Content warning: death, mourning.
I've felt significant loss in the last part of 2018. We lost my spouse's father, a wonderful, kind man who loved his grandchildren. We lost my nineteen-year-old cat, the most special pet I've ever had, who loved everyone he saw and always wanted to be involved in what we were doing.
I've been thinking about what it means for someone to pass on. Religious schools of thought often teach us that the souls of the departed move on somewhere else, but as I've developed my own spirituality I've come to think differently—not least of all because this thought makes no room for the dear friend who came back, not from the dead, but from a long and saddening absence.
I know people take comfort in the religious idea that those who we've lost are in some kind of beyond-the-grave contact with those they've left behind. I believe there's merit to this—that it's our memories of them that continue to touch us.
Those who were close to us leave a deep imprint on us, and when we see them in our dreams, speaking to us about modern concerns they did not experience while they were still with us, I believe it's the collection of experiences we had with them and the patterns they impressed on us roaming our subconscious minds and building these new thoughts.
Even in our waking hours, we find the emptiness of life without these people difficult to bear. They've become a part of us, just as we were a part of them. We feel that absence whether they're just gone for a time or gone forever, and we fill that hole in our hearts with old memories, building on them and making them into something new.
In this way, I believe we can derive some comfort from what we had with those we once had with us, helping us process and mourn. We don't need to specifically embrace any given belief system to touch this—we don't need to think “well, they're gone, and that's it,” because we were all touched, down to our core, by our loved ones.
And they'll always be with us. We were changed by their presence in our lives. We were deeply enriched for having them close, and they will always live with us, until the day we pass on, leaving others with memories of not just us, but everyone that came before us as well.
And I, for one, take great comfort in that thought.