Honoring a Life


One of the biggest gulfs that lies between you the grieving and the others in your life is their pain and sadness is so much less acute, and it fades so much sooner. But even as you work through your grief and the early pain eases, you always feel the loss, the absence, the hole in your life. Some few of us want to forget, but most of want to remember the person who died. After all, with them we remember love and friendship, times of closeness, joy, and times of struggle. We remember them living.

We go through a period when we can’t live our lives as we did, and don’t feel like it. This may be a short time, or it may be years. Some of us want to build a memorial, a tribute, and have the means to do it.

A garden, a park, a playground. A non-profit, a scholarship, an endowment. I have seen elaborate grave stones, and donations to schools, libraries, public squares, or hospitals. In these we seek to hold up the one who is gone so that their name is not forgotten, so that something they loved is supported and offered to others, so that something good and lasting goes on in their memory.

These all come of a natural impulse, and can help us as well as others. But it would be a secondary tragedy if they did not accompany a recovered life – one in which the pain is not disappeared but retreats into a softer, quieter, and more tolerable space in our soul. A life lived again – here on earth – is the greatest honor we can pay, in my view, to the one who no longer does: a life with purpose, joy, love for others, and peace with the sometimes unbearable forces that hammer against us.

Pain was the inevitable result of our loss, but it does not truly honor the one we lost. It never did, and it never will. We honor their life by living the daylights out of ours. Not a pain-life, a fear-life, or a self-life, but a love-life.

When we’re living like that, we’ll know, if they could see us, it would make them smile.

Steve Dehner is a Northwest author and speaker who grew up in Portland, Missoula, Montana, and Seattle. He writes across several genres, including essays, articles, and reviews. His first book, "At a Loss: How to Help a Grieving Friend," was recently published by Greentown Press. He lives with his family in Forest Grove, Oregon, where he is working on his first novel. See more at stevedehner.com

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