One of the most difficult experience we endure in life is when our heart breaks over someone we love. Neuroscience has discovered that the emotional suffering we experience registers in the same areas of the brain as physical pain. I am recalling the day I learnt that my dear friend, Jennifer, was dying of lung cancer. It was only days before that I had one of my heart-to-heart with her. I was sharing with her the roller coaster ride I was having with my husband’s recent health issue. We were waiting to find out whether or not he had lung cancer. There was a mass in the lower lobe of his right lung. He had cancer on his larynx, which was dissolved with radiation. Jennifer and I were talking freely about death when one of her cats crawled up into her lap and laid his head against her chest. Jennifer remarked: “He never gets up in my lap”. He stayed there the whole time we were visiting. In reflecting back on this moment, I realized that her cat knew that it was not my husband who was dying, it was Jennifer. My husband and I heard from his physician that the mass was not malignant, but the result of pneumonia.
Jennifer chose to go into hospice while in the hospital and only a select few of her friends could visit and I was not one of them. I was told she wanted to conserve what energy she had left to prepare herself for death. My heart was broken in two. Who was I going to confide in now that she is leaving us? My tears flowed freely for weeks afterwards. I could not stop thinking about all we had shared as two woman friends do. I literally lost my breath when I found out about her dying. I was very disappointed that I could not tell her how much I loved her.
Grief does strange things to us. It did not take me long to tap into my wise heart to find a way to embrace the pain of loosing my dear friend. I decided to write letters to her, knowing she would never read them. Yet, I knew these letters would keep her memory alive. My letters to her were responses to what Jennifer had written about death in the newsletter from the prayer Center that she was director of. Somehow my writing them gave me comfort. The anniversary of her death will be on August 13th. It was the year 2006. I still feel her presence and remember her lovely smile.
“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we mus simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap, God does not fill it, but on the contrary keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.” …Dietrich Bonhoeffer.