I was given a pocket size daily devotional after Mack died called “Healing After Loss” written by Martha Whitmore Hickman, who was also a bereaved parent. I carried it in my purse for two years until the binding weakened, the cover fell off, and each page was dotted with notes and stained with my tears.

One of the daily reflections was actually credited to her own grandmother, who had also lost a child. She wrote, “Keep the door to your soul open” to your loved one.

This notion struck me and I copied it down in my own journal. I had begun to experience a variety of dreams, visions, and random signs in the days after Mack died that surprised me but also offered unexpected comfort and peace.

Many mornings, when I arrived at my desk in the early hours, I said to the Lord, “I have no idea what is happening, Lord, but help me. I don’t want to be afraid. I know that Mack is with you and I want to enter in, I want to fully embrace my own experience. I want to fully live my own life.”

When someone we deeply love dies to the outside it looks like war. It is devastation, heartache, and chaos. All of our plans are completely razed and life looks barren. It is hard to see beyond this which is why it should not surprise you when random acquaintances catch sight of you at the grocery store and clutch their hearts, shake their heads in sorrow, and say:

“I can’t imagine losing my child. How are you surviving? I don’t think I could.”

In the early months of grief I wasn’t sure myself and would respond, “Don’t. Because you can’t even imagine.”

But, now that I am approaching the five year anniversary of Mack’s death I am better able to appreciate the fear in their question. And this is why those of us who have lived through chaos, quite literally “survived” defined as lived beyond, also need to speak to the unexpected shoots of growth and renewal when life as we know it is razed to the ground.

Elizabeth Lesser calls this being “Broken Open” in her book of the same title, which touches on divorce, job loss, mental health, illness, and all of the sufferings of our human experience.

Rainer Marie Rilke wrote that when someone dies that we can’t imagine living without, something else, “enters in.”

I have come to think that when Mack died a part of me died with Mack. A part of me, my heart, my soul is with Mack and Mack is still a part of me. It is the love we share with one another that creates this unbreakable bridge between us, between this world and the next.

This bridge is considered something vaguely hidden within our souls. It is something to discover. I think the death of someone we love deeply lights up this bridge in our soul. It is our choice whether or not we are willing to traverse it.

Death cannot break this bridge. In fact, I think death enlightens it.

It is along this bridge that I have ventured these past years that has brought an unexpected journey in my own life. By meeting Mack’s death and facing it head on I am well aware of my own finiteness and that of everyone I love. Time is not on my side. I have deepened my prayer life and I feel awake. Mack’s death has given me clarity. I know that death does not have the final word. Love is truly stronger than death.

The notion that we should “keep the door to our soul open” to our loved one is because they are still there. And, if we are open to the slow unfolding of this new awareness it offers us great comfort, mercy, and love.

I have met very few grieving people who have not experienced the unexplainable. And, sometimes they share a dream or vision and their friends unwittingly shame them or chastise them so they tuck it away so people don’t think they are “weird.”

When you sit a group of bereaved in a room together and allow a safe space to share it becomes abundantly clear that our loved ones are very present in our lives and assure us of their love in a variety of ways.

Don’t shut the door to your loves. When the bridge of love lights up the darkness of your soul try not to be afraid.

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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, MackBrady.com. 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. (speakinggrief.org)

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