For Good Reason

Not long ago, a student asked me what I recommend he could do for a friend of his who was depressed.  Since I’ve been talking about ‘coming alongside’ since I began to get my feet on the ground post-transplant, his was a question that naturally followed.  I think my answer surprised him:

“Well, first, you have to ask yourself whether your friend is depressed for good reason.”   He cocked his head like a dog who was trying to make sense of his master’s belch. “You don’t want to fault him for being a realist, do you?” 

His head twisted so far, I thought he was going to roll over.

My question to him was not as weird as it sounds.  We assume that depression has its causes.  Chemical imbalances in the brain.  ‘Stupid thinking by not-stupid people,” to quote the ever-rational therapist, Albert Ellis. A response to loss fueled by errors in how one thinks, to paraphrase CBT’s Aaron Beck.    Genetics.  Family history.  And, those may all be good causes, especially when considered together.

But, I didn’t say good causes.  I said good reason. I meant to suggest to him that perhaps his friend’s depression was a moral good.  Is my student’s friend depressed for good reason?   Does the friend’s struggle serve a positive end, a positive purpose worth serving?  That’s how we know something is good.  Does X serve the purpose for which it exists? 

My house key is a good little house key because it unlocks the front door, the purpose for which it was created.   If it never unlocked the front door, it would be a bad house key and, like non-salty salt,  fit only to be ‘cast out and trod under the foot of men.”

Q:  For what purpose might at least some forms of depression exist?  

A:   The truth.  Some who suffer in that way may have a clearer vision of the truth of this world.

If prophets exist not so much to foretell the future but to speak the Truth, then maybe some people who suffer depression are contemporary prophets, eager to tell us how things are.  And maybe some of them are depressed or find that experience compounded because we don’t listen.  So, maybe rather than rushing to fix them, drug them, shock them, reason with them, we ought to sit down and listen to them.

At least some depressed folks may be the ones gifted to see, feel, and know the deep reality in which we all live and maybe what they see is horrible to behold.

What if we listened to them on the off chance that they have something to tell us?


To do that we need to think about the language we use in describing the experience we call depression.   Our language about it suggests that we think of it as something people ‘have.‘  The word ‘depression’ is a noun.  Depression is this thing that some people carry like a 400-pound brick.  

Or we think of it as a character trait.  He has a depressive personality.   In other words, he’s sort of bent that way, oriented that way.  Genetics and practice, you know.  “A man who has carried a 400-pound brick his whole life, at the end of his life, looks like a man who has carried a 400-pound brick his whole life.”

I’d like to suggest that what we call depression is a dynamic, an energy, a power.   (I’d  also suggest that turning the verb ‘depress‘ into a noun by adding that magic ‘ion‘ gives us a feeling of control.  Whew!  At least we know what it is now.  When we ‘thing‘ a dynamic, we feel as if we are in a better position to manage it.) 

I have come to think that the experience of the  ‘D-word,” at least for some,  is more like having a living lion in the house than a statue of a lion in the house.

But, if this thing we call ‘depression’ is a dynamic then what?  What is the sufferer supposed to say, “I am depressing myself?”  I’ve heard some therapists say that.  It is intended to give the sufferer a sense of agency.  “If I can depress myself, I can un-depress myself!”  

Or, maybe the sufferer should say, “My children are depressing me!  My husband- who started out as my knight in shining armor but has become a recliner that belches- is depressing me.”   But then do wall-bouncing children and belching, scratching knights have that kind of power?

Maybe the suffering should say, “I am under the influence of a depressing spirit.”  Or, maybe it’s none of that that, “it’s merely this chemical imbalance I have.”

Maybe the whole experience of that heaviness is a dance with several partners.

Maybe some people who suffer from it do so because they have a clearer vision of reality than the rest of us.  Maybe those of us who do the happy-clappy dance through life are self-deceived about the nature of the world around us and the depressed are those granted the gift of dancing with deep reality. 

