As a parent, I’ve found myself having to explain things in discussions with my kids that I’m not always comfortable with because they’re topics I’m not sure I grasp myself. On the past two Mondays, our family has learned of deaths of people my kids know who have unexpectedly passed at a young age. And while my kids are old enough to have past experience with deaths of pets and even great grandparents, it is tough to process the death of someone who they saw in their everyday lives that they never thought twice about not seeing again.
Last Monday we learned that a boy Erin goes to school with died over the weekend in an ATV accident. She went all through grade school with him and he was her “locker neighbor”. I wanted to have words of wisdom to share with her, but I found that I struggled with trying to make sense of it. He was only thirteen years old. He should be pestering his parents about picking out new school clothes, school supplies and those new “kicks” he wanted. Instead his mother has to pick out what he will be buried in while his father struggles to survive his own life threatening injuries suffered in the accident. Damned if I can explain to my daughter how to understand that.
Tonight we found out about the death of my daughter Emily’s volleyball coach. She died suddenly in her sleep over the weekend. Not only was she was the mother of six children at home, she was a coach and mentor to many involved in the sport. A very devoted Christian, she was the Director of the Patriette Lights Volleyball League and taught the girls so much more than volleyball—she taught them about playing with graciousness and as a representative of Christ. While I know in my heart that she’s gone home to be in His Kingdom, the selfish part of me just wants Patty to be here on Earth with her family and the volleyball girls, modeling her faith for them like she always did.
The way we individually deal with grief and loss are handled differently for everyone, and I see my children learning as they grow how that all plays out. I’m not afraid to tell them that I don’t know what to say because sometimes there aren’t any words. Sometimes there are only hugs or tears or sighs that we have to get through before we can start to remember the things about that person that made him or her special to us. And I have to remember that it’s okay to just leave it at that.
It is in times like these that I am grateful that I have faith, even though I think I’m a lousy witness to it. As Christians we believe that people who have died who knew Christ really are “in a better place”. But I cannot say those words to people who are hurting and are devastated at losing someone. I cannot quote scripture and point out places where Christ tells his followers that He’s prepared a room in Heaven for those who believe. When someone dies, especially when it’s unexpected or the person was young, I think it’s natural for those left behind just to want their loved one back. I believe most people, even those who have faith in Heaven, want to hear that person laugh again and say “I love you” and for life to be the way it was before he or she died. I don’t think that makes me any less of a Christian to respect those feelings. Sympathizing with their pain just makes me human. And God can handle much more than our mere humanity and emotions.
I don’t think I will ever fully comprehend why there are people who have to leave us too soon, nor do I feel like I’ll ever become an expert in the field of grief counseling. I will always wish I had the right words. Instead, I only know what comforts me personally: my belief that God loves us more than we can even imagine, as cliché as that may sound.
Our former pastor, a man whose faith I admire greatly, once told us something that I try to keep in mind about death, whether in regards to my own or others. When questioned what Heaven would be like, he said that he didn’t know what Heaven amounted to—what it would look like, or what form our souls would take. “But I have no fear about that because God loves us so much and I don’t have to worry. It is better than anything we can ever imagine.” It may not be the perfect words, but it’s a start.
Rest in Peace Chance and Patty. You will be missed.