I often run across descriptions of life that intrigue me. In reading a book by Jonathan Franzen, I saw this sentence: “The old playroom in the basement, still dehumidified and carpeted and pine-paneled, still nice, was afflicted with the necrosis of clutter that sooner or later kills a living space: stereo boxes, geometric Styrofoam, packing solids, outdated ski and beach gear in random drifts.” (The Corrections, 168)

Along with my love for alliteration, I am also fascinated by the description “necrosis of clutter”. Necrosis refers to the death of cells due to lack of blood supply.  I am sitting here at my computer imagining a couple of piles on my desk. I think of the books lining the walls of my study. Is my office “afflicted with the necrosis of clutter”? Are these items just dust collectors who are dying because of lack of blood supply.  When they just hang around me for months on end without my touching them or making decisions about them, is the result the death of a living space? 

I know that creativity requires space. I know that for the mind to imagine new realities it has to unlearn some old realities. I know that the spirit of creativity lives when it has breathing space. I wonder of the clutter limits my imagination and hinders the birth of a new future?

And, I wonder if the electronic stimuli that floods our daily life could be called a necrosis of clutter. Can I develop an idea or thought beyond the surface level of its potential.  Because there is so much electronic clutter, do I glide over surface of the ocean rather than diving down and exploring the life that roils under the water? 

I am not sure I know the answer, but I do think it is worth pondering.


Many people will have heard this passage of scripture even if they are not Christian. "The word became flesh and dwelt among us." This is from the gospel of John and it is the evangelist's way of talking about Jesus and his relationship to God. For John, "word" is God's creative and redeeming power in the world. This passage is often read at Christmas time to talk about he birth of Jesus.

But, lately, I have been reflecting on what happens when people's lives end. And it seems to me that when death occurs this phrase is reversed: flesh becomes word. When the person we have known is no longer with us in flesh, we busy ourselves speaking words about them. We gather at funeral homes, churches and houses and talk. Words are woven together into stories, and each story is a way of creating a perspective on the deceased.

And we keep talking long after the funeral as we bump into things that remind us of the person who is no longer with us in flesh. When we do, we speak again. We tell stories as a way of insuring that the person does not disappear. Our words, our memories, become the dwelling place. "The flesh becomes word and dwells among us."

And it matters that we get a chance to share the stories with others. For the presence of the person dwells not only in us but among us. Their presence seems stronger when, through words, we re-form them in the stories we tell and the memories we share.

When life ends the way you have known it, when you no longer know someone or something the way they were known, write your words, speak your words, share your words. In that way the gift of that which has been lost can be recreated and continue to dwell among us.


She said to me, "He has been grieving all through her illness. It won't be as hard for him when she dies, will it?" Sometimes we want this to be true. When someone is diagnosed with a terminal disease and has a long period of suffering on the journey of death, we want to believe that when they die, part of the grieving will be over.

But, my experience and observation teaches me that anticipation of endings and endings themselves are two different losses and therefore require distinct and individual grieving. When someone is diagnosed and is sick, the loss is significant. The person has lost their sense of vulnerability and sense of a future. They are aware that there are limits to their life. The relationship moves from mutuality to one of care giving and dependency. Everyone in the family has to learn to live in the absence of the way things used to be. They grieve the loss of the way relationships were lived.

But, when someone dies, the whole picture changes. The presence of a person, even when they are ill, is still a presence on which everyone depends. Everyone develops ways of living and caring which reflect the love and compassion they feel for each other. But, when that person dies, each person has to learn to live in the absence of their presence. There is a finality to the relationship which was not fully appreciated before the death.

So, people who have had significant losses after a long illness still have to grieve the full impact of the ending of a person's life. Therefore, don't try to discount their feelings because someone they love was ill for a long time. The extended time of care-giving and grieving the previous losses only means that the person begins this grieving process more exhausted than they would have otherwise.  Grief is particular and individual. We grieve loss whenever their are significant changes. Be patient with each other.


Endings are powerful events. When relationships are ended, we are often faced with a flood of memories. When life as we have known it comes to an end, the space created seems to be invaded by thousands of memories. It is as all the pieces of our relationship to others were held behind a concrete dam. While we were still in relationship with the other, those memories were released a little at a time. But, when the relationship ended, the flood gates are opened and it is hard to control the flow.

One of the reasons this happens is that we may not want to let that relationship go.  Or at least there are parts of it that we cherish. But, our connections to important people and organizations are so important in our own self-understanding that it scares us to let it go. We may not know who we are if we are not in relationship to that person or institution. Our identity is up for grabs.

So, memories clamber over each other to get our attention. The members of our mental and emotional family were integrated as long as our relationship was a living one. But when there is a death of a relationship, the chaos scatters those stories and we don't know who we are.

So, we remember.  We are litterly trying to re-member what has been dismembered. We are trying to keep the relationship alive in our vision of ourselves. It is terribly disorienting to have important parts of our self taken away by an ending relationship. And because the relationship has been important to us, we have to put it together in a new way within our psyche/soul. Because the relationship is no longer a living presence, we need to construct a spiritual presence.

This is why it is so important for people who have had significant losses to keep telling their story--continually rehearsing what happened. They know that who they are is a collection of all the relationships they have had the the events that they have been part of. They need to integrate the experience of the ending of the relationship with their experience of the relationship. 

And that takes as long as it takes--generally longer than some around them would like. So, be a patient friend to those who need to talk. They are doing hard work of spiritual integration.


Significant relationships are rich and complex. Your relationship with someone you love is deeply conflicted and filled with tenderness and tension, desire and duty, affection and anger. Such a relationship that has lasted a long time has woven a fabric of knowing and caring that wraps itself around you and sustains you.  It is a necessary part of how you know yourself.

When that relationship ends because of death, divorce or someone moving away, the disorientation and pain can be really frightening. The temptation is to avoid the pain and to to stay busy or to depend on some drug or alcohol to protect us from feeling it so sharply.  We may just move on and pretend that it didn't really matter that much.

But as I have said, re-membering is important to the creating of a new relationship with the departed person. It helps us organize the memories of the person so that we can continue to relate to their presence that still lingers after their absence has become real.

But remembering well is also a way of shrinking the size of that person's presence in our lives so that it becomes "pocket-sized". When that presence is smaller, there is room for new life.  It is helpful to remember the person long enough and well enough that you can create some small reminder of the essence of the meaning that person had in our lives. When their presence becomes memorial-sized, we are able to honor their memory but move forward to grow the new relationships that will enrich and sustain us.

This is why nations and cities create memorials of significant events in their history.  The past matters. Memorials honor the complexity and the rich meaning of events where fundamental change occurred and many sacrificed so much as a result of the event. But, the past can't control the future. It needs to be honored but not become a prison.  Memorials help us remember and be free to move forward into the new world.

When you lose someone significant in your life, create a memorial that can remind you of their meaning for you and free you to live the new life that you have been given.