Some thoughts on tragedy and grief

Tragedy strikes us all. As an individual or as a family…even as a nation.

1997

There was a drought in the Texas Hill Country, the lake was low, and winter was ending. Every day people would walk past our pier and look out across the cove and pray for water to fill it up.
Pray for rain, our respite from the drought, our savior from the brutal heat of the summer to come.
Water to irrigate gardens and fill wells, water to quench the thirst of our neighborhoods that depended on the health of the lake.
Eventually the water came. It rained for days, storms to usher in the bloom of spring. There is nothing like the Texas Hill Country in the spring. Should you ever get the opportunity you should visit in mid-April. It is just gorgeous.
The lake was regaining its vigor and the drought was ending.
Eventually the clouds parted. The water appealed to two fishermen that I loved more than anything.
They trolled out in a fishing boat on a bright, sunny afternoon, off to catch a few fish for dinner or maybe to add to the freezer. They kept our fridges stocked with fresh fish, and were just going to play.
Before the end of my day at school a storm blew through and made everything glisten as the sun came back out. I stayed for choir practice and went home a little later than usual with a friend.
I knew something was wrong when there was a police car outside our house when we got home, but no one knew anything. They just knew the storm had blown through and the men hadn’t returned home.
Surely they were just on the wrong side of the lake waiting it out on a beach.
One hour past, then four, then it was morning, and then it was 10 am.
We heard nothing except the boats going back and forth on the lake and the occasional shutter of helicopters overhead.
They never came home.

2009
My sister had finally agreed to go to a rock in roll bar with me that I sort of adored to see a band that I had loved since I was a kid. We had friends who were going to meet us and plans for dinner and drinks.
A night of fun.
As the hour drew nearer to our fun evening people cancelled.
I hate when people cancel last minute, but they did, so it was just going to be my sister and me.
We were determined to have a good time. We went to the restaurant upstairs and ordered some food. We watch people tottering in 5 inch stilettos. We laughed at how we were the only two out of I don’t even remember how many that made it to the show.
I don’t even remember who was playing.
We had never had a sisters night out, so we hung out and talked for a while.
Our drinks arrived and so did our food. We talked about our kids and jobs and life.
Then the phones started ringing.
Her husband had been trying to get ahold of her, but she didn’t answer, so he called my phone and I picked up right away.
“Where are you?”
“Scout. Why?”
“Dennis was in an accident. You need to go to Austin.”
“Okay, we will be there as fast as we can.”
We left our food uneaten and rushed from the building. We didn’t know what we were going to see when we got to the hospital, but we knew we had to go.
My sister’s neighbor kept the kids while we were gone.
We drove. A drive that normally took 4 to 5 hours took 3.
Again we waited for a man we loved; only this time his body was with us. It was his soul that was missing.
The life force that made him our father even though we were grown when our parents met.
We waited the night and a day. We waited until the tests were run that said he was coming back to us. We prayed for his soul to find its way home. We held hands and rested our heads on the cold tile of a hospital waiting room floor.
My mother waited in his room. Talked to him. Tried to coax him back. Tried to feel the warmth of his hand in hers for as long as she could.
He never found his way back.

2013
The last two days have brought great grief to the cities of Boston and West. Gut wrenching losses for families who had been having nice normal days. They were out for a run. Home watching TV. Sitting watching the world. They were participating in life.
Some of them were accomplishing dreams. Others were at work.
I was at work Tuesday. I followed the story all afternoon and late into the night. Pausing only while at home and holding my kids just a little tighter. I let them fall asleep in the living room snuggled up that night. There was nothing I wanted more than to hold them and make them safe.
Last night after I put the boys in bed I logged into Facebook and immediately I saw photos of a fire at a plant in Waco. Then I turned on the news and it had exploded.
Not just exploded but ripped a town apart. It will take years for them to come back from that.

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I only have a few words of wisdom when it comes to loss of those you love and rebuilding the life that you know. I don’t know if anyone who has lost in these tragedies will read it, but maybe the people who are reading need to hear it as well.
It takes time to cry. It takes time to feel the loss. It takes time to really understand that they’re gone and never coming back. It takes years, sometimes decades, to move on.
I don’t think we move on really.
I know that in my life the losses just became dull aches that resonate with how I try to appreciate each breath I take.
The losses have taught me to see the effects of my life on others. How one decision can cause a ripple effect that goes on and on and on.
It is easy to get mad and take your grief out on the world, but don’t. I got mad when I was so young and my grandfather got taken from me. I got so mad that I eventually rebelled to the point where nothing mattered but how I felt. I took my grief out on everyone, but no one ever understood that or forced me to deal with it. Don’t do that.
Don’t bottle it up and bury it thinking that everything is okay. You’re here, you’re safe, you’re moving along. You will crumble from the inside and become immobile.
Grieve. Heal. Cry. Get angry, but don’t get mad.
Most importantly love. Love is the most healing of emotions. It creates strength were there may have been none and warmth that lasts through the cold.
I pray that love surround you and that God bless your life with many years of happiness that far overshadow this dark time.