Maybe some of them pay such a high cost because the rest of us refuse to see for ourselves?

Life is difficult.  So wrote Scott Peck in his book The Road Less Travelled.  Those first- three words of the book are worth the price of the book.  

“Well, yeah…it is…BUT…” we say.

Maybe that’s the difference between those of us who tap-dance in the rain and those of us drag themselves across an unvarnished floor of despair.   

We tap-dancers have big BUTS and the depressed have no buts a’tall.

The preamble to the wisdom teachings of Jesus includes these words and I paraphrase:  “How utterly and profoundly blessed are those who mourn because they see themselves and the world for what it is.” ( King Jimmy Version)  Why?  Because they will be comforted, oh yes!  But also because they GET IT.

The most painful parts of my heart transplant were not the hours of gasping for air as my old heart began its fast descent.  It was not the roasting darkness of night time, surrounded by bewildered doctors, nurses, and loved ones as I agonized for air.  It was not the massive toothache that became my body when the lining of my old heart became infected.  It was not the endless puking, the starvation, the eternal nights of wild-eyed wakefulness. It was not having my chest cut, my rib cage split, the lifting out of my old broken heart or the replacement of it with the healthy heart of another.  It was not post-transplant pain.  I managed that with Tylenol.

It was not even that I was sliding toward dying.  

By far, the most painful aspect of that whole experience was the deep delirium I suffered post-transplant.  It was an awful, awe-filled descent into a grace-filled hell.

What I learned in the throes of that merciless, merciful madness has utterly transformed my life because, whatever its cause, it seemed to be a deep dive into the world as world, a deep dive into a non-real Reality.

It pertains to the topic at hand and I will write about it next.

The Fear of Tears

The sudden death of my first cousin from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1966 was the most traumatic and life-shaping event in my own family’s history.   A 22-year-old college senior with a promising future in physics, he dropped dead while playing basketball in a PE class. 

I was 15.

Ours was a tightly woven extended family. The cousins were more like siblings and aunts and uncles were more like extra moms and dads. To say his death wracked us up would be an understatement.

After many years, I asked my aunt what she found helpful as she experienced her grief.  

“Two things,” she said, “Work and being able to talk about him.”   But, then she added, “I had a lot more of the first than of the second.”

My aunt worked for the Hubbard’s Pants Company as a seamstress.  All-day long, she sewed pockets into men’s pants.  Pocket after pocket,  minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week.  She lost herself in the rattle of sewing machines and the repetitive ritual at hand.  

But, the opportunities to talk about her son came few and far between. 

“Nobody wants to hear about it after a certain point,” she said. “They just move on and leave you alone with your grief.”

She went on to tell me about the time she introduced herself to the new preacher at her church.   “He walked up to me and introduced himself.  I told him who I was, how long I had been at the church and all that.   He asked me about my family.” 

She mentioned that she had lost her only child several years before.  She told him how it happened. 

“And, do you know what he said?”  she asked me.  “He said, ‘Huh…that’s tough.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. ‘Huh…that’s tough.‘  Then, he just moved on to the next person.”

She leaned toward me and said, “Let me tell you something, preacher…When a bereaved mother wants to talk about her deceased son, you let her talk all she wants to!”

I have thought a lot about why we find it so difficult to allow the grieving to talk about the one they lost.  I don’t think it is because we don’t care about their loss or their grief.  While it may be because we don’t want to get caught up in a long story because ‘we have miles to go before we sleep,’  I don’t think that is the real reason. 

I think it is because we believe that allowing the grieving to talk about their loved one will only open up their box of sorrows and make them sadder as they remember.  But that’s only a part of it.

I think we suffer from a fear of tears.

“What if they cry?  What if they cry uncontrollably?  What would I say?  What would I do?”

If I’m right about that (and maybe I’m not!), then that means that the reason we don’t open the door for the grieving to share the story of their loved one is that we fear that we will feel powerless in the moment.  And why do we fear that? 

