Sharon Randall: Love always reaches forward, not back

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 23, 2011

By Sharon Randall

The note was brief, but clear. In a few well-chosen words, it told of a lifetime of heartache and disappointment, and a longing for something that was never to be.
I often hear from readers who are grieving a loss. They write to me, I suspect, because over the years, I have written about the losses in my life — my first husband, my parents, other family members and friends I never imagined living without.
Every letter is different. They write for various reasons, seeking advice or just wanting to tell their stories. There is always a need, in any great loss, to tell the story of what came before it, and how it came to pass.
But mostly, they write for the same reasons we all do: To make sense of the senseless; to create order in the chaos of a broken heart; to give voice to our feelings in the hope that it will somehow bring us peace.
While no two losses are ever the same, the end result often lies somewhere between two extremes: Either we’re filled with great memories and the assurance that we were loved; or we are left empty with regrets and the crippling sense of having been abandoned.
I’ve known both kinds of loss. I suspect that you have, too. Given a choice, I’ll take great memories over regrets any day.
Love doesn’t end. If you know you are loved by someone, you don’t have to be physically near the person to feel it. Out of sight, out of touch, is not out of heart.
But if you never felt loved or wanted or approved of, death slams a door, steals any hope of ever getting the kind of relationship you longed for.
The note from a young woman grieving the death of her long-estranged, alcoholic father described that kind of loss.
“There was always a small hope that he would stop the drinking and want to see us before he died. But alcohol can make a person totally disappear.”
Too many things, it seems, can make someone disappear — alcohol, drugs, insanity or just self-absorption. Regardless of what causes a parent to be absent or neglectful or abusive, it is never the fault of the child.
But the child will grow up trying to say or do anything that might possibly make it better — for as long as there is breath.
The hardest part of losing my mother was letting go of the hope that we’d ever be close. And yet in dying, she gave me a gift: She freed me of my need to win her love and approval.
When I could no longer change it, I accepted it for what it was. She’d done the best she could. And I, in turn, would try to do my best for my children.
They are grown now, but I think they’d vouch for me, if you asked them, how hard I tried.
My husband and I share three grandchildren. Randy just celebrated his first birthday. Charlotte and Henry were born two weeks ago, one day apart.
They were blessed to be born to wonderful parents who will do their best to show them how much they are loved.
It gives me great hope for their futures. Whatever life has in store for them, they will grow up with great memories, knowing they are loved. Would that every child were born so blessed.
I also have great hopes for the young woman who wrote to me about losing her father. I have no doubt that she will do her best to show her own daughter how much she is loved.
Love reaches forward, never back. We can’t change how we were loved in the past.
We can only change how we love here and now.
For as long as we have breath.
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