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The pain of loss
is deep, but not permanent

Political correctness:
swallowing hard to accept the truth

placeholder  September 7, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 15   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers

A mosaic of Christ's resurrection is depicted in the golden-domed Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia.
Teresa Siwak/courtesy The Way, cns

The pain of loss is deep, but not permanent

Rev. John Roche, SDB

Recently I had a conversation with a close friend who was calling to check on the state of my mother's health. At nearly 88, my mother had fallen and broken her pelvis and was experiencing a difficult transition to life with limited mobility and even more limited independence.

As my friend and I spoke, we both reminisced about his own mother and her difficult passage a few years before. We had made frequent visits out to her apartment over a period of a few years until one Thanksgiving she had a mild stroke. Soon after her slow recovery from that event, she was discovered to have an obstructing tumor in her abdomen. Surgery would be required in any scenario to allow her to eat. She and my friend met and discussed her options. The doctor said that it may or may not be cancerous. She expressed clearly her desire not to undergo treatment if it was found to be malignant. My friend left her side believing they would at least have exploratory surgery and a removal of the tumor and make the necessary decisions once the nature of the tumor would be determined. By the time my friend and I got back to his home, she had decided to stop living. She did not want any surgery. She simply wanted to let go and sought medical care to keep her out of pain until she would pass. This news was devastating for my friend, but he felt powerless to overrule her choice. He would begin the vigil at her side until her death a few months later.

Recalling that experience and feeling empathy for me, he said, "The sad journey begins." I agreed. None of us wants to face these struggles especially when we experience powerlessness in the face of our loved ones' personal and painful passages.

But something tugged at me and I responded differently than I would have expected. I told my friend that, yes, this was a sad passage. I whole-heartedly agreed that the days or months ahead would not be easy for my mother and that our concern for her as her children and family certainly weighed heavily. After recognizing these realities, I needed to say something more: "But it's not all here."

It occurred to me and had been dawning on me that God was giving me and my family this precious time to realize two things: God was preparing us to let go of someone very special and pivotal in our own lives. And God was reminding us that this life and all of its precious relationships and connections are signposts for another life and a newer reality.

I am the first to insist I do not subscribe to a faith that can be reduced to a waiting room. I do not embrace a faith that is all about "the blue gas-station in the sky when I die!"

Our moments on this side of eternity are not merely moments of enduring mediocrity until we cash in the big prizes of heaven. In fact, my faith tells me that these passages — all of them — are sacred moments.

There is, ironically, a profound joy even in the letting go because we have experienced profound love. That love is celebrated in the nitty-gritty of each messy and delicate situation as we help navigate the paths through sickness and old age — our own and for those we love and hold dear. Even grief has a grace-filled side of thankfulness and praise for the one who has departed leaving us loved and cared for in so many special ways. Certainly the pain of loss is there and it is often deep and cutting, but it is not permanent. It is not the last word.

It is dangerous to reflect on these ideas because there are many experiences of pain and loss and grief which leave persons devastated beyond repair. I have seen this many, many times. But my faith is not in a system or a religion or a code of ethics. My faith is in One who has walked this life and has experienced every kind of pain and loss that is our lot.

This One, this Jesus we follow and profess to know, has experienced loss and separation and fear and has embraced our human condition and transformed it by his complete and radical trust in the Heavenly Father. He has taken our crosses and our sicknesses and our dying passages and elevated them to a new level of understanding that proclaims audaciously, "It's not all here!"

What is "here" is precious, beautiful, painful, true and all that we can know—on this side of eternity. Yet there is more. And when the women went to the tomb to clean the dead and wasted body of their Lord and friend, they never expected to find what they did. They never expected that Jesus would rise, that he would live a new reality, that he would undergo such a transformation that no one close to him recognized him after the resurrection.

As the first letter of John boldly proclaims, we are indeed God's children. What we shall be "has not yet come to light. But we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is!"

It is not all here! There is more. God is more. He will take our suffering and our painful, struggling passages and sanctify them as moments of grace. We rejoice even in the midst of such suffering and separation because we are certain that there is more — for our loved ones, for ourselves, for all who cling to the One who died for each one of us.

Watching another suffer is not easy. Being unable to do something to alleviate their suffering is even worse. But we must do all that we can, love in every moment selflessly, and remind each other that "it is not all here."

(Father John Roche, SDB, is director of the Institute of Salesian Studies at Don Bosco Hall, an affiliate of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Berkeley.)

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