Shock. Disbelief. Profound bewilderment. Deep sadness, even anger. Could we have done more? How didn’t we see this? Who could have helped? What do we do now? All of these and more flooded through me as Seth shared the news of a tragic mother-daughter death that occurred on Wednesday afternoon. A mother and a daughter who were very involved in our church, who leave behind a bereaved and broken father and an 11-year-old sister who lost half of their family on an afternoon in July. She was at camp, and immediately there was the question of how to tell her/when to get her/who should be there. Questions no grieving husband and father should have to answer. Questions he couldn’t answer. Questions we all attempted to speak our best opinions into while we, too, reeled inside with the sadness.
Seth and I witnessed the two hardest conversations of our lives yesterday as this brave father shared the details in two stages of the how with his 11-year-old daughter, and they wept together. And how can you see this and not weep? And not rage? And not feel utterly bewildered? No one saw this coming. No one. Not her best friend with whom she had lunch that day; not her husband who’s said, “She’s the center of my life!” None of us who worshiped alongside her on Sunday. Not the fellow girl scout troop moms who remember a friendly, engaged woman who loved her two daughters.
There is a sense among us who knew her of a communal fail. Why didn’t we know? How could we have helped? And this is good to ask and to explore and to take as a renewed call to engage in community (the antidote of isolation). And yet we must balance this with the reality that she must have been very good at hiding. She did not want anyone to know, for a part of her must have known that she would have been stopped. In some very secret and broken place, she decided this was best for her and her special needs daughter. But all of us left behind … this father, this daughter … whose lives will never be the same, whose stories will always be defined by this most awful of days … we grieve, we question, we are shocked, we don’t know how to go on.
Except that there is one who weeps with us. Who is in our midst. Who is not absent. And so we gathered as a church community yesterday to lament, to pray, to sing our grief and our questions without answers, to fall deep in the arms of the One who is holding us. Herein lies comfort that is real. A comfort that will meet us even when the questions will linger for the rest of our lives. There are no answers, but that’s not what we need the most right now. We need to know we are not alone, and that’s the comfort that even a deeply grieving father gave to his shattered daughter as they wept together:
“You are not alone. We are Easter people. We are Easter people. We are resurrection people.”
He said through his own sobs. There is resurrection promised, and it does not ease this week’s grief but gives a hope beneath the grief. The grief will end one day. Tears will change to joy of reunion. And in the meantime, resurrection guarantees that we have HIM with us. He is not in a cold tomb; He is alive and He is with us in the sadness unspeakable.
It was this hope and this reality of Christ-with-us that propelled Seth and me to walk up to the house of the grieving, and to walk inside, and to sit and weep and mourn. “Jesus wept,” is instructive here. Jesus, who knew Lazarus would be raised to life again, wept. He wept for his friend and with his friends. We can do no less.
Finding words for the feelings are also provided by our God who knows us and gives us what we need to bring to him. If you are grieving this loss or any other, I suggest reading the following as the prayers of your heart when your heart has lost its words.
“Arise, cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the night watches!
Pour out your heart like water
before the presence of the Lord! …
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.” (2:19, 3:19-20)
“Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and our oppression? …
Rise up, come to our help!
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!”
“My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.’ “
“In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted. …
You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.”
“But I, O Lord, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?”