The Lovely Bones & Bereavement *Warning--Spoilers!*

I watched this film on Saturday night with some trepidation, as I knew it was about a little girl who is killed. Some things like that I just cannot watch, they are simply too painful, but sometimes, especially if they are well done, they can be cathartic, the medium can allow you to investigate feelings that you might be scared to think too much about, or it may express feelings that you would rather avoid, because exploration of those feelings may lead you to shut down, spiral into a depressive state and cease functioning productively. When my daughter died, there was a lot that I locked away in a box.

I have to say I really enjoyed The Lovely Bones and I felt like watching it did me some good. It also got me thinking about a few things in my own situation which I thought I might share with you here.

The title comes from a quote from the main character, a 14 year old girl called Susie Salmon, at the end of the film:
These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections—sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent—that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events my death brought were primarily that the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous lifeless body had been my life
This was a 'tingly' moment for me because this is something I recognise about our being. As I have mentioned here before, the fact that we exist in a web of relationships is an essential truth of our existence - links to nature, people and to God, that seed of the eternal which is inside each one of us and remains irreducible to the merely material. These links can be traced out: some are strong and easy to follow. Some links are twisted or broken. But these are the co-ordinates which define our being in time and space.

Susie Salmon is beautifully portrayed by Saoirse Ronan who I also enjoyed watching in Hanna and City of Ember. She portrays a beautiful young girl just on the edge of blossoming into a woman. She is loved by her family and dreams of being a photographer when she grows up. The portrayal of her home-life is normal, not overly idealistic, but really lovely. There's a great scene where she helps her dad put a ship in a bottle (his hobby). Her dad is brilliantly played by Mark Whalberg. Really one of the best performances I've seen him give. He's an accountant, not a hero, but he really loves his daughter, and that came across in his performance I thought.

Susie also has a crush on a boy, Ray Singh, who she thinks could never be interested in her. There's a scene where she waxes lyrical about how beautiful he is and this struck me as everything that is good and noble and honest about human relationships. To her shock, he reciprocates her affection, and in a particularly moving scene, he asks her to meet him. After an English lesson studying Shakespeare's Othello, he slips a note into her textbook with a poem on it:

If I had but an hour of love,
If that be all it's given me,
An hour of love upon this earth, 
I would give my love to thee. 

And is signed The Moor

Apparently this poem was written specifically for the film, but references Othello, who says, in act I scene III, line 298:

"Come, Desdemona: I have but an hour 
Of love, of worldly matters and direction, 
To spend with thee: we must obey the time"

I thought this was a beautiful little tie in, erudite and deeply romantic. I loved Ray and the way he wooed Susie and I felt proud that we are capable of such beauty in our relationships. I would wish such relationships for all my children and hope that they would aspire to love to this extent. I think I learnt about the nobility of love by having a daughter who I loved so purely.

Desperately, Susie is killed by a serial murderer before she can meet up with Ray and her soul flees to the space in between our world and the next. This also resonated with me, that there's a kind of gathering place before you move on to where ever it is you're bound after you die, and once you have moved on, there is a great chasm fixed between that place and this (cf. Luke 16: 19-32). Susie is unable to move on, still attached to her life and those she loves, she is angry at what happened to her and what was taken away from her. She manages to communicate to her father that she is not gone, but still exists, and this she feels will help him.

This also struck a chord in me, because when Ruth died, I really wanted to see her ghost, to hear her in my head, or dream about her at night, so that I would know that she was not gone forever. But I didn't for some time. And this made sense to me, it fitted with my understanding of death and what happens. Then, one night, when things were particularly difficult, I felt that she came to me somehow in a sort of very intense dream, unlike anything I had ever experienced before. She was different to the little girl that was, more herself somehow, everything she could be, but I still recognised her instantly in my heart, a heart which longed for her with every essence of its being. Like all my experiences of the metaphysical, the clarity of the memory dissipates quite quickly as the mind rationalises the experience, but I recall that it seemed I chased her, playing a game, only I wanted to grasp her, cling to her, hold her in my arms, yet I was unable to catch her. She, smiling, completely unaware of my longing, was happy, playing, glad to see me but with no sense of any separation between us. Eventually we sat down (quite formally as I recall) and had a long chat. I can't recall the detail of our conversation, but I can remember how it made me feel, that she pretty much lectured me about us, that nothing had changed about us and that she loved me as she had always loved me. She told me that everything was fine, that she was so happy and that I only needed to relax and have faith, if only I knew how wonderful it would all be, and that we would all be together forever in just a little while, I just had to be brave and trust God, because everything was going to be OK.

I awoke still fully immersed in the vivid nature of this encounter, soaked with emotion which exploded out of me in immense sobs. Louise just held me and held me while I cried for our loss and, in some way, with deep gratitude for the gift that had been given to me. Like Susie's father in the film, I knew that the love I felt, the love that goes out from me, and that I feel reciprocated, I feel coming back, is real. That Ruth is there, and she is loving me back. This ties in with what I understand about what happens to us when we die in a state of grace. Ruth's soul is united with God in such a way that He allows her to know some things, but she lacks the full faculties of herself without a body. She is not omniscient; she cannot see and hear everything that goes on in the world. Time has ceased for her now and her existence is no longer linear, temporal, chronological; but rather kairological- a moment expanded to eternity. I feel this dream/ visitation (because it was so vivid- so much more than a normal dream)/ whatever, was a great gift that God allowed me, a window into the reality of existence so that my pain would be eased. And also an insight into the power of love.

Susie's parents in the film also touched me. The mother, Abigail, (played by Rachel Weisz) struggles to deal with what has happened and seems to just want to forget about it and move on, while father Jack (played by Whalberg) is completely focused on the loss of his daughter and starts trying to help the police find the killer. These roles were somewhat reversed in our house. I felt that Louise wanted to  surround herself with Ruth, with her things, her pictures. To spend time at her grave and to immerse herself in our lost daughter. For a long while that was far too painful for me. I felt I needed to shut it out. The sight of Ruth, her things, all served to remind me of how desperately I miss her. A desperate pain that felt like it was ripping my heart out, a pain I could not possibly cope with. Obviously both Louise and I were desperately sad all of the time, and the bereavement became the first thing between us we have ever not been able to speak about. If one of us was up and one was down, the person who felt sad could not talk to the one who was coping better at that particular time, because that would just bring the other one down, and one of you had to cope at some level, for the children if nothing else. You really can see how couples split-up after a bereavement, it is easy to become wrapped up in your own pain and blind to the suffering of your spouse. Thankfully, Louise and I are made of much sterner stuff, true soul mates whose marriage is grounded in our mutual faith and joint aspirations and we have remained strong. The pain has not gone away, but we have worked hard at coping with it, being aware of how each other feels on any given day, and making an effort to support each other as much as possible.

Abigail ultimately leaves Jack to his obsessing, but towards the end of the film, she returns and there is a beautiful, gentle reunion scene. This comes on the back of a discovery of definite evidence of the guilt of Susie's killer by her sister. But in a beautiful twist, this is forgotten, lost in the story, somehow, which is not about revenge, but about the Lovely Bones that grow around Susie and Susie's life. The relationships that recall who she is and who continue to love her, though she is gone from their world.

Those we love are not always with us for as long as we would like. Life is a series of comings and goings and we must make the most of the precious moments we are given with each other, even though they may often seem mundane. When you lose someone, even those mundane moments become more precious than jewels. And we all lose those we love. Faith provides us with an option to know that we will ultimately be re-united with them again, so make sure that you forge your connections well, with true love untainted by selfishness or personal agenda.

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