By Father James S. Behrens, OCSO | Published October 22, 2018
A woman once wrote me a letter. She lived in Wisconsin and in the letter she shared with me her grief over the loss of her husband. She wrote that he had died a few years before and that her heart still ached. Her life had changed and she knew there was no way to go back to the way it was before his death. But she said she had found a way to better cope with the loss of so long a love.
She grew a garden every year and more or less took the labor for granted. When she lost her husband, things changed. She became more attentive, more absorbed in the work that fostering growth of living things entails. She would work at it every day and then, come the fall when the flowers were all picked and the vegetables harvested, she would lay to garden to rest. She would cover over it with dirt and wait through the months till planting time came again. She wrote that she was learning that all things come, stay for a while, and then must go. We must let them go. But in time, they return. And till that time, she waits.
The years passed and our correspondence faded and then died off. I thought of the letter not long ago when a friend of mine lost her husband and is struggling to come to terms with the pain of his death.
I could share with her some words, or perhaps recommend a book or a support group for the bereaved, but I know she has a garden. I believe that there is within us an awareness, albeit latent and dim for much of our lives, that recognizes that we are here only for a while and that nothing lasts forever. All things must pass, as George Harrison once sang. Yet it is an awareness that we keep at bay most of our waking moments. It rises to the surface when the delicate and fleeting nature of life comes home to us through death, illness, the ravaging weakness of old age. When it wakens in us, this awareness of our mortality can teach us something not only valuable to our life but intrinsic to it.
It is like a whisper from our hearts, softly telling us that death and life are one, inseparable from each other. There must be death for life to flourish. Indeed, all of this day’s wonders exist only because of all the yesterdays that are now gone—and yet are somehow a living and sustaining part of this day.
There is a great and tender wisdom to be learned in learning to let go.
The pain of loss can be softened with gratitude to God for the gift of life that was—and in his providence still is. But we must wait to know love again, for it always comes with new tomorrows.
The waiting can be painful. We look back and who and what we knew and the memories are warm, tender and, yes, painful. But there is a garden to tend, living things awaiting life and growth. One may not have a garden in the literal sense of the word—a plot of earth. But we all have the gardens of our lives and we can and should turn the soil, water it, care for it. What lays hidden will soon break through the surface, thrive a while, and then depart. Much like our lives and our loves.
But go they must—for new life, new loves, to arrive.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers.