Mark Pickup


September 22, 2014

A family friend recently lost his wife after 65 years of marriage. Ted Byfield is heartbroken, except for one thing: He is a devout Christian. My wife and I sent him a sympathy card. A few weeks later we received a note of acknowledgement from Ted.

He wrote, in part: "Many thanks for your card of condolence. I knew of course that my wife was a remarkable woman, but now that I am having to live without her I am discovering just how remarkable. . . .

"I am a stranger to suffering and don't do it well, I'm afraid. However, the day may come when we will be shown there was a purpose behind bereavement, perhaps even behind the kind of agony Mark has so long endured. The problem of pain will have been solved."

There is such pain in his words, yet even overwhelmed by grief Ted trusts there is a divine purpose for his agony. It's odd, he spoke of my pain of more than 30 years with multiple sclerosis, and I think of him losing the love of his life. Ted is living my nightmare; MS does not even come close to his agony.

Ted's heart aches. His world darkened with the last breath of her. Ted and Virginia Byfield were "one flesh" just as God intended. I imagine there are moments when Ted does not know how he can continue without Virginia.


In his note, Ted referred to "the problem of pain," which is the title of a profoundly insightful book by C.S. Lewis. Lewis spoke about his own personal pain, in a different book, a book drenched with his own tears. A Grief Observed was written after C.S. Lewis lost his wife to cancer.

On the first page he wrote: "There is a sort of blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want others to be about me. I dread the moments the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me."

For many people who have suffered the terrible shock of losing a loved one – whether a spouse, a child or a parent – Lewis' words strike a full chord in describing the experience of early grief.

It is as though the griever is removed from daily life and the world, and has no interest in either. The pain of changed reality is too sharp, too great. The person's psyche mercifully numbs consciousness, like a local anesthetic.

Taking in the new reality of living without their loved one eventually comes in stages and phases, a step forward then retreating half a step back when loneliness frightens the person. Recovering and acceptance seems like betrayal of the loved one's memory.

The problem with a psyche numbing the voice of pain is that it can also seem to numb the griever to the voice of God at the very time his comfort is needed most. But God is there, regardless of whether the griever perceives his presence.


Despite perceptions and emotions, Christians can take consolation in what the Apostle Paul said: "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died" (1 Thessalonians 4.13-14).

The Bible is the Word of God. We can trust it.

All Christian life should be a preparation for heaven in communion "of life and love with the Most Holy Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1024). Heaven is the fulfillment of the deepest human longings.


Hasn't your deepest longing, since early childhood, been for divine love? Isn't your deepest desire to receive perfect love and to finally be able to love perfectly? In that state, we will truly know bliss, glory and finally soar. We were made for love, to which the image of God within us so eloquently attests. The best earthly love is only a pale representation of it.

The Church bids those who die in Christ, "May you live in peace this day, may your home be with God in Zion, with Mary, the virgin Mother of God, with Joseph, and all the angels and saints."

Rest in peace Virginia, and all who have died in Christ.