The world tries to console us with platitudes when our loved ones die: They’re gone but never forgotten; They’ll always be present in our memories; They’re gone from our sight but never from our hearts. Later, as we go on with our lives without them, the world says things like “She would have been so proud, happy, delighted, etc.”
Such words did not comfort me when my mother died suddenly. They did not comfort my children, who had all lived with her since their births.
What comforted me? The truth that “She would have been” should be “She is.” A priest friend wrote me: “We know that death does not have the last word. Death doesn’t even separate us at the deepest level. You can still pray for Mom and she can pray for you. You can still be a loving daughter, and she a loving mom.”
What We Believe
Because what do we believe? Look at these phrases from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
So it is that the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who sleep in the peace of Christ is in no way interrupted, but on the contrary. … This union is reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods.
By their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped. St. Dominic said: Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.
Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.
This is what my priest-friend summarized with that more homey-sounding phrase about me still being a loving daughter, and my mom still being a loving mom.
What We Miss in Death
When our loved ones die, we miss the hugs, the sounds of their voices, the smells, the warmth, the giggles. Yes, those things are gone for a while.
But so much of the grief of death is linked to more than physical presence and absence. It’s linked to our regrets. Oh, if only I would have said that. Oh, if only I would have asked that. Oh, if only I wouldn’t have done that.
Those regrets are predicated on the idea that the relationship has ceased. That it is no longer possible to say or hear or interact with those we love who have died.
But if our union with those who sleep in Christ is in no way interrupted, nothing stops us from saying, “Oh Dad, I’m sorry that I didn’t pick up the phone that day. But whisper in my heart what you wanted to say.”
“Mom, I’m sorry that I scrolled through Facebook so many evenings, instead of sitting down to talk with you. Can we talk now? Go ahead and help me to learn what you always tried to teach me.”
And on and on and on … as we grow and mature and suffer … as years pass … right up until we’re reunited beyond the veil.
Kathleen N. Hattrup is a senior editor at Aleteia. “You Can Still Be a Loving Daughter” is adapted from her “Does Death Truly Separate Us?”, published on Mind & Spirit. She wrote about her mother’s death in We Do Not Mourn as Others Do.