Grief as a Beacon
Grief is something quite its own. There are no parallels that you can use to explain it properly to someone who hasn't been gripped by its pain. The absence of a person feels so complete—so permanent. Our loved ones haven't just gone somewhere, they have become unreachable. And in so doing, our sense of order and control is disrupted.
People can become constants in our lives. Just by appearing from time to time, they give us a sense of peace, even, a sense of home. In our schools, churches, and workplaces, we become familiar with the faces we might encounter. They make that place “ours” in so much as it becomes our home through our comfort.
When these people, these living reassurances, die—and thus disappear from our lives, they move toward their true home—the home for which they were made. And simultaneously, they remind us that this isn't ours. They disrupt the artificial sense of home that we can get too comfortable with, and thereby refocus us on the eternal. One could describe this disruption as a parting gift of the faithful departed. Those who lived as saints now ask us to live similarly, that we may join them. We pray for the souls in Purgatory, who too, like us, are on their way to the place that they might call home.
It's sometimes said that life is a pilgrimage for all of us, but it's far too easy to forget that we’re on a journey at all. I like to think that our love for those who have passed on, and thus also our grief, can point us toward the source of love itself. To love is to want the best for the other, whom we know is God. Therefore, we can and should come to know God both as the source of those we think of (literally, their Creator), and also the One in whom our departed may find the fulfillment that they always longed for. So now, when we think of them, we think of Him who willed them into being.
In the case of someone who has died and who was truly good, the void that his presence once filled can remind us of the potentiality for virtue, and the undeniable impact that we can make with the embrace of similar integrity. The memories that we shared with him take on a dimension of direction; they become beacons of aspiration, urging us to reach sainthood. In embracing the integrity of such people ourselves, we might make this temporary home a little more comfortable for those around us, and the crosses of our friends just a little bit lighter, before we join together in our true home. I think that if there’s anything we might wish to be remembered for, it would be an ideal that we can help others to reach for that Divine Saving Light when they think of us thereafter, and that we might thus be able to do some good to those that we once touched down below.