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Honoring the Loss

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Meeting Life and Death on Gary's Faith Walk

“Honor your father and your mother…”

The tears come at the most unexpected times. 

We’d gathered for dinner around the small wooden table in our son’s Missoula apartment. It was a fine summer meal: green salad, fresh beets, rice, wild salmon, and a glass of wine. Yet as I settled into my chair, I realized the last time I’d shared a meal at this table was one year ago. It was my 83-year-old mother’s table, and so long as she had the strength last June, she and I had breakfast together at that table in her Independence, Missouri home. The table was still the same. The chairs were the same. But now she was gone, taken by the cancer that ended her life in July. So, just as she wanted, the table with all its memories now belongs to her grandson in Montana.

The tears came later en route home to North Idaho as I shared the intense emotions of that moment with my wife.

It’s been a difficult year. In my immediate family three close relatives died. Within my circle of adult friends, two parents died. Each person who passed away left behind adult children to move through the valley of grief. 

Across the months, I’ve often found solace in a passage from “The Losses of Our Lives: The Sacred Gifts of Renewal in Everyday Loss,” by, yes, Nancy Copeland-Payton, my wife.

“The only way to embrace the rest of our lives is to journey completely through this valley of grief. The choice is ours. We can cling to our loved one and bury our future with him or her. Or we can unclench our hands and let this person go. Mourning is the lengthy process of accepting the finality of physical loss of our loved one, so we can continue our journey in the land of the living. Eventually, we will come out on the far side of grief. Towering canyon walls shorten into rounded hills that flatten further still. And the valley floor widens out into a light-filled land of acceptance.”

In my faith walk, I vividly recall words from the Ten Commandments, “Honor your father and your mother…” (Exodus 20:12) And, I recognize the wisdom of suggestions to both honor our parents and to move through our valley of grief when they are gone.

When the time is right, we can reflect. Can we visualize the person we have lost? Can we name all the things we loved about them? Can we name some of the most challenging characteristics of the person we loved? What did we lose when our loved one died? And is that loved one a part of our life today—not in a physical way, but in a sense of felt presence? Can we describe that presence? And, how does that loved one’s presence influence us today?

In these July days, I’ll be reflecting on these questions. The reflection, as it continues over time, helps reduce the pain of loss. And, I know the “hooks” into my emotions which prompt the tears will diminish as well… the birthday card no longer sent, the Mother’s Day flowers not ordered, the phone calls with news of family or travel not made.

How will I mark the year? On July 27, the anniversary of my mother’s passing, you’ll find me enjoying a quiet meal at the Café Bodega in the Hope Marketplace, in Hope, Idaho. I’ll drive along the shoreline of Lake Pend Oreille. I’ll enter the café with walls lined with local art. I’ll sidle up near the wood stove (now thankfully cool on a summer’s day). I’ll order and enjoy a sandwich and a soda. And, all the while the presence of my mother, who enjoyed this place on each visit to our family here in Idaho, will accompany me. 

For me, the towering canyon walls of grief have shortened in the year. Indeed, I travel now on rounded hills, and I know that somewhere out there is a valley floor which widens into a light-filled land of acceptance. I honor my mother, and her presence travels with me on this part of life’s journey. 

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Author info

Gary Payton Gary Payton is on a Faith Walk that takes him to Russia, Eastern Europe and Sandpoint, Idaho

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death, grief, The Losses of Our Lives, Nancy Copeland Payton

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