Comfort in Unexpected Places


Because We Remember

A remembered love is not simply a recollection of a bygone past, but a living force which sustains us in the present. Through memory, love transcends the limits of time and offers hope at any given moment of our lives. Henri Nouwen

I have a love-hate relationship with poetry. When my grief was brand new, poetry that acknowledged the pain of my loss eased my suffering more than promises of heavenly reunions. I must admit, the Helen Steiner Rice poetry gets on my nerves. When it comes to grief, I'm just not that evolved. I understand people were trying to send me supportive cards, but in the midst of sorrow, it is hard to take the long view. At least it was for me.

When Mom died, I wanted to throw some of the drippy sweet cards against the wall. I would read one of the "uplifting" poems and think: I know I am supposed to be happy that Mom is in heaven, but I am sad because she died. Doesn't anyone recognize my grief?

Well-intended, but empty, phrases such as "Don't be sad. Your mother is an angel now" didn't comfort me. I wanted to scream, "If I'm not sad when my mother dies, when am I sad?" I'd rather have her here on earth with me. For more on the unhelpful things people say to the newly bereaved, go to Overused Expressions of Sympathy.

Over time, and to my surprise, I am finding solace in unexpected places. Verses and books that used to irritate me now teach me that death ends a life, but it does not end my relationship with the one who has died. I would never have chosen this path, but thinking of Mom waiting for me in heaven does have a certain appeal.

For this reason, I am sharing a poem, a book and a bit of prose with you here. My intention is to comfort you in your sorrow, but if the poem or prose increases your sense of loss, or the book offends you, please scroll past them and know that we all grieve in our own way and in our own time. What helps me may not help you; or, the timing just isn't right.

My sister gave me a Hallmark remembrance ornament. The pewter angel had a poem on the back of the keepsake box. It appears below and seems fitting for the holiday season.

Always Remembered
©Hallmark, Inc. 2006

I know I am still with you
in your prayers, your thoughts, your heart,
And though you cannot see me,
I will always be a part
of life's sweet celebrations
in those times when you reflect
on how, though things are different,
through our love, we still connect.
We'll see each other someday
when our spirits all are free,
until then, I am with you
because you remember me.

During the first December after Mom's death, I bought simple Christmas stationery and matching envelopes for the printer. The only decoration was a border of evergreen and holly. Using an eloquent calligraphy font, I copied and spaced the Always Remembered poem onto my word processor in ink that matched the red of the garland. I typed "In loving memory of" at the bottom and before I printed each copy onto the stationery, I completed the page with the name of a special person, deceased loved ones of the people on my Christmas list. I sent the personalized poem to friends and family instead of Christmas cards. This was my way of acknowledging that most of the people I know have experienced profound loss, too, and I remember that I am not alone in my sorrow during the Christmas season.


The following is one of my favorite pieces of prose and offers me great comfort:

Gone from My Sight
By Henry Van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky came to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says, "There, she is gone!"

"Gone where?"

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says, "There, she is gone!" there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"

And that is dying.


This book is a favorite of mine: 

DuBois, Allison. We Are Their Heaven: Why the Dead Never Leave Us. New York: Fireside Books Simon and Schuster, 2006.

From the woman who inspired the NBC TV show Medium. Those who have crossed over continue to provide us with love, guidance, comfort and support, but the dead have a language of their own. The author teaches us how to recognize, read and interpret signs from our loved ones on the other side.

Soulful signs from our deceased loved ones are all around us if we look for them. Messages will come in simple forms, like a familiar smell or a loving thought, and little things do mean something. There are no coincidences. You may have to wait until the powerful emotions of acute grief subside for your loved one to get through, but welcome their loving presence when they do.

The book is about life, death and the unbreakable connection of love. I found it comforting and believable, and if all of this is in my imagination, well, God also gave us our imaginations.

Perhaps you, too, will find comfort in unexpected places when you need it the most.


Go to next section: December's Child

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How complicated and individual mending is,
the time required for healing
cannot be measured against any fixed calendar
Mary Jane Moffat
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