Mark Pickup

June 20, 2011

This week I heard about the death of a family friend: Dr. Hugh Maclure. His passing marked the end of an era for me: He and my father were good friends beginning in the 1950s when I was a small boy. They shared similar Christian world views and general outlook on life.

Although my father died more than 40 years ago, being in the company of Dr. Maclure reminded me of that world.

Dr. Maclure leaves his wife of 70 years to mourn his death. I do not know how one picks up the pieces remaining at that point? Upon hearing the news I was reminded of a short poem by Emily Dickinson called The Bustle in a House:

The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth —

The sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.

That's it. The poem is only two stanzas yet it conveys Dickinson's contemplation of the mourning process in the early days after the death of a loved one. Dickinson was acquainted with mourning; she lost her parents, a nephew and a number of close friends in an eight-year period.


Those who know the experiences of losing loved ones know the emotional haze that envelopes grievers in those terrible early days - the sudden outbursts of intense weeping at the unexpected sight of the loved one's sweater in a closet, or an unfinished book still on a night table. They jab like red-hot pokers.

The mourner may feel restless and unable to concentrate. They may find themselves continually sighing, yawning or swallowing. I remember those sensations well.

My most intense grief at the death of a loved one was different from Emily Dickinson in that I did not sweep up my heart and put love away not to be used again until eternity.

No! I clung fiercely and stubbornly to their memory, desperately refusing to let go of my love for them. At first it is with a spirit defiance that I refused to let go. Later, after the pain of fresh grief subsided, I placed my love for him or her in separate rooms of memories in my mind.

My love for each person continues to burn like a candle in each memory-room deep within my little grey cells. The flickering light of love can be seen beneath the door of each room and reassures me that my memories and love are still warm and alive - even decades after the deaths of my loved ones.


Occasionally, I enter a room of memories and relive occasions or discussions we had. The smell of old books, pipe smoke, freshly cut grass, the sound of a screen door slamming or a certain tune can whisk me away to a room of sweet memories. They are all so dear.

The Church teaches that at death the soul of the faithful Christian is separated from the body and goes to meet God and awaits reunion with the resurrection of his glorified body.

My longing to be with loved ones who have died is only surpassed by my longing to be with Christ Jesus. That anticipated meeting promises joy too beautiful to fathom in my earthly state and will only be truly understood in eternity.


The anticipation and longing are never far from my consciousness. While I live in the here and now, which is temporal and transient, a greater hope lies in the there and then which is eternal and permanent.

That brings me back to the death of my father's friend. It opened the door to memories of my own father dead for decades. It's rather appropriate with Father's Day so near. He was a man of great character and love for his family. Although I was a teenager when he died, my memories and love for him are still alive after so many years.

When I was a small boy he would close my days with a familiar prayer: "The Lord bless you and keep you, The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."

Although he was praying an ancient prayer given by God to the children of Israel, it was as though my father was making it up just for me each time he prayed it.

Later, I prayed the same prayer over my children, and now my grandchildren. It's part of a spiritual legacy with love at its root.