They Take So Much With Them


My family: relationships of intense importance.

Marilynne Robinson, in her Pulitzer-winning novel, Gilead, writes that when loved ones die, “they take so much with them.”

That’s all she says. She leaves it to you and me to summon up our own memories of deceased loved ones—of their affection toward us, their touch, their smile. All of it gone in a tremulous final breath.

Why all this somber talk on Valentine’s Day?

Death is the signal moment in the life of a human being, when we are most aware of the loved one’s uniqueness, beyond romantic love and its physical expression.

At the birth of a loved one, we are aware that something has come into being that never was before and, at their death, that something has passed away that never will be again.

What is this something that passes away with the death of a loved one? A relationship that provided us with a sense of home.

This is easy to see in children. For a child, home is not a place, but a relationship of love and trust. A child can change addresses many times and call each one home because the parents are there. As you and I mature, we form new family relationships of love and trust and, therefore, a renewed sense of home.

All definitions of love—as far back as the ancient Greek word for unselfish love, agape—center on the idea that we prefer what’s best for our beloved.

Nowhere, I think, is such love more prevalent than in family.

Henri Nouwen, the author of many books on the spiritual life, writes: "It is exactly in the preciousness of the individual person that the eternal love of God is refracted and becomes the basis of a community of love."  

Perhaps on this Valentine’s Day we should celebrate not romance so much—but the family relationships that have such intense importance to us.

Having a home is not simply having a house. It is having ties to loved ones who care about our wellbeing and give us a sense of belonging—of being home.

This is why the death of a loved one is devastating.

They take so much with them.

They take “home.”


In my next blog, “My New Book ... ”

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  • Deborah Cipolla
    commented 2015-02-21 14:16:26 -0500
    You’ve put into words the void and restlessness I’ve been feeling since my mother died. With no living parents, I’m having to redefine “home,” because she took it with her. Nicely written.