Over my many years in ministry I've worked with all sorts of people dealing with all sorts of losses – many of them utter tragedies. The pain of loss is different for each person, and never to be minimised. One of the worst things that people say is that you will get over it, or that time is a great healer. It's not. So I developed my bereavement theology of the mineshaft. It should probably be noted that I live in Cornwall, where the experience described is perhaps less unlikely than in other parts of the world!A
Imagine you have a garden, a beautiful garden, that you have tended, worked in and enjoyed for a long time. And one morning you wake up to find that an old mineshaft has opened up in the middle of your garden – a great yawning hole, into which many of the things you cherished have fallen irretrievably. And now you have to start finding your way around the garden with this bloody great hole.
In the earliest days, you find that you can barely set foot in the garden. Whichever way you try to go, you find the mineshaft is in your way, and you fall in, causing yourself bruising, pain, broken bones. And you rely on others to lift you out.
Then you start to find ways of getting yourself out of the hole, pausing while you're there to look around at the bits of your garden you have lost.
As time goes on, you start to make new paths around your garden: you find a way to get down to the raspberry canes at the bottom without actually falling in the hole. You realise that you still have the camellias if not the roses, and that you can still enjoy what is left of your garden. You build some new paths, lay fresh paving and even plant new rosebushes.
But just occasionally you forget the hole is there, walk the wrong way, and fall in. And when you do it hurts every bit as much as it did on the first day. Never believe people who try to tell you it should hurt less: that hole stays as deep and painful as ever. You just get on with living and fall in less often.
So you get on with living with the hole. Your life goes on around it.
And if you are really, really lucky, it will fill with water, acquire rushes at the edges, and you can float water lilies on it in memory of the one you have lost. And that's the point when you realise that your garden is more beautiful for having loved, even if you have lost the one you love.