There is a collective sigh of relief as we ring in 2021, and yet there is also mounting loss and unattended grief. For those of us who have been learning to live newly after the death of our own loves, we know that healing will take time and attention.

Our own son Mack died 8 years ago today, two weeks shy of his ninth birthday. It still takes my breath away. How I long to see his teddy bear eyes and laugh together on the couch. I sense his joyful presence. I picture him running, his long legs stretched out, surrounded by friends, and I smile.

The absence and presence of those we love who have died is at the heart of grief, we long for them and miss them because we love them. Our love for them, and their love for us, does not die. The reckoning of this dynamic is a part of our whole remaining lives and reveals itself in a myriad of ways, unique to each of us.

After Mack died, I read this excerpt from a letter that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his friends from prison on Christmas Eve, 1943, fifteen months before he was executed. It is widely quoted in books on grief, but honestly when I first read it the ‘emptiness’ he refers to felt like a dark pit. It took time for me to live into my own experience before I understood the emptiness, or maybe the opening, as a source of endless discovery. For the many of us who mourn, I share it here in hope that it encourages you:

“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it.

“At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it.

“It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve—even in pain—the authentic relationship.

“Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation.

“But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”

Peace to you and yours in 2021.



Tags: , , ,

Elizabeth Brady

Elizabeth's son Mack died suddenly on New Year's Eve 2012. Elizabeth teaches at Penn State and her essays on learning to live with loss can also be read on The Compassionate Friends (TCF), Modern Loss, She has participated on the panel "A Flower Picked Too Soon" at several national TCF conferences. Elizabeth served on the content advisory board for the Public Television documentary "Speaking Grief" that seeks to help us all get better at grief. (

More Articles Written by Elizabeth