First of all, I must tell you that I wrote most of this post about two weeks ago, eleven days after the passing of my wife. I’ve been reluctant to publish it because I thought subject of the discussion was profound to the point of being provocative. I don’t wish to be provocative, especially when the subject involves my late wife, Yvonne. It’s only after deciding that she would want me to share my feelings about this on the chance it may unite rather than divide us, which has always been my purpose in publishing these memoirs, that I decided to publish.
Eleven days after my wife of 46 years of marriage died right before my eyes I was moved to write this post. Her death was not the beautiful spiritual experience I expected. The moment she took her last breath evoked a sense of loss in me that no words in the English language can adequately describe. For a split second after she died, I doubted everything I had ever heard or learned about anything. I heard this guttural cry that I had never heard come out of any animal, let alone a human being, come out of my mouth and for a second, I was drifting through space and time as though there was no substance or meaning to anything in life. The only thing that snapped me out of it was the need to console my daughter, who going through a similar experience.
The next 48 hours rendered me almost completely useless as a human being. I slept perhaps 3 hours over that period of time and was barely able to eat or drink. It was not until after pretty intense sessions with my priest and a hospice grief councilor and a fairly potent sedative that produced a chemically induced 8 hours of sleep, I came back to Earth. Once I had regained my senses, I had an epiphany. I realized that within my wife lay something incomprehensible, which produced the undying love I felt for her. It was the loss of that presence that was producing the grief I was feeling. All of a sudden, I began to understand the distinctions between knowledge, faith, belief and hope. I have always been drawn to my wife like a moth to a flame. The reason for this (I surmise) is that more than any other human being on this planet; I saw in her, the presence of God.
Before I go any further, I want you to understand that up to this point in life, I’ve not been a model of religious piety. I rarely go to church and my interaction with most of the people in my life is purely secular. So don’t think for a minute that I’m trying to teach or lecture you on the meaning of God and eternity. I don’t profess to have a handle on either of those things. However, I think it’s important in these troubled and divisive times we live in, to take advantage of every opportunity that comes along that offers the possibility of demonstrating how we are united in our humanity and how fortunate we are to be able to share this life together at this point in space and time. I’m telling you these things to share with you how this powerful experience of loss and love has made me feel and the subsequent thoughts I’ve had as a result of the experience in the hope that you may gain insight that may be helpful to you if you ever live to have a similar experience, and to perhaps convince you that we may be bound together by more than just country, race or religion.
I’ve heard it said that God is love. Now I know its true. I now know that every human being on this Earth is a manifestation of God. Thusly, we can only know God by truly knowing each other, with all our perceived faults and imperfections. In fact, knowingitself, knowing of anything, is something that can only be experienced through life. Faith in God is not the same as knowing God. Those of us who have faith in God derive their faith from their beliefs. Beliefsare interpretations given to us by well meaning guides and mentors of various kinds. They create a whole mythology around God that we come to hopeis true. We call that hope faith. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, when our faith requires us to condemn people of other faiths and beliefs or people with no beliefs or faith at all, we are not practicing the monotheistic religion we profess to believe in. If your religious beliefs tell you that God only finds favor in those who look, believe and act like you, you are actually practicing paganism in my opinion. The fact that you call yourself a Christian, Jew or Muslim, and claim that God is creator of all things, to the extent that you limit God’s grace to you and “your kind”, you are practicing a kind of paganism in which your god’s purpose is to destroy all of your perceived enemies. To my knowledge, all the major religions require tolerance of all people, regardless of their beliefs and disbeliefs, when practiced in their purest form. For example in the Christian faith, did not Jesus say, “That which you do unto the least of me, you do unto me”?
Life gives us the opportunity to know God in all its forms. That is why life is so precious. We must all strive to appreciate and preserve life. We must seek to preserve the air and water and the environment needed to sustain life. Most importantly, we must be kind and generous to those who look, act and believe different than us. The difference we perceive is only a manifestation of a part of God that we don’t understand. Life gives you the opportunity to know that aspect of God.
I believe God sent my wife Yvonne to me so I could know the God in me. My love for her is a reflection the love that’s possible for me to have for myself. I know now that I must look for God’s presence in everyone I meet, especially those who offend and even despise me. The grief I felt at my wife’s death was my reaction to the loss of love, the loss of God I was experiencing. In that agonizing second after her death, I realized that I would never experience that part of God again in this life. I’ve heard is said that hell is the loss of or complete absence of God, and that hell is not so much a place as it is a word to describe the absence of God. The second after I watched my wife die, her face contorted as she struggled for her last breath, I felt like I had descended into hell. It has only been through the loving support and assurance of my own value to humanity by the other manifestations of God, first in the form of loving family, then through loving friends and relatives and finally through caring support of colleagues, neighbors and acquaintances, that I have been able to rise from the depths of hell to a place where continuance of my own life makes sense. Their support has made it possible for me to believe she still survives through the memories of her contained in me and my children, and the hundreds of others who’s lives she touched. This unbearable experience is only made bearable by the knowledge that the time has come in my life to better know God in all its other forms. Perhaps that is the overall lesson for all of us in this troubled time we are living in. Our only salvation will be to start looking for God in each other. God is love. Love is life.