It’s part of the natural life cycle, it’s at the end of the road for every living being…we live and then we die…and yet every time it appears, we feel stunned, dumbfounded, that it arrived at our doorstep.
Why do we arrogantly and instinctively hold on to the thought that it will never come near to us, that it’s only something other people have to experience?
Two days ago I learned of the sudden death of the father of a friend of my daughter’s. It is unclear to me the specific cause but is something in line with an aneurysm, stroke, or seizure that took his life. He had just remarried one week prior to his death with all of his children participating in the wedding. The exuberant, newlywed bride is now instantaneously a widow. A week of life renewed and joy restored immediately followed by an unannounced journey down a road of utter darkness, grief, and pain with an unknown distance to travel before the sun begins to rise again. The oppression on this road will at times cause her to crawl while gasping for air instead of walking upright with each unknown step towards living again.
This morning I learned that the college son of a woman who is the assistant to a friend of mine was killed instantly in a car accident last night on his way home. I have an image in my mind of him rising a little late yesterday morning, eating a leisurely breakfast, discussing his day and plans with his parents, enjoying his summer day, and then heading out last night with his friends and, as he walks out the door, he turns to his mom to say, “I’ll text you when I’m heading home.”… but instead of a text from her fully alive son, she probably received a phone call or a personal visit from the authorities. So begins her journey of survival down the shadowy, incomprehensible road of grief.
… In an instant. Full life, then death, then darkness.
After hearing of the death of this young boy early this morning, I sat in my bed and wept. My stomach began to convulse. I am still weeping. I weep for this mother. I weep for the newlywed bride. I weep for the other children involved. I want to hold them or sit silently next to them and allow them to cry, moan, scream, writhe, or whatever they need to do in order to let the initial pain escape. I hurt deeply as I see them in my imagination taking their first steps into the valley of the shadow of death. I can see the fear on their faces as they anticipate the steps and the days to come on a road they have never traveled and have no road map because one does not exist...you must only keep moving forward. I yearn to help them carry the load. I yearn to open the skies above them so that the suffocating air can be released. I yearn to go before them with a shield and blaze the trail for them…but it is something they must, we all must, experience alone. It is a singular journey. We can silently hold their hand, bring them provisions, and listen to their tales of the journey, but in the end, it’s their journey.
We all inevitably embark on this path at some point in our lives. No amount of mental preparation can equip us for the onslaught of the pain, the memories, and the dark hours experienced on the journey. My only mental preparation I had going into it after my husband was killed in a car accident was my faith in God. It was the place from which I drew my strength and protection while traversing this path of sheer darkness. It was my source of hope, my source of healing, and my source of peace when everything about me raged.
Today I glance back into the dark valley out of which I have finally emerged and can barely make out the silhouettes in the distance of these broken people as they drag themselves slowly and warily into the other end of this devastating valley. Lord, be with them. Hold them. Rescue them. Protect them. Cast a light for them.
"I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd. And my tongue clings to my jaws; You have brought me to the dust of death.... But you, O lord, do not be far from me; O my strength, hasten to help me!"… Psalm 22:14, 15, 19