Because the feeling of powerlessness is the defining characteristic of suffering.

We don’t want to listen because we don’t want to suffer.

But then how will we ever bring comfort to a powerless, suffering person if we ourselves are afraid of our own powerlessness, our own suffering. 

To truly ‘come alongside‘ the grieving, we must be willing to open ourselves to their powerlessness and be powerless with them.   

I started this series of posts on coming alongside the grieving after one of my long-loved -friend’s son passed away this past Christmas Eve.  The other day she posted something on Facebook that reminded me of my conversation with my aunt, who died 19 years ago.  (She was followed by her sister, my mother, 6 days later.  They went everywhere together.)

My friend posted:

“In this new year,
I promise to keep your memory alive by
speaking your name,  
telling your story,  
loving you.”

That’s exactly what she should do, what she must do.  She does not want her son to be forgotten.  She does not want to be left standing and holding her grief alone while the rest of us just move on.

“Huh…that’s tough.”

I wrote her back, and though I didn’t tell her the story of my aunt and the preacher, I shared with her something I try to say anytime a mother (or a father) tells me that they have lost a child (or anyone for that matter):

“What is his name and what did you love about him?”

I believe we do not simply saunter up to the grieving.  I believe we are led there, called there.  If we let our fear of tears keep us from offering hospitality to another’s grief, we will have not only have failed the grieving, we will have failed our calling.



What Gets Lost (5)

So What?

So, what difference does it make in terms of ‘coming alongside’ the grieving that we consider ‘what gets lost’ after their loved one dies? For me, the key idea is that grief is not a slab of stone with no component parts but an organic whole consisting of living parts, each with a lifespan of its own. Grief is not simply one thing that one has to ‘get over.’ It is not a stomach bug. Grief is an organic experience with a life span all its own.

By using the word lifespan, I am trying to avoid using two other words: (1) progress and (2) journey. For me, those words, though readily at hand, are overused.


The idea of progress presupposes that one moves from a worse place to a better place. That the experience of grief is something on the order of a defect and that one is somehow supposed to move toward being less defective.

However, who is to say that the experience of grief- say shortly after the death of a loved one- is somehow worse?  Worse in what way?   Grief is a natural response to the death of a loved one.   It is what it is.  It is neither better nor worse.   To say that one can progress through grief is to pronounce judgment upon grief itself.  

I know a woman who lost her son in a horrible car accident.   For all anyone can tell she has not grieved her son at all.  (Of course, who knows what she goes through in her quiet, alone times?)  She has grieved other losses, so it’s not as if the lacks a grief neuron or something.   She has shown no evidence that she is sad that her son is gone.   (I don’t know what lies behind that.) 

Now, which is ‘worse,’ if we want to go there:  a mother who grieves the death of her son or a mother who does not grieve the death of her son?  I don’t know the answer to that but I do know that something does not feel right about the latter.  I want to say to not grieve is worse than grieving.

For me, it is better to accept grief as an appropriate response to the death of a loved one than to think of it as ‘worse’ than some future state called ‘better.’   If nothing else,  thinking in that way enables the one grieving to accept the pain of loss as a natural response than simply as something to be gotten rid of or escaped right away. *

Maybe we would be better off if we honored our grief as evidence of our love rather than as an interruption to our neatly ordered, well-planned (fantasy) lives.


As difficult as it is, I think it is better when describing the grief of another to avoid referring to it as a journey- especially for a Christian. The idea of a journey is closely linked, at least in my mind, with the storyline called the Hero’s Journey.

A person (the hero) lives his life when something happens that alters his course, something that creates a problem to be solved, or a conflict to be resolved.

Along the way, the hero faces many obstacles and must find a way to overcome each. Often the hero experiences some kind of death, it’s all over for him, but then by some strange twist, he emerges at his destination a better person for it.

