An email has arrived from Sharon in Washington DC – the essence of which I reproduce here because it is so close to what I have been experiencing.
“I am slowly coming to the idea that Margaret is gone. I have resisted it for a long time – and that is easier to do when one does not see her often. It’s easier to pretend. And you know something strange? I had the feeling that she was not gone after she died. She was around somehow. Sometimes, she is still here. It’s no doubt my stubbornness. My inability to deal with reality.
How are you coping? I have heard that one should not make big changes for a year after the death of a loved one. Our minds are not in good shape. So, I assume you are still living in your house, sad as it must be to have her so there around you everywhere and yet so gone. She was capable of such love. Both of you, actually. And there isn’t anything else, really. It may be a help to read some of the better accounts of loss: CS Lewis’s A Grief Observed, for example.
Charlie is due to enter the world in just 5 weeks. Emily is doing fine, and we hope for an easy delivery. They are getting the house ready, and I am getting Olivia’s new room ready. Charlie will need her crib.
I am thinking of you often, dear friend. I wish I could be closer.”
My very inadequate response was as follows
Dear old friend,
“How am I coping?” It’s lovely to hear the question – and how seldom I have heard it in the last eleven weeks! I remember going to a friend’s place about a week after Marg died and coming out saying “And they didn’t even ask how I was going!” It has been much the same on other occasions. I am not sure why, but it certainly isn’t because of a lack of concern. There is no question about their love and concern. And there is no problem about tear filled eyes. There’s nothing unusual about that these days as memories return with so little prompting. Why then don’t people ask: “How are going?”
The conclusion I have come to is that it is because of a misguided concern for me. They see me as having to commence a whole new life and are conscious of the difficulty of so doing. But (and it is a very big “but”) as Dietrich Bonhoeffer has pointed out “a new life” is not really what it is about. Marg is still, and I hope shall remain, very much a part of my life.
This was re-enforced for me a week ago. A friend of mine, a practicing Catholic, led our worship. He started the service with the words. “You have had a number of deaths in your community of late and I hope you remember the great words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer about death. “There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply endure it. That sounds very hard but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent that the emptiness truly remains unfilled, one remains connected to the other person through it……. Gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy …….. a precious gift deep within.” What Terry said in the rest of the service I have only a slight idea. I was too busy processing an eternal and significant truth.
And so, dear friend, I thank you for asking “How are you coping?” Thanks to Bonhoeffer and many friends I am doing well. Outsiders would say, of course, that I am in denial. All that shows is a lack of understanding of the situation in which I now find myself. You expressed it well when you wrote “You know something strange? I had the feeling that she was not gone after she died. She was around somewhere. It’s no doubt my stubbornness… my inability to deal with reality”. No! You are right on the mark! Marg lives on, as Bonhoeffer puts it, “as a precious gift deep within ….a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain”. Elizabeth, Gordon, Mar,. Marg – it’s all part of the one story epitomised in Jesus of Nazareth.
Thanks for the info about Emily and Charlie’s impending arrival. It jogged my memory of Marg writing to you and everyone else. She would spend the opening paragraphs commenting on and sharing her common concern for the family. She was, as you say “ capable of such love”. You exaggerated my capacity for such. As I said somewhere lately, Marg was the people person. I am more of a prophet person – and together we made a small but not insignificant part in enlarging the understanding of the world in which we live.
The only part of your letter with which I differed was when you said “I wish I could be closer. You are as close as anybody could be, even though you live in “the uttermost part of the earth”.
Give Charlie a kiss from Marg and me as you lay him in Olivia’s crib.
Love and Peace,
I have the feeling that my journalling journey on Marg has almost finished and its time to resume the general journey we were, are, and have been on for so many years.
I do, however, see a real problem emerging. I am starting to slow down mentally. My memory is failing quite precipitously, and my eyesight is not far behind. It will be interesting to see what happens from hereon in.