CHAPTER 14: When God Seems Distant

Day Fourteen: Thinking about my purpose.

Point to Ponder: God is real, No matter how I feel.

Verse to Remember: “For God has said, ‘I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.'” ~Hebrews 13:5

Question to Consider: How can I stay focused on God’s presence, especially when he feels distant?

“God is real, no matter how you feel.”

That is the first line of this chapter, and no matter your religious belief, it is true. Even if you are one of those people that says if I can’t see it, touch it, and feel it, it can’t be there.

God exists.

We exist because He exists.

We live because He lets us.

We thrive because He wants us to.

He sounds like He could be the kid with an ant colony. Peering in and giving us food from time to time. Letting us live our lives but watching our little world build, shaking us and we crumble.

Then watching us again as we rebuild.

Here is the thing about being a human. We were made in God’s image. We were made with the same emotions and tendancies. If we have an ant colony, even the kindest and most patient people want to shake the ant colony.

Why?

Just to see what happens.

No other reason than to make them fall and watch as the ants rebuild their homes. Rebuild their world.

Chapter fourteen is similar to this in that sometimes God strips us of all that we have; then just sits back to wait and see what happens. It’s a cruel joke really. It’s mean, but truly being in the faith and in friendship with Him means knowing that He is there whether He is just watching or being actively involved.

Unlike the kid with the ant farm, God is there to help us rebuild. Even though he is not active and giving you a warm fuzzy feeling that He is still hearing your prayers.

He is checking you on your faith.

How many people at the first sign of stress or failure give up?

How many people seek the warm fuzzies we feel on Sunday morning, but when that feeling disappears during the week between services they fall back to old ways? Not necessarily good or bad, they just give in to temptations. They speak ill of their friends. They do the things that on Sunday morning they criticize others for.

How many people are hippocrites?

The Biblical examples in the book are Job and David. Job lost everything he had and cried out to God. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Although you have lost everything, He is still there. Simply by being there He is worthy of your praise.

David complained of God’s absence, “Why have you foresaken me? Why do you ignore my cries for help? Why have you abandoned me?” He was in constant denial of the fullfilled spirit of God. (You know the warm fuzzies.)

My own personal experience with this comes from when I was a teenager. I was 16. I was one of those fun, good, teenagers who loved to go to church, loved to volunteer for community projects, loved to help families in the neighborhood. I lived with my grandparents at the time and I wanted nothing more than to follow my grandfather around everywhere. We worked in the garden. Built things. I mowed the parts of the yard that he didn’t want to. I learned to cut keys, plant saplings, make weights and smelting metals. I got to do some really cool stuff.

Then he was taken from me. It was February 19, 1997. I was at school that day and had choir practice afterschool for a competition. He went out with our pastor on a fishing trip. They took out the pastor’s little boat, because ours was sanded in from the drought. They were only going to be gone a little while.

The county sheriff was parked in front of our house when we got home from school.

I think it was the only time I had ever riden in Lacee’s moms Legacy, but I can still see the image of the interior. Her mom in front with her sister, and me and Lacee in back. Cops in front of our little stone house.

They searched all through the night and into the next day. I can’t remember now if it was one day or two, but they found him on a cold morning. They being our neighbors, the neighbors who were like a second set of parents. They pulled my grandfather into their boat and held him in tears, just waiting for the search and rescue team to respond to their call.

My little 16 year old world shattered.

Over the course of the next year we had a new pastor start at our church and I felt an immediate connection with them. They were wonderful people who could relate to a younger crowd. The church started growing and changing and the older set didn’t like that. Our new wonderful pastors were pushed out and I quit church.

I quit religion.

I quit and threw myself into work and school and extra activities that didn’t involve churchy people.

These are the times that the book is talking about. I think that if I had read this book before that point in my life I would have remembered all of the things I had talked about doing with my grandfather. All of the big ideas. Big hopes. Big dreams.

But I was so lost and waning in anything but apathy that I just didn’t do anything.

I didn’t get the warm fuzzies from this experience and it handicapped me for the next decade.

So, now we are in 2011, although so much life has happened. I can still remember the immediate ache in my gut that I felt when I found the news of my grandfather. I can remember how pissed off I got at my church for what happened to the pastor.

I know what it is like to lose everyone you are close to just because of a choice that you made. But today, though I maybe like Job who lost everything. I am on the path to rebuild. I am not crying out, “Lord why have you foresaken me?” I am not even asking why. Now I am just accepting that these things will happen. They have to happen.

Our faith is tested in many ways and this is just another test. Like testing a relationship sometimes you just have to sit back and watch.

God must shake our ant colony to see what will happen. He has to know if we are going to roll over and die or simply start to pick up the pieces.

The book asks, “How can I stay focused on God’s presence, especially when he feels distant?”

There really isn’t a way other than to pray. Pray alone. Pray with your church. Pray with your family. Pray with your friends.

Praise be to God, have a blessed weekend.