That’s a powerful tool in story-telling and likely sounds familiar to you.

I’ve heard many people refer to grief in precisely those terms.

But here’s the problem: the process of grief, for the believer, is more like being carried along than it is like a heroic journey. While there may be an element of the heroic in enduring, we believe that God is our comfort and that we are carried along by God’s enduring comfort and grace.


Maybe I’m a bit harsh about the ideas of progress and journey as they pertain to grief, but I do think that the idea is helpful that grief is more like an organism, with component parts that have lifespans, and a lifespan itself.

Grief is experienced by living creatures and just as living creatures have a lifespan so grief as a part of life has a lifespan too. In other words, grief is not an interruption to life, it is not a matter of progress from worse to better, and it is not a journey undertaken by a hero, who fights her own battles and endures her suffering with valor and might.

Grief is life and life is grief.

The patterns we lose when a loved one dies eventually seek other patterns- though not without sadness. The all-but-mythic projections we cast upon our all-too-human beloveds are withdrawn or cast onto others. As the finality of death sets in, the prospects of a future together in this temporal realm are exchanged for a hope that just across that gossamer veil we shall meet again.

All that is left is the memory of the beloved and the growing suspicion that the beloved is closer to us in death than they were in life.

As to those of us who are called alongside the grieving, our duty is not to guide or to cajole or to cheerlead the downcast. Our calling is to nurture their grief, to protect it so that grief may live out its life on its own terms. It is to be present, to encourage, and to remind. It is not to dampen its pain.

To nurture the grief of the grieving is to come alongside realizing that the shortest distance across the valley of the shadow of death is a straight line. It is to signify by our presence the presence of the One who is the Father of all compassion and comfort, the ultimate Thou-Art-With-Me, Emmanuel, whose mercy overshadows even the shadows of death.


* Several writers on suffering have pointed out that suffering, here in Western culture, is considered an interruption to how life ought to be. In a culture dedicated to the ‘pursuit of happiness,’ any suffering is seen as an intrusion that must be annihilated as soon as possible. That may help explain the absurdity of physicians prescribing anti-depressants for grief. Rather than endure this natural response to loss, the physician describes a technology that will speed ‘recovery’ along.

What Gets Lost (4)


Somewhere, in one of his books, Stanley Hauerwas asks why it is that we experience the death of a child as tragic and the death of an old person as not tragic.  As I recall, part of his answer was that the death of a child, as opposed to the death of an older person,  seems tragic because the child’s life ended before the child’s story did. 

I call this kind of loss the loss of prospects and by that I mean the prospects for the future with the loved one who has died. 

We imagine the future of our children.  We see them growing up, going to college, getting married, having babies for us to spoil. We imagine a future as a home movie not yet made. We create a story.

Ah, even out there in the future, God is in his heaven and all is…

“How could this have happened?”

“We had so much we looked forward to.”

“ I wanted to see her finish college, get married, have a family…” 

A friend of mine whose 40-year-old brother had died told me about how full of life his brother had been. 

“The guy could make anything with his hands,” he said. “He was building these beautiful bookshelves for his den and just keeled over and died.   You would have thought that God would have let him at least finish those damned bookshelves.”

The sawdust on the floor.  The hammer against the wall.  The bag of nails. The stacks of wood.  The cold silence. 

Indeed, you would have thought…

Everybody dies in the midst of some project they’d hoped to see through and that we’d hoped to see through with them.

Not long ago, I pondered the words of James (and I paraphrase) , “Listen, do not say ‘Today or tomorrow I will go to such and such a place, and there I will do business, and there I will make money.’   Who are you to say such a thing?  Why you do not even know that tomorrow will come!  After all, what is your life if not a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes?   Instead, you might consider saying this: ‘If the Lord wills, I will do thus and such.’  Anything more than that comes from the evil one.”  

