Last week I noted that we often overlook those things of concern that our close to us. I particularly complained that age has made the list of those I know suffering bereavement particularly long. Well, this week saw an addition to that list. The son of a long-time close friend (family really) died suddenly in his sleep at the age of 34. This brings up the phenomenon that my wife identified, which comprises the title of this essay.
Years ago a good friend of my parents, who had just lost his son to cancer, gave voice to an immutable truth; “God did not put us here to bury our children”. It is particularly sad and dispiriting when people die “out of order”. I remember my sadness when we lost my mother-in-law 14 years ago at the age of 71. Done too soon to be sure, yet she did not die out of order. The world seemed in balance, despite our loss.
It is when the order gets shifted that things become incomprehensible. We have a ready answer for why this happens due to war and other violence, the fallen state of a venal humanity. It is when someone passes due to illness or disease that we scratch our heads. More than scratching our heads, we get pissed. I have no problem getting up in God’s grill and venting. It is not blasphemy to be pissed at God, there is anger in any relationship.
This list of loss has made me utterly exhausted. I claim no special status here. I have not suffered an “out of order” loss. Yet the pain I feel for those that have can only make me shudder to consider what those who have suffered this kind of loss must be going through.
What then to offer those so suffering? I have addressed this issue previously. In that piece I suggested that the “why of loss” is the wrong question. The better question is “what now?”. From the perspective of faith I would offer the power of God’s Grace, the hope of the resurrection, and the knowledge that what we experience as humans God experienced through His son Jesus. Yes, even Mary, Mother of our Lord, suffered an out of order death and saw her son buried.
All this is best left to the heart and soul of those whose faith is in God, and His saving Grace, and contemplated after the shock has worn off. It is likely of little comfort to those amid such awful pain and incomprehensible loss. Especially when one suffers an “out of order” loss, and especially at such a young age. Even those of strong faith are going to be angry at God. As I said, this is not a sin, it is being human.
So, while some may take comfort in the hope given to us by faith, it is risky to offer this to people in such a sorrowful state. What then can we offer them by way of comfort? I would simply suggest, ourselves. Simply be present. There is no real need to search for words or eloquence. All that those who suffer such loss really need to know is that you are there.
Your presence in that moment sends a message more powerful than words. It lets the bereaved know that you are with them and perhaps more importantly that however dark the path they are on, they absolutely will not walk it alone. One of the greatest gifts God has given humanity is the power and grace of community. Community is so much of what makes us fully human and being in community and surrounding those so aggrieved with your presence is very possibly the best we can offer the bereaved in their moment of greatest pain.
So, while I am all in favor of proclaiming God’s word and focusing on the hope of the resurrection and the hope of all being united before God in eternity, in the shadow of overwhelming pain, it may be best to give silent witness to God’s love and hope. My anger and hopefully the anger of the bereaved, at God will pass. What we hope will remain is the comforting presence of love and community that can and should surround those in great pain. This is witness enough.
Praise Be to God