Death is inevitable, or so the saying goes. We all know that there is no such thing as immortality. Sooner or later everyone of us will die. I tend to believe that it is more difficult for the living to accept death than the person whose life has ended. Whether one believes as I do that eternal life waits on the other side, or that the whole adventure simply ends, doesn’t make the pain of losing someone much better. Laying a loved one to rest is one of the most horrific aspects of living. The process rents our hearts in two, and often to our surprise the feelings of utter sadness remain firmly lodged inside our souls just waiting to be tickled back to life when we least expect them.
Death is a cruel mistress who sometimes strikes with discordant surprise. It hits us especially hard when the person taken from us is young, in the prime of life. There is an unfinished feeling about such tragedies. We are left thinking of all of the potential that will never be realized, the life events that will not be experienced. There is an unfairness about untimely deaths that especially angers us. They shock and frighten us. We wonder what we might have done to prevent them, even as we understand that they are simply the way things are.
March reminds me of a particular year when I seemed to encounter death everywhere I turned. It was a month of unimaginable horror. A beautiful and lively young woman who was in the process of planning her wedding was laughing with friends one moment and lying dead in her car the next, a victim of a drunk driver. As I attended her memorials and wrote of her spirit I thought that I had surely experienced the depths of grief but I was in for a gigantic shock.
Only days later a beautiful young mother that I knew was murdered, found by a passing stranger who heard the cries of her tiny baby. Those of us who had loved her life were stunned. Her life had been coming together so beautifully. She had been so happy. We wondered how it was possible that someone had been monstrous enough to kill her while her tiny child sat nearby. She had so loved her little girl and had already planned out the child’s life just as mothers often do. Her death was unfathomable.
In the very same month of the same year yet another young friend of mine died in a car crash. He had been studying at college and looking forward to a glorious future. He was a likable fellow with so many friends, known for his engaging smile and optimistic nature. Those who cared about him filled a huge auditorium. All of us were in shock. It hardly seemed possible that someone so full of life could be gone.
There is great pain associated with death. It eventually eases but always leaves scars on those left behind. Somehow we move through the days, the months, the years, growing ever older and farther and farther away from the grief but always conscious that we have lost a part of ourselves. My father will have been gone for sixty years come this May. I have moved forward without him but I never really forget him. I wonder what he might have thought of the adults that my brothers and I have become. I wish that our children and grandchildren had an opportunity to meet him. Just talking about him doesn’t seem to be enough to share his incredible essence.
I am familiar with the stories of so many others who died far too young. I think of the brave college student who lost his life defending a woman who was being beaten by her irate boyfriend. He was such a good soul, exceedingly kind and oh so loved. I watch his family continue to grieve and I understand their pain.
There is the mother who left this earth just as her daughter was about to graduate from college, fulfilling a dream that they both had shared. I have watched as her child has struggled to deal with the emotions that such a tragic loss engenders. I have carried thoughts of her in my heart as I saw those who miss her experiencing sadness, anger and the first stirrings of resignation.
I know of a man who died on his vacation, a woman whose cancer could not be controlled. I remember a friend who went to war and never came back, another who lost hope and pulled the plug on his own life. All of them had family and friends who have yet to come completely to grips with their losses. They certainly seem to have carried on, but those of us who know them well realize that life is never quite the same after such horrific surprises.
We struggle to know how to deal with such tragedies. We want to find a correct way of doing so but our humanity doesn’t provide easy answers. We find it hard to determine what to say or do, sometimes falling back on platitudes to explain our feelings. We are uncomfortable with comforting those who are in such despair. Sometimes we wrongly stay away, afraid that our humble efforts will not be worthy of the occasion.
I often pray for the wisdom of Solomon. I want to be a font of tranquility for the suffering and the broken hearted. I don’t feel that I always help as much as I should but I believe that I understand their agony for I too have been where they are. I have walked through the valley of death and felt the despair that comes from realizing the brutal finality that comes with loss.
We tell ourselves again and again that we should express our feelings for the people that we love while we have the opportunity, and yet we get busy and miss those all important chances. We consider making that phone call but never quite get around to it. We neglect to reach out to those closest to the deceased. We send sympathy cards and flowers in the beginning but allow time to get away from us after the memorials and funerals are over. Just when the lonely most need us we have all too often turned our attention to other things. In truth it is when time has passed that they may need our condolences the most.
Death can be a lonely experience but it shouldn’t be. Think of someone who has lost someone special and let them know how much you care. Even the smallest gesture has the power to go a long, long way.