Strong words there at the end. Why is that statement ‘evil?’  I think it is because it suggests that we as mere mortals not only think we have all the time in the world but that we act as if we have all the time in the world. and that we control time AND outcomes.

We think the same about our loved ones.

Creating projects for ourselves or planning to do thus and such with this kind of wonderful outcome may, at some deep level, be one way we stave off death.  

Surely the reaper will not show before I get my own grass cut!  Surely, I will not be taken to the curb before I get the garage cleaned out.

“Ah, now I will take mine ease,” quipped Mr. Bigger Barns as he kicked back in his Lazy Boy.

“He looked so peaceful,” said his wife who found him the next morning.  “We had so looked forward to…” 

I riff on a proverb that someone told me is a bit of AA wisdom: “Expectations are the mother of disappointment, the father of resentment.”

It is not uncommon for the grieving to feel disappointed, resentful, angry.  “How could such a thing have happened? We had plans!”  

I see myself getting up from this computer and walking the wee hounds in a few minutes. I’m waiting for the rain to let up. Then I have to take the garbage to the curb and get to work on a syllabus on the Gospel of Matthew. (How does anyone teach that in one semester?)

I can’t not do it. Neither can you.

I think of that good old .38 Special song:

“Hold on loosely
But don’t let go;
If you cling too tightly,
You’re going to lose control.”

Envisioning a future together is inevitable, maybe even necessary…Maybe it is a good thing.   But hold on loosely…It is risky business.

The future we see so clearly may not be the future we hoped for.

And being the one who is left behind hurts like hell.

And we who are left behind with them, we who are called alongside, may find that we listen to them but only hear ourselves. 

*If anyone knows the Hauerwas reference, I’ll be happy to supply it. I gave a lot of books away and now all I have is my memories of them!

What Gets Lost (3)

I stood on the beach in Panama City, Florida and gazed at the great expanse of water before me.   I watched the waves roll in.  I was six. My first time at the beach.   I did that for several days. I noticed that while the great expanse never changed, the movement of the waves did.  One day the waves rolled in and other days the Gulf was as flat as a kitchen floor.

I remember thinking, “I wonder where the men are who turn the wheel that makes the waves bigger or smaller.”  I envisioned this big brick building where burly men in hard hats regulated the tides.

I knew my dad would know.  My dad was a god.  He knew everything.   And how reassured I felt when I realized that he not only knew everything, he pretty much controlled everything…well, especially as it pertained to me.  Nothing bad could happen to me as long as my dad was around. 

Well, that was at the age of 6.  But, at the age of 7 or 8, something happened and I realized that my dad was not a god.  My dad was a man!   How disappointing!

“How could my own father do this to me?  How could my father turn out to be a man?”


“His head was ‘gold, his chest and arms were silver, his waist was bronze, his legs were iron, and his feet and his toes were iron mixed with clay.”  (Daniel 2:32&33) 


I was 27 and in Clinical Pastoral Education and told my supervisor about my dad.  I was angry and unkind.  He did this.  He didn’t do that.  He was….  And, do you know what my supervisor said to me?

He said, “So?”

So?  Didn’t you hear me?

“Can you think of ways in which you are like your dad?”

Like how?  Like…like..that I am not the son of a god?

“Is it possible that you are a man too?”


I stood by the casket of a great 87-year-old man.
His best friend, another great man,  stood beside me.
We looked down at him together.
His friend said, “Do you know what he thought the first few seconds after he died?”
I turned to look at him.   “No.  What?”
“How could such a thing have happened to ME?”


We sometimes cannot bear the thought that those upon whom we most depend are ordinary people.  Oh, people greatly loved, for sure!  People greatly valued, created in the image and likeness of God, oh yes, know… people nonetheless. 

And, as we learn soon enough, we are just like them.  Ordinary people feeling our way forward listening, listening, listening for guidance, for assurance, the Voice that makes all things well…at least not as bad as we think.

As anthropologist Gregory Bateson once wrote:

Grass dies.
Men die.
Men are grass.

