Love is real and it maintains.

mrg&G 5-11 yellow Butte lgFather Alexis Trader in another article on grief, excerpted and linked below, discusses not just the memories we hold of those who are departed, but the love that binds us to them even after our former connection is gone forever. Notice that it is not the loved one who is gone forever, but the nature of the relationship.

That the relationship one has with those who have died can continue to change is something I haven’t given much thought to in my own case, though I have heard of a person asking or offering forgiveness at the gravesite of someone with whom they didn’t have “closure.” Not knowing back then that it would pertain so closely or so soon to my experience, a few months ago I printed out an article from the Internet on the subject of “Dostoevsky and Memory Eternal” but didn’t read it until after my husband died.

I always love the hymn “Memory Eternal” that is sung at the end of every Orthodox funeral service, and I was eager to read what conjunction the writer Donald Sheehan found between it and The Brothers Karamazov, a novel that I also find very meaningful. About half of his article discusses the theology of Fr. Pavel Florensky and conditions of personhood, but it was the second half that most affected me so far, where Sheehan describes the events of his life and how they led to him becoming Orthodox. His father had been the cause of chaos and suffering for his family, but after he died, seemingly in response to his son’s own efforts at reconciliation, the father gives him a great gift.

Thanks be to God, I could not relate to the kind of pain that Sheehan lived with, between me and anyone I’ve known. It was the love he had for his father, of a kind that would not give up even after death, that resonated with me in the first days after my husband died. In his article on Grief and Human Bonds Fr. Alexis quotes two church fathers on this topic:

As Saint John Chrysostom once wrote to a widow, “For such is the power of love, it embraces, and unites, and fastens together not only those who are present, and near, and visible but also those who are far distant; and neither length of time, nor separation in space, nor anything else of that kind can break up and sunder in pieces the affection of the soul” (Letter to a Young Widow). That love was real, is real, and leaving it free to maintain a bond with the beloved is a healthy, real response to grief. When Saint Ambrose of Milan’s brother died, he wrote “My relationship with you is not lost, but changed; before we were inseparable in the body, now we are undivided in affection; for you remain with me, and will always be with me” (Book 1 on the Decease of his Brother Satyrus). In the same spirit, Saint John Chrysostom once consoled a parent who had lost his son, “I beg you, do not say ‘I am no longer called father,’ for why would you not be so called while your son remains? For you surely have not parted with your child or lost your son, but rather obtained him and have him safe.”

At the cemetery this week Fr. Michael exhorted us about the ways we can continue to love those who are no longer present in body. His words, “Do good deeds in their name,” reminded me of the broader concept of living the kind of life that honors the one who has died, and that will keep me on the road that leads to the great rendezvous at the end time. (The thought of that meeting causes me to wonder: Do you suppose we will hug with our new bodies?)

In the words of St. John Chrysostom, I may have my husband safe, but does he have me safe? I am still on my journey, and my love for him will help me to stay on track.

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)


(Photo credit: Pippin)

18 thoughts on “Love is real and it maintains.

  1. I love this post, and the remarkable things I have been learning from all your posts lately. At the same time as we who love you grieve in some small way with you and for you, it is incredibly helpful (if that is the right word) to gently learn from the reading you are doing and the understanding you are coming in to. Thank you for sharing this with us. Also that picture, oh, it touches my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for this. I really needed it today. Yesterday, I was sort of ambushed in the card aisle at the drug store. I noticed a bunch of Mother’s Day cards and started to look at them, and then realized I don’t have anyone to buy Mother’s Day cards anymore. I’ve been pretty teary ever since. But this gives me something to think about. What gift can I give her this year for Mother’s Day?

    BTW, I may have to write a blog post about all this later today and borrow a little bit from you.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very inspiring thoughts here, Gretchen. Thank you. It is eight years (almost) since Paul died and I am just beginning to recover. But I will always feel married to him and connected to him. I love the idea of doing good deeds in his name.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely post today Gretchen. I love that photo. So sweet and yet profound. Going arm and arm. Always looking to the mountains. It reminds me of Pilgrims Progress. We are on a journey. I am so glad you are not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gretchen, how I hoped that the photo was of you and your husband. Then after reading your article, I saw the photo courtesy. What a beautiful remembrance of your life together.

    A friend once told me something that I have not forgotten. She said that in marriage, part of our duty is to guide our spouses to salvation in Christ and a closer walk with Him. So when you say we continue to live by doing things in their memory, it sounds, in a way, that we are still being guided by that spouse to salvation.

    Thank you for sharing your life journey with us. All my love to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Gretchen, I just posted this blog on the Donald Sheehan public Facebook page. Don reposed in the Lord in 2010 and I have recently published a book of his essays (including a version of the one you cite here) with Paraclete Press: “The Grace of Incorruption: The Selected Essays of Donald Sheehan on Orthodox Faith and Poetics.” I think you’ll find much food there—as I have—to nourish you on your own journey of grieving. Not sure what I’ll do now that the book is published…well, I guess I’m doing it, sharing it with as many people as I can. God bless

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, Gretchen, I LOVE this post, and my heart resonates with a loud AMEN to all of it. I have been thinking these thoughts about our sleep and eternity for a long time, but people look at me rather oddly when I propose that their loved ones are not actually dead, that they still exist and their love still exists, that they are still loved by their friend/mate from afar. We are so used to mourning without hope, acting as if Everything Is Over. We know we will live on a new earth with a river, and trees and food and meals and animals and a city and a citizenry, and it makes perfect sense that we will happily be with those we love and resume the relationships we only started here. It gives me great joy to read all these thoughts here 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for this wonderful post. Full of balm for our hurting souls. I know instinctively that nothing can destroy the love we have for one another. I’ve always felt that my husband is now safe, and like you I want to live this life “on the right track” and encourage my children to do the same so we live in the hope of that rendezvous you speak of. These words also help so much in regard to my children who live so far away. We have no guarantee of seeing each other in the body as long as we live in this dangerous world, but we do have a guarantee that we will never be completely separated from each other or God’s love. Thanks, again, Gretchen!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautiful post. thank you for the link. The Brothers K is one of my favorite novels. I started to read the article, but it looks like it deserves a cup of tea and some concentration, so I have bookmarked it for tomorrow 🙂

    Blessings to you. that picture is very poignant.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Excellent post, Gretchen. Having love change, after Dave’s death, caught me totally unawares. I don’t want to be the person who makes their deceased into a saint but I find I remember, more and more, the good times, the love, gentleness, kindness, etc. The grief has been all too real, yet it too changes over time. It becomes more bearable, less overwhelming, less weighty. Thanks be to God!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh Gretchen ~ the title of this post drew me here. Thank you so much for sharing. You have a beautiful gift with writing and it is from God and He blesses others through it.

    I know that my dear husband is just on the other side of the veil. He is with Jesus and Jesus is with me, that makes us really close, only not physically.

    I am blessed by your writings ~ FlowerLady

    Liked by 1 person

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