I don’t know why, but this past year has been one of many trials and tragedies around the world and close to home. It would be a much different blog post if I were writing about these events that hit me personally but I am writing as a bystander looking on.
Many friends and acquaintances have experienced unimaginable grief and loss this year, and I have found myself lost and scrambling and wanting to fix their broken hearts while mine is breaking for them. It is a very difficult spot to be in when you feel helpless, when you aren’t sure of what the right actions to take are or know the right words to say. I know what I would want, I would probably want to bury myself away and not deal with anyone, or hear the same old platitudes, but is that what my loved one needs? How do you help ease some of the burden, knowing you could not possibly remove their pain, as much as you would desperately like to?
This Easter season has been one of much reflection for me, not about Jesus and his pain and suffering but more on the bystanders, those who watched and could do nothing, feeling helpless. On the road, in front of the cross, watching on, heartbroken, that is where I have been. I found myself focused on John. John who had followed Jesus, heard his teachings, and now was tasked by Jesus himself to look out for his mother. What would those next few days, months, years have been like for him? Caring for a mother who had just witnessed the horrific death of her son. Had he questioned the purpose of this suffering? Had he doubted Jesus’ promise that there was a plan, a reason for his death after I am sure sleepless nights hearing and watching Mary grieve? How could this possibly have been in God’s plan?
As I think of John, as I witness the pain of those that I love, all I can think is that he said yes to walk with Mary in her suffering. He could not have understood fully why any of this happened, why his best friend died, why a wonderful woman had to go through the rest of her life without her son. God does not need to give us answers, but He can, if we ask, give us strength to do what is necessary to love without ceasing, to sit in awkward silence when words do not suffice, be given the right words when it is time to speak, and to drop everything to just be there.
When asked what I could do, these have been the top five things people have said soothed them when going through their own grief.
1: Food. I am sure that Mary was in no position to cook or think about meals, so I can only imagine John having to feed her in those times where she could finally bring herself to eat.
2: The right words. People mean well when saying things like, God has a plan, God had a reason, just trust in God; however, we don’t know how they are feeling about God right now, in their time of sorrow, so this may not be what they want to hear. Making God the reason for their pain, especially when dealing with a tragic sudden death, miscarriage or any loss, puts the blame on Him instead of God being a source of comfort. Saying you will be praying; however, is acknowledging that God is still present in the situation, and shows them they are not alone through this. Which brings me to point 3.
3: PRAY! If you say you are praying for someone, do it. Name them in your prayer. Even through my doubts and anger towards God during these times, I trust that the prayers I offer up for those I love do make a difference in some small way.
4: Keeping in touch long after. I know for myself my tendency is to give people space, to not intrude, but this can easily turn into weeks, and months. Long after the flowers have died, food has run out, visits and calls have stopped, people have said the grief becomes stronger. As life tries to get back to normal it becomes very evident that nothing will ever be normal. Their loved one is gone, and everyone has disappeared leaving them truly feeling alone. Here is where a text, a mass card, an invitation of any kind would be a reminder that they are not forgotten, that they are still cared for.
5: Be there how they need you to be, and let them grieve how they need to grieve. Everyone grieves differently. So just ask how you can help and ask more than once, because their needs change.
My newfound love and respect for John has been a revelation to me. It is only as we grow older that we are placed into John’s position more and more. My hope is that I can care for those I love the way I imagine John did, and that those who are suffering may feel the comfort Mary may have felt in discovering she was not alone in her grief.
“Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.”
When I think about death two different reactions can occur. One reaction is excitement at the thought of meeting Jesus and being with Him forever. The second is a twinge of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Unfortunately, the latter generally rears its head more than the former.
There are times I fear the manner in which I could die. I have a very active imagination so it is not hard for me to imagine the worst in any given situation. It takes effort once a potential scene has played out in my head to then turn to God in surrender and trust. “Your will be done. May You be glorified".
Most of us enjoy a sense of control, though in reality we have control over very little in our lifetime, as well as at the conclusion of it. Maybe this is why suicide and assisted suicide are so appealing to some people. The thought of having control over the timing and manner in which one dies somewhat satisfies that particular fear of something being outside of one’s control. I cannot imagine what it would be like to reach the point of desiring to take the life God has given me into my own hands to end it, and I hope that I never reach it. The thought of death brings with it an uncertainty with regard to time, place and what it will ultimately be like. Even going about the suicide route, we still truly do not know for sure what it will be like, and that can be unnerving.
Finally, there is doubt. Once in a while I wonder if what I have been taught about death, God, heaven, hell, purgatory, etc. are really true. What if I am living an illusion? It is then that I have something to fear, because the alternative is a life without purpose and hope.
At this point it is vital to call to mind, not only what I have been taught, but also what I have seen and experienced to be true, as well as what God has revealed to others (the saints, people present in my life, etc). In my daily life God has proven that He is not dead. He provides me with strength, peace, guidance, and wisdom. He has proven His presence and existence with miracles both big and small, such as saving my life on a number of occasions. He has spoken directly to my heart and through the Scriptures. He has provided words of wisdom and advice when I needed them the most, and in any “impossible” situation He has proven the words, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). I would be a fool after all I have witnessed in my own seemingly insignificant life to turn my back on what I have seen and know, to say, “There is no God.”
His own name is Emmanuel, “God with us.” He is truly with us. He promised that He will be with us ALWAYS (Matthew 28:20), and He does not lie. When I remember these things and all that He has proven of His love and presence throughout history, and I allow these things to overtake my heart and mind, it is then I am filled with peace and joy at the thought of being with God, the one who formed me and loves me more than I could ever comprehend. I still do not know how or when the day of my death will arrive, but I hope that when that time comes, I will remember that He is with me. If He is with me, I have nothing to fear, even death.