Paying tribute to those we love

sunset colors on clouds
Recently, I visited a friend whom I’d known for most of my life, but hadn’t seen for a very long time. We realized we wanted to celebrate our friendship and talk about the special colors of life we saw in each other. It was great to say thank you out loud! I thought afterward what a refreshing visit it had been.

It’s so easy to take one another for granted and let all those loving thoughts lie unspoken. But sometimes a friend slips away and people feel sad that they’ve missed the opportunity. When my husband passed on some years ago, the tributes paid to him reflected his gentleness and integrity, his professional skill and dedication, his love of his family, and much more. I found myself so wishing that he could have heard them all and known how much his life meant to others.

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But later on, pondering these treasures, I realized that of course he did know these things, because this was who he was. And it wasn’t too late for the tributes to be expressed, because they brought a much fuller, more vivid sense of him to his family and friends. We were being given permission to go forward with gratitude instead of grief in our hearts. Our lives could say, “Thank you.”

There are other times when tribute-paying isn’t so easy. Through the ever-present eye of television, millions today look on scenes of intense personal or national grief; and it’s the grief that makes the headlines. Anniversaries tend to keep it alive, making it hard for the people caught in the middle to break free from the cycle. Each time I see scenes like this, I pray deeply that for those still troubled, the pattern of grief can be broken.

Some say that death is the verdict of the onlooker, never the experience of the individual. I would add that television makes it easy for millions to be onlookers, but in the quiet of our own hearts, we can glimpse what lies beyond death. We begin to discover that death is not an end, but simply a change, and that a love greater than anything we can possibly imagine is caring for those we love right now.

I have found that even a small awareness of this brings an overflow of that love into our own lives in ways that would otherwise be hard to explain. This precious love rescues us from grief and allows us to companion in the present with thoughts of those we love, rather than only feeling their absence. You just can’t keep gratitude and grief in the same room!

Another thing that helps to keep gratitude steady is knowing how to deal with “the waves.” Something can trigger a memory, and before you know it, a wave of sadness has submerged you. But then I think of the lessons the ocean teaches. Some shorelines have powerful waves, and when people want to swim they have to get past them. You can stand there and get knocked down by them, but a better way is to dive under them.

One of the wonderful experiences of scuba diving is seeing waves from underneath. Only a few feet or so below the surface, the water is remarkably calm and unaffected by all that turbulence. “Sadness waves” are a bit like that. They don’t have to knock us flat because we can dive under them, even if they seem to roll on above us. Knowing that they are temporary helps to keep us in the calm waters of gratitude and love, and as Mary Baker Eddy once wrote, “… the heaving surf of life’s troubled sea foams itself away, and underneath is a deep-settled calm” (Message to The Mother Church for 1902, p. 19).

I also love a comment Mrs. Eddy made on the passing of someone she knew: “When the light of one friendship after another passes from earth to heaven, we kindle in place thereof the glow of some deathless reality” (Pulpit and Press, p. 5). She was always quick and generous in honoring family members, friends and acquaintances, and national figures of her day.

"Sadness waves" don't have to knock us flat.

Many of these tributes appear in Mrs. Eddy’s published writings, and they show the breadth and depth of her humanity, her connectedness to people and events, and her deep compassion for those who mourned. But shining through them all is her radical certainty of the continuity of life and identity. Everything Jesus taught and proved through his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension was living fact to Mrs. Eddy. And that’s why her tributes helped to lift the burden of sadness from others. Chapters 14 to 17 of the Gospel of John in the Bible enable us to become familiar with the way Jesus addressed this subject. Then his words are what spring to mind when we need comfort and reassurance at difficult times.

Many years ago, I was informed of the sudden passing of a very dear friend to whom I had turned regularly for spiritual guidance and healing. At first I felt devastated—unable to pray or think clearly—and every time I thought of him I just wanted to sit down and weep. I wasn’t able to help myself out of this mental state, let alone help anyone else who was feeling the same way.

A week later, still feeling prostrated by this loss, I visited someone who I discovered had been dealing with a similar event in her own life. It was a dark winter evening, and we went for a walk with the dogs in the rain—which seemed to mirror my state of thought. As we walked, we talked about our gratitude for our friends; about life and its goodness; about death not being the end of life; about our friends still being who they had always been; and about Jesus’ promise that life is eternal.

Just before I left to go home, she looked deeply at me and said, “You do know that nothing has happened to your friend, don’t you?” I knew she was speaking from a spiritual standpoint—referring to God’s uninterrupted view of His beloved ideas. After a moment’s thought, I replied slowly, “Yes, I do.”

Driving home, I pondered the thoughts we had shared. And then very quietly a verse from the Bible came to me, as clearly as if it was being spoken aloud: “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you” (John 14:26, 27).

I felt a sense of awe and calm, and the following morning, I realized that the heavy stone of grief had been rolled away. I was able to feel at peace about my friend and know that all was well with him—and therefore with me too—and I was able to share this comfort with others.

But that wasn’t all. For several years after that, when I found myself in situations when I would have turned to my friend for help and guidance, I would hear the answer in thought, spoken in the tones of his voice. Just as Jesus promised, the Christ was bringing back to my thought what my friend had once said to me, and it was always exactly what I needed to hear.

The author of one of the psalms in the Bible must have gone through some deep waters to have written: “All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life” (Psalms 42:7, 8).

I like to think of God as the singer, and each one of us as His song, expressing His beauty and goodness in individual ways. I can’t think of any greater tribute we can pay to those we love than to continue to sing the song of their lives. This is God’s song, and we can sing it back to Him with all our love and thanks.

In times of grief, what's needed?
December 3, 2012

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