Thinking Out Loud: Our last precious memories

John T. Catrett III
ONHL Hospice Chaplain

A door closing, a sweet note you found in a book, your voice on the answering machine, a final text to cherish forever, a picture of you with your lovely smile... all-insignificant until they became sweet memories set down in time. These are the moments of a final goodbye we never forget. All that is left of a lifetime of hopes and dreams that will never be fulfilled.

A stillness lies within these moments. Time has stood still in the oddest way. We remember milliseconds of extreme trauma in our lives. Somehow, we notice the smallest things, even the gentle breeze that moved the leaves outside the window as we stared at the world that was forever changed. Someone we loved is gone, leaving only the certainty that nothing will ever be the same. A bird chirps, ice cubes drop into the tray, all those daily sounds that never mattered before are somehow amplified as they jolt us back to the reality of this new moment in time. It's a new memory we will never forget.   This is the moment when shock began to protect us until we are ready to emerge from it. 

Shock is a state of mind that allows our brains to function on autopilot while our emotions remain frozen, shielding us from a pain so unendurable we need time to absorb it slowly. It is a built-in protective response our Creator endowed all of us with, understanding the pain we may someday be forced to endure. How do we begin to emerge from this type of protective swaddling? Slowly, after nausea passes, after the fear of a life without the one who has left us has begun to dim, and all of the things required of us are accomplished, our emotions begin to surface one day at a time. Like a child peeking out from a hiding place, we step carefully back into those daily tasks we never had to think about. We are slowly emerging. 

It is a slow process, repairing something as vital as a broken heart. Time really is your best friend while denial and delusion are your worst enemies. Like choosing to jump into a cold lake rather than slowly entering, you may elect to absorb the pain as quickly as your emotions will allow you to do so. It is akin to choosing invasive surgery rather than less invasive surgical procedure that may not be as effective. You are going to survive and begin a new normal; you choose the path that permits your own healing to be complete. 

You will never replace the one who has been lost. Save yourself the added pain and cherish the memories of those special moments in time that are left to hold close. You may choose to run and hide from the pain, only to learn it is the shadow that follows you. You can be angry, angry at the cause of the loss, angry at others’ responses to your loss, even angry with God for not intercepting the events that led to the loss. As time passes, you will accept that every person has his or her own life plan. No matter how much they may love you and hate to leave you, they arrived with their own personal plan, which included an exit that thankfully did not involve you. It is okay to let go of the pain and treasure the best that is left from shared love. 

Something happens deep within all of us when we have suffered the pain of a loved one being ripped from our life. Our heart feels broken beyond repair. Will you ever be the same having survived the unimaginable? No. You are forever altered, far more than you could have ever imagined. You are left with the gifts of understanding, compassion, empathy, and survival instincts that are newly honed. This is the cement that put the pieces of your broken heart back into place, carefully applied by a loving Creator. You are stronger having survived this. 

We rarely emerge from this kind of trauma without learning what is truly important and with a deeper faith in their value. It is here that we gain a new understanding of how important those special moments really are. We learn to cherish them before they become our last precious memories of others.

John T. Catrett III is chaplain for ONHL Hospice. He can be reached at (918) 352-3080 or john.catrett3@gmail.com.