Sunday, May 12, 2013

When Love Ends: Crying Alone

These days I often find myself choking up, crying, as I begin to respond to a question often asked of me:  “How is your mother?”  Before any words can come into my mouth, unbidden thoughts flood my brain:  she is dying, and going away soon.  And so the tears just come. 
Were I able to stop and think on the matter then --- as I am now --- I’d see that my crying response is illogical.  Yes, I know she is dying, but with great confidence I also know that this is a good thing, for her.  An end to her pain, an end to her days (and nights) filled with disturbances created by all those who care for her weakening body, and the beginning of her eternal peace.  All those good things are approaching for her, so why do I cry at her coming happiness?  It is illogical: the tears that happen; they happen not because I will them.  They are a natural thing, and like all natural things, they come about for a reason.
To understand this, I think we need to look at other times of spontaneous tears, other times people are preparing to part.  Sometimes we cry when the parting is only temporary, like a mother looking at her newborn baby as she gently puts it to bed.  Sometimes our parting is only a loss of physical presence, like the young-adult leaving home for the first time, to live on his own.  But, looking at this example, we can see that at least in one sense this is not a parting:  with all the technological gadgets we can still remain in communication with almost anyone, almost instantly.  How is this a parting?  It is parting only physically; they are no longer bodily present, and that seems to be important.  With them gone, you can’t physically show your love to them --- you can’t hug them --- and you can’t see their physical reaction, their acceptance of your love, nor be hugged back.  A physical presence, with love, is a thing that it is in our nature to desire to have, and to keep.
“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” and it often brings tears --- where love is present.
I think that those are the two reasons for my spontaneous tears at the thought of my mother’s death:  she will physically be gone from sight, and I love her.  Without either of those two points I wouldn’t be naturally driven to tears --- naturally driven to tears.  Ahhh, now I see: the physical communion with other people and loving them are natural things, things it is our nature to do.  And it is in our nature to desire them so much, especially in family, that having gained them we grieve their loss:  we cry.
God created us to be family, to want to be together, to want to give love to each other.  He made us that way.  And when we become that way it is a natural fit, a wholeness we were meant to feel.  And so when a time of parting arrives, we feel a “hole” in us; we feel less than complete anymore; we feel sad.  We cry.  It is a good thing then when we cry at the parting of a loved one; it shows that we were fully human, fully living as we were created to live, in God’s image.
When love ends, we cry alone.  The aloneness we feel is also a natural thing.  Love is a willful giving of ourselves to another; it is a very personal thing we give.  When our love seems no longer to have anyone to receive it, it seems incomplete, and only we, alone, can feel that loss.  Others may offer condolences, but they cannot fill the loss we feel.
But what about eternal life, where love does not end?  Indeed, in death love goes with us to eternity; it is the only thing which does.  So is our loss of a loved one really a loss?  In the spiritual realm, we are present among our family.  Love goes on.  So why does the physical loss so dwarf all feelings and thoughts of some people?  Even when stopping to think on it, as I have done here, they still can’t feel joy for their loved one.  Why?  The answer, I think, is that they are weak in faith, even as I sometimes am.  There is no other answer.  Like Thomas, we naturally yearn to see to believe, and it takes a strong faith to believe without seeing.
Science says that things which exist can be measured, and if it can’t be measured, it can’t be proven to exist.  I suppose a scientist might measure the existence of love in various ways: counting physical contacts between people or certain physical actions, and perhaps even physical/chemical reactions in the brain.  And if the physical presence weren’t there, like the child leaving home, I suppose the scientist might count the number of phone contacts, emails, or texts as evidence of love.  But if someone’s cell phone breaks, would the scientist be forced to say that all evidence of love has ended?  Well, whatever a scientist might say or not, we know that love is not simply measured in that way because love is not only a physical action.  I can still choose to love without physical contact, and without a physical response, even if my nature yearns for that physical contact.  I can love in faith that my love somehow matters to my beloved, whether they be alive or dead, and that knowledge matters to me.  Speaking for myself, I still greatly love my departed father and sister and brother, and have great confidence they feel my love.
The physical presence of someone makes love complete in the physical world; it is a natural thing.  The spiritual presence of someone will make love complete in eternity, but for now it is a thing --- in this world --- of faith.
I guess that brings up one further example of love, and tears when love ends: the sometimes connection we feel of God’s presence.  We are a body and soul, a physical and spiritual combination.  Sometimes it happens, upon receiving Holy Communion, when meditating in the adoration chapel, or perhaps even when praying in the car, that we deeply feel the presence of God.  And at times like that we often cry.  I think those tears are our physical nature intruding on the spiritual connection, reveling in the good bodily feeling of a spiritual completeness, but at the same time being aware that this feeling is most temporary in this world; the connection with the One we love will soon end, and we naturally cry at the thought of parting.  Our bodies yearn for physical presence and love, and our souls yearn for spiritual presence and love --- but on this earth, that is only something we appreciate in faith.  But that is not to deny it is a strong yearning, this eternal yearning, for this time of no more parting, no more tears.
It is a blessing for our earthly loved ones to enter eternity, and our love for them will continue there.  It seems fitting to me that today is both Mother’s Day and Ascension Day; both are days celebrating blessings.  But it is hard, sometimes, to see our blessings through the tears; for me both days are reminders of parting. 
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” wrote Charles Dickens.  They were times of tears.  But through all those times and these times we need to remember in faith:  we may feel sad, but those are really tears of happiness.
We need to keep our body’s natural feelings apart from our minds’ control of our bodies.  Natural feelings are associated with things which are natural --- good or bad --- for our body.  They are the feelings of the body, in this world where the body exists.  But we can’t let these feelings control our mind, for we need to engage our mind on those things beyond the body, spiritual things --- and love.  We can’t let our feelings of sorrow or of pain define whether we love or hate someone or something; those are feelings or the body.  They serve a purpose, but not an eternal one.
For in heaven there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more parting.  Our mind needs a faith that believes this strongly.  It needs to not be anxious.  We DO cry alone here on earth for the departure of a loved one, but we rejoice as a family, in love, for all eternity. 
Love never dies.


