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When we lose our loved ones

When the death of someone close to us occurs, it can feel like a bitter, winter wind blowing out the light of our lives. We find ourselves in total darkness. We feel afraid, lost, alone. We worry how we will ever get through the darkness of our grief.

Consider this story about finding one’s way in the dark. One night, Abe Lincoln and his father were working in their log cabin. The father needed some tools from the tool shed and asked Abe to get the tools for him. Abe grabbed the lantern and ran outside only to be frightened by the dark. He came running back into the cabin.

“Father, I can’t see where the tool shed is. It’s pitch black outside.”

His father came over and took him to the door. “Abe, raise your lantern high. What do you see?”

“I see the oak tree in the front yard.”

“Good,” said his father. Now go out to the oak tree and raise your lantern high. Son, what do you see?”

“I see the fence that runs down along the cornfield.”

“Good. Follow the fence to the end and raise your lantern high again. Son, what do you see?”

“I see the tool shed now.”

“Get the tools we need and come back the same way.”

The story reminds the traveler on the journey of grief that there is enough light for a few steps. Once those few steps are taken, then there is enough light for the next few steps. Make the journey a few steps at a time.

There is another aspect of the story on which I wish to focus our attention. Notice that Abe’s father stands in the doorway and calls out encouragement. There are those who stand in the doorways of your life and call out their support and care. Do you hear their voices?

I recently enjoyed dinner at the home of friends. I said goodbye, got in my car, pulled from the driveway into the road, and glanced at the doorway of the home I had just left. All of a sudden I realized that I always glance at the doorway as I am leaving someone’s home. I think this habit must go back to childhood, though I don’t remember who used to be standing there. Sometimes it is so hard to see through the darkened screen or past the reflection of the yard upon the glass. It can be difficult to see who is standing there.

So many who come through the journey of grief testify that they have a clear and abiding sense of their loved one standing in the doorway of their lives speaking encouragement, affirmation and love: “You can make it. Hold the lantern high. Go only as far as you can see. You will make it. I am with you.” Listen for their words of love and be strengthened for the next few steps.

I close with this story. When John was very young, both his parents died. The relatives wondered what to do with John and his several siblings. How might the children be parceled out? One aunt wrote that she would take little John and sent a neighbor by horse to get the boy. As John was riding on the back of the horse to his aunt’s home, he began asking questions: “Will she be there? Will I like her? Will she love me? Will I have my own room? Will she let me have a puppy?”

The neighbor replied: “She’ll be there waiting for you. You fall into good hands. She has a big heart. She’s got everything ready for you.”

When they got to the clearing in the front of the house, there was a candle in the window, and his aunt was standing in the doorway. She bent down, kissed him, fed him supper, took him to his room, and waited until he fell asleep. In time she became a second mother.

Many years later, his aunt wrote to John to tell him of her approaching death. She wondered what would become of her.

John began to pack for the cross-country trip, but before he left, he posted this letter: “My dearest aunt: Years ago I left a house of death not knowing where I was to go, whether anyone cared, whether it was the end of me. The ride was long, but your neighbor encouraged me. Finally he pointed out your candle in the window. You welcomed me and gave me my very own room. Now it is your turn to go, and as one who has tried it out, I’m writing to let you know that Someone is waiting up. Your room is ready. The light is on. The door is open. And as you ride into the yard, don’t worry, you are expected. I know. I once saw God standing in your doorway long ago.

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