By Sr. Ann Swailes
The distress of parting from those we love takes many different forms, ranging from the misery of temporary but still painful physical absence – parting may be such sweet sorrow, but it is sorrow nonetheless – to the anguish of estrangement, misunderstanding or betrayal, where the continued physical presence of the beloved feels like a wound and a mockery, to death itself, coldly shocking even when prepared for. But any of us – which I’m guessing is all of us – who have experienced any form of leave taking from those for whom we care will know, I suspect, a curious phenomenon common to all such circumstances. Seemingly inevitably, the last conversations we shared with the friends who are lost to us, or whom we fear lost to us, take on a heightened significance. We hoard up our words and theirs, and drag them out for frequent inspection, sometimes almost obsessively, investing them with a significance that we would never think of bestowing on our, or their more everyday utterances. And, frankly, at least at its most extreme, in this practice, madness sometimes lies. “And then I said…and then he said, and then I said”: we can drive ourselves to distraction this way, tearing great gashes out of our peace of mind as we examine the minutiae of our motives, and those of our friends in an attempt to reassure ourselves that all will in the end be well. And of course, we are doomed to frequent disappointment, because no human words, ultimately, can bear that kind of weight.