  1. My friend: What a deeply personal and moving post. Thank you for sharing it with us. I am so sorry for the suffering you are going through and you and your mother will be in my prayers. I agree with you wholeheartedly when you write: "It is a good thing then when we cry at the parting of a loved one; it shows that we were fully human, fully living as we were created to live, in God’s image." But I must take issue with one other point you make. If I understand you, you conclude that your tears and suffering at the impending loss of your mother are the result of weakness or a lack of complete faith. I disagree. Remember that Jesus wept when He was confronted with the death of His friend, Lazarus. If anyone understood the reality of eternal life, and that He would see his friend again, it certainly was Jesus, right? Yet he wept. He wept, I suppose, not for Lazarus but for Himself. He would miss His friend and, as you write, death of a loved one leaves a "hole". But why can't a "hole" and "wholeness" (experiencing grief as part of being human) go together? I hope you find comfort knowing that your mother's suffering will soon end, she will see the Lord's face, and you will join her again in the future. John

  2. Thank you, John, for your kind comments and prayers. These are difficult days, which may go on for weeks or months or even, in God's will, more years. It's difficult to see your mother quietly cry from pain. I only ask His mercy for her.

    The point you made about Jesus' weeping is one I considered also. What was He thinking, feeling? I summarized my thoughts on the matter in this small paragraph: "The physical presence of someone makes love complete in the physical world; it is a natural thing. The spiritual presence of someone will make love complete in eternity, but for now it is a thing --- in this world --- of faith." I have had only a handful of theology courses, so I don't speak as an apologist, but I recall the Church's teaching that Jesus was fully God and fully man. "Fully man," what does that mean? I said it appeared a natural thing that physical presence and love were human longings, of every man, and if my further assumption is true, that once had the loss of these "naturally" brings tears, then Jesus as "fully man" might naturally have cried at the loss of Lazarus who he loved also.

    When I commented that some lacked faith, it was on those who couldn't overcome their tears even when contemplating the truth of life everlasting for their loved one --- when I really think on it, I can smile through my "natural" tears; "those are really tears of happiness." But there are some, who I know, who can't smile at all. Years after a loved one has died, they still cry and can't stop. Their tears are more than the result of just a very deep love, I think they are also an indication of a lack of sufficient faith.

    I think Jesus wept because of the loss of a loved one, even as I think He wept in the Garden because of the impending loss of a loved one (like my feelings about my mom) -- only He was the one departing. He cried, I believe, not about His coming Passion, but the "natural" loss of His mother and His earthly friends; His body would be parting from them who He loved, and He "naturally" cried. But His faith was strong, and He moved beyond His tears and did what must be done --- even as I hope to.

    This morning at mass, they sang the hymn "Here Is My Life" which I quoted in the earlier post on love. How wonderful to hear it again as I contemplate the same feelings. And yes, I cried at the words: "There is a love stronger than death ..." and "Here is my life, Lord ... my soul's surrender" to God's will.

    It is what I feel these days and, perhaps, in this small way I share in His Passion.

    Thank you again, John. I enjoy your thinking on these things.