Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. In this darkness, Lord be there!
I have no fear of death or its images, of wakes and funerals and scenes of violence and mayhem. At least this is what I tell myself. If anything, I have gone through a phrase of inordinate fascination with death, looking into the face of it in an attempt to unlock its unfathomable mystery.
Except when the death involves a child and then I am overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety and anguish. And anger. Old wounds I have struggled to heal from are reopened and I find myself flailing helplessly against a tide of sorrow.
A young boy was killed the week just past, and seeing his father trying to find words to express his family’s inexpressible grief broke my heart. He did a much better job than I could ever have done. When I was in his unenviable position years ago, I was struck dumb. It was my wife who stood up and spoke for us.
Looking at his stricken face during the last rites for the boy, I of course saw myself. The messages he wanted to impart were the very same ones I would have wanted to say, had my voice and heart not failed me.
First, of course, was forgiveness from his child for not having been there when he most needed him. It was not the father’s fault. How could anyone have expected that in a school, a supposedly safe sanctuary if ever there was one, lurked death’s grim countenance ? That he said it in Ilocano, the dialect of my childhood, struck an even deeper chord.
He had to articulate it out of love, although no child, wherever he may be, would withhold forgiveness. Like I said, it was not his fault that he was not there.
The next message was to himself. He had been hearing a lot of what people took to be words of consolation, the gist of which is that God works in mysterious ways. By this, implying that acceptance should follow. Well, of course God is mysterious. It’s in his/her nature to be beyond human comprehension. But that doesn’t mean that we are precluded from asking the question “Why?”.
The father (and all those who mourn with him) needs to ask questions if he is too deal honestly with his grief. Like Job, he can praise the Lord’s name while at the same time questioning the iniquity of the tragedy that befell him. Like Job, he can well ask “Why should not my spirit be troubled? ” (Job 21:4). He may not get the answers he wants or expects but the process of grieving demands that he asks certain hard questions: of himself, of others and even of God.
To his family he expressed his gratitude and love in this most painful of times. They need to be there for each other. The support of family is indispensable if one is to gain the strength and courage to grieve. Family is the bedrock and foundation upon which one needs to rebuild a shattered life.
To the community he gave heartfelt thanks and the promise that he will do everything in his power to ensure that nothing like this happens again to anyone.
In closing he said the exact same words that I said to my family the afternoon my son died: “He will always be with us”.
From my experience, the grief journey itself is oftentimes lonely and solitary. One goes through it alone. But fellow travelers will offer succor and comfort during times when the burden seems unbearable.
Gregory Floyd, writing on the death of his son who was struck by a car in front of their house in a quiet cul-de-sac, offers some words of solace and advice on how he and his wife coped with the loss:
A few things we could do: speak the truth in love, show one another affection, and give one another the space to grieve. We could say to one another: We will see him again. This did nothing to ease the emotional pain, but it did enable us to fix God’s truth in our minds. The pain wracked us, convulsed us, made us wonder whether we were capable of any more. Yet, just when we felt we could not stand another minute, God breathed his word into our souls: “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13)