In the calendar of our northern hemisphere, the month of November is the time of autumn. It is traditionally associated with death as the liturgical feast of the Faithful Departed is celebrated on the second day of the month. November brings back memories of absences. The pain of saying goodbye to a loved one is very hard. And it is particularly heartbreaking when that person dies. Love becomes suffering, pain, because it is the desire for communion with the one we love and… it is lost. Perhaps that is why the word passion means suffering and, by extension, also designates the feeling of love.
Let us note, however, that when we say goodbye to someone, this goodbye is not so much an irreversible disappearance as a transit. We say goodbye and cease to be mutually present in a concrete way to move on to a new scenario, perhaps unthinkable and, in the long run, it may even improve the bond that unites us.
Although it sounds abstract, it is not. We experience it all the time in our lives. For example, a young person who finishes his studies must necessarily leave his family home in order to start a new life. He changes not only his place of residence, but also his city – perhaps his country -, his habits, his relationships with other people and animals, his lifestyle and his organisation of time and space. There is “something that can never stop his desire to fly”, as Nino Bravo sang. For his parents in particular it is painful because they have to assume that their son is no longer “their property”. He is gone. Such an absence is sometimes very costly. But the absent son is not dead. Far from it, his life is moving in another direction, necessary for his growth, even if it requires a drastic physical uprooting; only bodily uprooting.
I am reminded in this connection of the lines of a companion: “Get out of my sight, do not take your presence from me”. Is what he says absurd? Paradoxically, it is not. It is often the case that distance brings the two parties closer together, even more than they were before. But in a very different way.
Anyone who has to leave should say to others the words that Jesus said to his disciples on the night before his death: It is good for you that I go away. The cold disappearance of the farewell gives way to a deeper encounter that no longer depends on physical proximity. A farewell is thus a passage, not an ending. What matters is what is inaugurated, not remaining in the rear-view mirror.
This is poignantly true of the farewell on the occasion of death. Of course, at a funeral the emotional repercussions are of much higher voltage, but the dynamic is the same. A fundamental change is taking place in the relationship. In the case of death, it usually takes some time before it is understood that this was a mysterious transformation, not an irreversible destruction.
Goodbyes, including funerals, are not absurd. They can be, of course, when that farewell is caused by hatred, abuse or violence. But when goodbye is the natural outcome of the cycle of life itself, death is in fact a part of the rich, ineffable, paradoxical mystery of love. And it is not the last thing. It is a gateway.
Juan Carlos cmf
(PHOTO: Mantas Hesthaven)