Looking back on 2013 and the years following my brother’s suicide – almost four now – I have often wondered what dead really means. Not in the morbid sense, but an exploration of what happens next. Maybe heaven, or reincarnation, or just nothingness. As the New Year approaches and marks another year of my brother’s absence, it seems a coincidence that I recently found The Lovely Bones movie playing on TV. It has provided a fatefully timed response to my lingering thoughts on the mystery of death.
Get your Kleenex out for this one. The movie form 2009 is an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel centering on a young girl who has been murdered, and she watches over her family and her killer from the in-between of purgatory. (It was good, but as a side note about most books made into movies, I believe the book is always better.) For me, the movie felt somewhat like I was watching my own family through our tragic loss. Though I’m not sure how much I believe it, the story tells of how the dead are here among the living, “that the dead truly talk to us, that in the air between the living, spirits bob and weave and laugh with us. They are the oxygen we breathe.”
If our loved ones are still with us, like many do believe, is it because we keep them close in our grief or do they keep themselves close until we have healed?
“You don’t notice the dead leaving when they really choose to leave you. You’re not meant to. At most you feel them as a whisper or the wave of a whisper undulating down. I would compare it to a woman in the back of a lecture hall or theater whom no one notices until she slips out….If I’m to be honest with you, I still sneak away to watch my family sometimes. I can’t help it, and sometimes they still think of me. They can’t help it….”
Real or not, it brings peace and comfort to entertain thoughts of a connection to our loved ones beyond death. For me that connection exists in my memories where I have placed my brother. Death and what happens after remains a mystery to me. I think, possibly, from death comes life: new life with new hopes, new appreciations and new relationships.
“These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections-sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent-that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events that my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous body had been my life.”
In this New Year of healing I look ahead to what is living, because as the story shows, that deserves attention, too. What does living mean to you in 2014?