving a legacy of love and longing on those who loved us would somehow validate our existence?
Death comes to everyone’s life sooner or later. Our own, or that of those we love. I became acquainted with death before my thirteen birthday when my own mother died. To say that traumatic experience impacted me has to be a huge understatement. My mother’s death is one of the greatest challenges I have faced so far in my long life, and I have known many.
It taught me, molded me, refined me, and stretched me beyond my wildest dreams. It gave me compassion. It toughened me up. It is one of the reasons I became a physician. It is why I became a mother without ever bearing a child. It taught me to value life, and those around me. I learned never to take anyone or anything for granted. I discovered then the importance of never failing to say an I love you or an I’m sorry, because I know that change is constant, and I may not get a second chance.
By her death and that of others I have loved, I also learned that death is not only an end but it is also a beginning. With it, a chapter in our life ends and transforms into another. Although, difficult to face our altered reality without our loved one in it, we open ourselves to what lies ahead. We keep our memories of those we loved and lost and honor them by living.
We feel the pain and the longing, but realize that we would not have it any other way.
It was Lord Tennyson who wrote, “It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” Given the choice, would we choose not to have had our loved one in our life for as short or long we did, to avoid the pain?
No, we fess up to the pain and longing because those feelings come through love and transcend death. Keanu was right, we miss them, and they miss us. As the message of the image I chose for this article reads, life continues, on either side of the veil. They long for us just as much as we long for them.
So, what would I say today to my friend who asked, “where do I go from here?” I would say, you go forward, forward with every step rooted on faith and optimism. You go forward knowing that perseverance is a vital trait to see anything to a successful and happy end. You go forward knowing that by not giving up we are honoring the memory of those who left us richer by loving us and by allowing us to love them back. You go forward knowing there is a Plan by which families can be eternal, and believing as C S Lewis stated, “ There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” Even, if it takes an Eternity to materialize.
This is my hope and my opinion…