“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

Yet we need some people to be more than they are!  Someone!  And, if they can’t be that for us anymore, we enlist ourselves.

“I am the Master of my fate! I am the captain of my soul!

But, here we all are, relentlessly human.


We project upon certain of our loved ones that ‘more than they are‘ bit.  And, when they die,  we are stunned: “how could such a thing have happened to him?”  And, when they die, we have to admit:  indeed, he was,.. she was…after all….mortal.


I looked down at my dad.  Dressed in his Sunday suit, he lay still and quiet as stone. I touched his hand.  Cold leather.  Brittle…like a 200-year-old-shoe.

Only the Sunday before, or so my mother told me, he had dressed in that suit for church. He walked into the living room where she waited to leave. He said, “I sure look purdy, don’t I?”


We rode with him out to the city cemetery.    We passed through town.  Cars pulled to the curb out of respect but people walked oblivious on the sidewalks.   They entered and exited stores that walled the town streets.  They sauntered as if it were just another Tuesday. 

Apart from the curbed cars, nothing stopped.  No one stopped.  Business went on as usual.  Money exchanged hands.   People gabbed.  Some had the audacity to laugh.  One man slapped another man on the back.  He threw back his head and he-hawed.

I wanted to roll down the window of the car.  I wanted to shout out the window,  “What’s wrong with you people?  Don’t you know what has happened?  Don’t you know who this is?  Show some respect! 

My dad is passing by.”

What Gets Lost (2)

We ran circles around each other, Amber and I. We played in the front yard of the house we had rented in East Tennessee. Amber was four. I was older and starting to feel it.

“James, your mom is on the phone,” Linda called from the open front door.

I walked into the house, picked up the phone, and said, “Hello.”

“James, I have some bad news. Your father is dead.”

It was October, 19th, 1982. He was 71. Milligan College, where I had just begun teaching, was on Fall Break, I had just returned from visiting my parents in Georgia. The ’82 Chevette we had driven down to Georgia was still half-packed.

Only a day or two before, he had handed me a check for $100. “Take this and buy yourself some tires,” he said. He always checked my tires and my oil whenever I visited. “Don’t tell your mother, She’s funny about money, you know.”

A few minutes later we drove away. I glanced back and saw him standing in the driveway waving then….”James, your father is dead.”


“He was under your aunt’s house fixing a water pipe and just died.”

Sudden cardiac arrest.

She found him one his knees under the house. Some pipe tape dangled from the leaky pipe he was fixing. He had slipped away so suddenly that he didn’t bother to fall over.

I told my mother that I’d call her back and hung up. I sat down on the edge of the bed and cried.

After a bit, I got up, told Linda what had happened. Amber overheard me.

“We have to go back but I can’t stand the thought of riding in that tin can again,” I said.

I sat down at the kitchen table, the phone in hand, and called the airlines.

“Daddy, what are you doing?” Amber stood by my side

“I’m calling to see what it would cost to fly,” I said.

Her eyes widened and she said, “Are we going to heaven?”

We drove.

I dropped Linda off at her parents’ house in Atlanta and went on to my parents’ house in Carrollton. It was a tiny house. Built in 1950. I was born in July of 1950. We moved into that house in October that year.

My mother and I sat down at the yellow Formica kitchen table in the kitchen. That’s where we had eaten every day, except Sundays, when I was growing up. (Sundays we moved into the dining room.)

We talked from the time I got there about 11 p.m. until about 4:00 a.m. the next morning.

“I’ve got to go to bed,” I said.

Just before I got up, she said something that taught me something about what gets lost when a loved one dies. She said, “You know what I’m really going to miss with him gone?”


“I’m going to miss sitting on the front porch, drinking coffee with him, talking, and waiting on the mailman.”

I thought about that comment a lot. I would have thought she would have simply said, “I’m going to miss him.” But, she didn’t. She pointed to a specific moment they shared day after day and said that that was the thing she was going to miss most!

