[In] the loss of someone we love, part of us is ripped away. In A Grief Observed, C S Lewis describes the death of his wife, Joy. He compares it to the amputation of a limb:
‘After the operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get back his strength, and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has "got over it." But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones, and he will always be a one-legged man.’
When someone we love dies, we are no longer the same person we were before; some essential dimension is gone.
Yet paradoxically the lost person also lives on in us in many ways. One form of this shared life is a physical, genetic legacy. The Native American poet Joy Harjo tells of a friend who finally tracked down the father he never knew as a boy, only to discover that his father had died a few months earlier. She predicts that this friend will keep looking for his lost father even though the father lives even now in his son’s smile, his muscles – and in the search itself. The search is, in fact, a passionate part of the lived relationship, as in our search for God.
The contemporary practice of organ transplants puts this truth in even starker relief. In February of 2001, Seattle’s annual Mardi Gras celebration turned violent and ugly. An out-of-control crowd fatally beat a young man. Later that year, his mother met with five recipients of his organs, warmly declaring that the diverse group kept her son alive and present for her. Though the search for organ transplants has led to exploitation and oppression on the global scene, donating a loved one’s organs often provides consolation for friends and relatives. If the world were composed of isolated entities, it would be hard to imagine how the salvation the young man killed during Mardi Gras gave to others is compatible with the individual life beyond death. But in a universe where we continually give and receive from one another in ways that shape and reshape body, mind and spirit, it is a very concrete expression of the fact that we are somehow both individual selves and members of one body.
From chapter 6 of Imaging Life After Death – love that moves the sun and stars, published by SPCK 2004