A month ago a beloved father and husband of a family from my childhood community took his last breath with his children and wife all surrounding him. It was such a relief to me (an answer to many prayers) that the pandemic didn't rob them of that last moment alone and together. The gift of staying alongside til the end—if you have the strength to face it—is one of the best things you can do.
I woke up the next morning and my first thought was this: "I must pray for "Vern" and his family."
And then I remembered. Vern is no longer with us on this side of the eternal divide. He has moved on—his body has been left empty and useless. He still lives but not here.
And my second thought which followed: So I must now pray for the family as they mourn. This is just as crucial as the prayers I have been offering over the weeks leading to this day.
It dawned on me— this morning they all woke up with a little (or with a rather large) shocked awareness. "Dad is gone." It is a thought that feels like it will swallow you, each time you wake up. Sometimes even months after someone has gone—sleep has offered respite, and then with the morning sun the shock of loss returns.
My understanding of this shock is not something I am sure of, but it is something I have considered...here is how it maybe works: Our world is a strong, solid composite of bits of land that form the crust we live on. The geography of our home planet.
But the essence of our home, the reality of belonging to this cluster of humanity is that we live in a world that is mysteriously and invisibly made up of souls. We form one whole unit—a world of unseen but equally real space, filled up with one soul at a time.
And each time a soul leaves, a hole the size of a crater is left where they created the same solid, strong composite in the unseen world. This departure leaves a gaping, taunting hole that threatens to never be filled. Because if there is one thing that is a mystery and yet a sure truth that we all agree on, there is no such thing as a human soul that is not unique. One of a kind.
Exactly every time a soul leaves the world, there is a hole. An actual hole. A hole that cannot and will never be filled.
And those standing next to the hole, nearest to the soul, connected by love—those who shared daily bread with him (or her) feel the darkness of a hole punched through the planet. A crater that reaches out into eternity and sucks the breath from our chest with a longing for the one we love.
And yet, the physical earth continues to spin on a tilt as it circles the sun, and we have to find a way to face the morning.
There is no answer to this. It can't be fixed. It can't be repaired—there is no "soul patch" that can change the crater and make it well. There is no platitude that will lessen the pain or make it feel less precarious to stand next to the empty space where a soul was, and now is not.
But to stand there alone—because friends or family are afraid of coming near. To stand there alone—this is what we cannot allow. We cannot leave our friends to face their grief and re-encounter the shock of waking up to an empty-soul-crater on their own.
We don't know what to say for a good reason. Saying is not the way of grief. Silence is the way of sharing the pain. Being willing to encounter the discomfort and the anguish, being unhurried in the moments of sitting and watching the dark hole—this is the work of true friendship on the days when that hole is still shocking and startling. And your breathing is shallow in case you might lose the very air you gained from being loved.
Don't let the ones who stand at the crater's rim lose sight of the love that holds onto them in these unspeakable days. Stand near and keep still and offer the simplest gifts—a glass of water, a hand to hold, a reminder that you loved the soul they've lost. Loved enough to come near and stand in witness to the un-fillable hole.
Being disconnected even from one side is more than we can bear. So keep the connection—see the hole and share the moment. And if tears come in lashings to fill the crater, know that mourning is the gift that allows the memories to come back and also fill the hole and hold the meaning. Each soul is precious beyond what we measure in words.
I write on how humans develop and grow through challenges we face. I've divided this into three categories--Growing Love is about relationships and how we create conditions for growth despite the inevitable challenges. Cloudburst is about grief, specifically—which is a tricky topic. We need to keep growing but pushing is the opposite of helpful. And in Dancing on Hot Sand I talk about personal inner growth in hard places—spiritual growth, without sounding religious, I hope.