As I returned to my car from a quick stop at the drug store, I happened to look down at the pavement and saw a penny. Though it was dirty, scratched, and almost unrecognizable as a coin, I picked it up and put it with the other change in my wallet.
After my husband died, I seemed to find pennies everywhere, often in the most unexpected places. Each discovery felt like a sign of his continuing presence to me. Though the notion was surely a little irrational, at the time it was very real to me. In retrospect I realize that I was grasping for anything that represented a tangible connection to his spirit. From time to time I still find the odd penny, often when I need some emotional reassurance. It happened recently at the car wash on a day when my spirit was longing for his loving presence.
When one we love dies, most of us hang on to anything and everything that has the potential to keep us connected to his or her abiding spirit. When we pick up a sweater or a well-worn piece of clothing that belonged to our loved one, usually the first thing we do is bury our nose in the fabric to smell for the familiar scent which assures us our life together was real. We seek an invisible presence through visible reminders of their life. The deep longing of our inmost soul is to know that though unseen, our loved one is still present to us, “Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen” (Psalm 77:19 NRSV).
We feel the abiding presence of the one we love and now grieve in unmistakable moments of whispered love. We sense their nearness in the soothing calm of a gentle breeze or burbling stream. We glimpse their reflection when we rest beside still waters. We delight in their enduring presence through our children and grandchildren and all those who inherit the lasting legacy of the one we love and now grieve.
Grief and death take the true measure of our faith, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 NRSV). Because we believe in those things which are unseen and eternal, we are assured that the immortal soul of our loved one lives on after death, “For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” (1 Corinthians 15:54 NRSV).
In the conviction of our faith we know that the bond of enduring love we shared with our loved one here on earth cannot be shattered or broken by death, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith” (1 Peter 1:8-9 NRSV).
We cherish each sign and suggestion that intimates the abiding spiritual presence of our loved one to us on this side of heaven. Though for a while we are separated in body, we know that one day we will be reunited in fulness of joy, “’Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’” (John 20:29 NRSV). In the presence of God we experience the hope that does not disappoint.
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:24-25 NRSV