This week I started rereading Peter Kreeft’s book “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven” because it brought me so much comfort the last time I worked my way through it and I feel that need for comfort again, plus, like rereading the Pope’s Apostolic letter “On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering” I thought it might be a good idea to go back and find what it was that I found so comforting. Wouldn’t exactly say ‘exciting’ but definitely comforting. He suggests things as possibilities about heaven that never entered my imagination and he expands on things that are Church teaching that I never really stopped to really contemplate. So this time I hope to savor the book as I read it instead of reading through it like a mad woman desperately seeking a lifeboat in the storm.
That said, in the second chapter there is the question: The living often say they feel the dead present and watching them. Is this illusion or fact?
Answer: It is fact. The Bible says we are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses”. (Hebrews 12:1) The context is speaking of the dead. They are alive. For God is “not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to Him.” ((Luke 20:38) Reason confirms revelation here. Does their love for us cease? Does it not rather increase in purity and power? And do not their vision and understanding also increase?
I remember reading this the first time but this time, not being in such a frantic state, was able to really listen to Kreeft’s answer and spend some time thinking about it. Was surprised at the comfort it brought. That’s not to say I still haven’t had moments of tears since reading it again, but in the other moments it gives me something else to think about.
All these months of feeling guilty and wishing I’d done things differently. All the times I spent crying and begging Bernadette to forgive me for my mistakes and the extra suffering I caused her because of them, the fear that in her suffering she didn’t really know how much she was loved, everything…. and here it says ‘their love for us increases in purity and power, also their vision and understanding. So then Bernadette does know how much we loved her and how desperately we did everything for her and prayed so hard for a miracle. She does know and I don’t need to beat myself up any more that maybes she doesn’t. How silly of me!
His next paragraph continues: “‘The communion of Saints’ means not only:
1. love and understanding among the blessed in Heaven
2. love and understanding among the redeemed on earth
3. love and understanding between those two groups, the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, temporarily separated by death.
If that is the case, then we can almost say that our love for those we have ‘lost’ to heaven can grow just as their love for us can still grow. But more comforting would be that their love and understanding would be more perfect and pure. They would not be plagued with ‘misunderstanding’ the way we are. Naturally they would also forgive us so we shouldn’t feel haunted or guilty. United with Christ they would love with Christ’s love and Christ never held a grudge but returned hurt with love.
Was thinking of this all day yesterday and it expanded from Bernadette to everyone I’ve ever know who has died: my brother, grandparents, family members, friends, even those children we lost before they were born. To know that we’re still in communion with them all even though for now there is that temporary separation. We’re more separated from them than they are from us. To try and remain focused on that though brings moments of great comfort.
Had an experience of “love and understanding among the redeemed on earth” the other day when a dear friend called. We talked and cried together on the phone and I was able to openly express my longing for Bernadette that I didn’t dare try and share before. It also felt comforting to know that I was not alone in my longing and suffering when my friend cried with me. I told her I felt terrible that I felt such a relief to have someone crying with me and she told me she was happy to be there for me and with me. She said that’s what friends do. I hope to be that kind of friend some day! Wow.
Yesterday marked 17 weeks since Bernadette passed away and today marks four months. Like before, it’s still hard to believe that that much time has passed, especially since the pain is still as real and intense as if it were yesterday. Every night I go to bed thinking how glad I am that another day is over and how we’re all one day closer to heaven. Every morning I wake up to that empty feeling knowing I have to push myself to do even the smallest things. But then I know too that Catherine and Zoe still need me and that in itself brings relief and joy. I’m also discovering the therapy of physical work, whether it’s making a big pot of healthy soup for Zoe’s meals, cleaning out the garage of all the recycling, planning and preparing meals so the big kids can have lunches/suppers while at work, or just organizing and de-cluttering. Like Mary Jane told me once, you do what you need to do to get through. Little by little, week by week, I’m learning what I need to do to get through.
One worry I get from reading your daily blogs is the guilt you seem to feel over Bernadette’s illness and passing. Please Patti, don’t be too hard on yourself. This was beyond your control and what you and the whole family did during the time she was still here was absolutely amazing! We were all inspired by all your love & efforts! God chose to take her back and during those last months you were terrific with her. I know without a doubt if there was anything you asked forgiveness for she forgave you right away and never thought about it again. I hope you can do the same because that’s what will help you move on and what will help reduce the pain little by little, week by week.