I knew why that meant so much to her. They had both worked hard for years. Neither of them made any money to speak of. That didn’t bother them. My mother was fond of saying, “James, remember: if you have a roof over your head and clean sheets you just about have it all.”

No, they had other problems. My dad was fond of certain libations and my mother was absolutely not. It caused a lot of tension in my growing up years.

But then, one day, just out of the blue, he quit. By the time that he died, he had not had a drink in 5 years. So, to sit on the porch, drink coffee, talk, and watch for the mailman was to my mother a taste of heaven.

What gets lost when a loved one dies? The Person, yes. But, also the Patterns, those daily rituals that seem such a commonplace.

When the beloved one dies, so do the patterns, the commonplaces that constitute our existence with them.

We drink our coffee…alone.
We talk to ourselves.
We wait for the mailman…

We grieve.

What Gets Lost (1)

A friend I made 62 years ago lost her 42-year-old son on Christmas Eve. While I have not spoken to her, I can only imagine the pain that she and her husband are enduring. Since I heard the news, I have thought a lot about my friend (I haven’t had the privilege of meeting her husband) and what she must be going through.

I have also spent some time thinking about what I have learned about grief over my many years of coming alongside the grieving and stumbling along beside them. That is one of the most difficult learning processes of life: learning what to say, what not to say, when to say what you just have to say, and wondering whether in that moment you have anything of value to say at all.

One thing I have learned is that a lot gets lost when a loved one dies. That is what I want to write about over the next few posts. Grieving people have taught me much over the years about what gets lost when a loved one dies. As I thought about the things they have told me, a way of remembering them just emerged in my mind. I call that way of remember the 4 P’s of loss: (1) Person, (2) Patterns, (3) Projections, and (4) Prospects.

The Person

It doesn’t take a genius to see that when a loved one dies, your greatest loss is the loss of the person. But what is a person?

Not long ago, I spoke to a team of emergency transport pros about the experience of a heart transplant. They are an important part of the logistical train that gets an organ from the point of the donor to the point of the recipient. (You may not know this but when a transplant surgeon is notified that an organ is coming, s/he doesn’t just get up and drive to the hospital. No, the surgeon is picked up and transported via an emergency vehicle with sirens and lights flashing. Time is of the essence.)

What I wanted them to understand was that when they transport an organ they transplant much more than an organ. Given the way we think of hearts, I believe that is especially true when they transport a heart! They transport all of the loves of that heart and all of the love that was given to that heart. Culturally speaking, they transplant the essence of the person, the center of his or her loves, the center of all his/her disappointments and the many griefs they have experienced in a lifetime.

I came to that way of thinking about it after getting into a conversation with someone who objected to what transplant patients sometimes experience: “I feel like the donor is with me.” The objector argued that no one says that when what is transplanted is a kidney or a pancreas. Further, she argued that the heart is merely an organ, a collection of cells, arteries, and valves. That’s it.

At one level, she had a point. As I asked one of my cardiologists who was “taking a little piece of my heart’ in a biopsy, “Dr ____, when was the last time someone told you they love you with all their pancreas?” It’s a weird feeling for the guy who is snipping away bits of your heart to chortle…chortle…and…chortle.

So, my dialogue partner had a point. However, she was also guilty of being ‘nothing buttery.’ (C.S. Lewis) A heart is nothing but an organ.

I wanted to ask her if she regarded her child in the same way- simply a collection of cells, organs, valves, pipes, and other mechanisms.

I didn’t ask but I doubt it.

Well, just as a heart is not simply an organ, so a person is not simply an animated, mobile bag of organs. A person is an organism but a person is also a host of other things. S/he is invested with our affections but also our hopes and our memories and our dreams and our needs, etc.

So, when a beloved person is lost to us through their dying, much more than the person is lost with them.

That I will take up next time.