The Dead Need Us

A little over four months ago, my wife of nearly forty years died. It is the worst thing I have ever experienced; and yet also the most powerful-and in some ways the most beautiful.

What could be beautiful about death, this awful and absolute separation of body from body? In the aftermath of loss, sentimental and well-meaning clichés, even words of religious assurance, fail to dispel the stunning physical absence of the beloved. They do not alter the fact that no one is sitting across from you over coffee in the morning light. They can never recreate the unspeakably tender, unspeakably sad moments in the car where she sat, her small shoulders closing in, exhausted from a four-year bout with lung cancer. To me, the very vagueness and desperate clue-searching of many spiritualist practices underscore the hard reality of bodily absence. And yet, paradoxically, they direct the griever toward another level of reality, another kind of presence.

As a recent widower, I am beginning to understand something about where I need to look and what I need to do. As C. S. Lewis suggested in A Grief Observed, we are cheated of the full experience and meaning of loss if we settle for anything less of the beloved than “her full reality, her otherness.” By “full reality” I take him to mean the beloved as a real, historical person, and not some sanitized reconstruction. From his own experience of mourning Lewis extends a...

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About the Author

John Savant, professor emeritus at Dominican University of California, lives in San Rafael, California.