“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” John 11:4
The initial shock of tragedy and death – especially when it is sudden and senseless – is overwhelming. Trauma to the soul can immediately result in anything from dead silent denial to out-and-out vicious anger – with lots of tears, pain, weeping, bitterness, fear, and so much more all thrown in the mix during the initial minutes and hours. It is an extremely volatile and vulnerable time – a time when our deepest emotions and dread take over. Our most basic defenses kick in and command our mind and bodies in order to protect and preserve what – our mind and body thinks – is the common order of things. There is probably no greater level of stress a person can experience than the moments right after tragedy.
For me, I remember the first hour or two…
- Sense of intense loss
- What to do next?
- Too dry to cry
- Urge to do something to get back control
- Feeling every step
- Complete disconnect from what is going on around me
- Is someone saying something to me?
- Do I need something?
- No hunger
- Will this day end?
Then, after a few hours…
- Can we talk about this?
- I’ve lost something
- I’m thirsty
- Are things ok?
- What happened?
- Can you be with me?
- I want to be alone
- Where am I?
- What needs to be done to fix this?
I found no tangible human comfort – in the first few early hours – in words and faith and prayer and home and belief and future. I was simply devastated. I have never been lower.
But what I do recall, and what I want to be able to do in the future for others, and what many this evening and in the next week will need in Connecticut…
- Know that someone cares
- Know that someone is moments away
- Know that someone will sit and be quiet and listen
- Know that someone will talk, if necessary
- Know that someone can take care of things
- Know that someone can touch and offer a shoulder – or not
- Know that someone will take care of food and the house and business for awhile
- Know that someone is praying
- Know that someone is here now and will be here in the future
I want to stress that the immediate and instant hit of initial pain is so human, so base, so core that – for me – I could only rely on whatever it was to keep me moving and alive. I had nothing else. (Of course, for me as a believer and in hindsight, I accept that it was God’s providence working in the universe that kept me moving. But this isn’t what I was thinking about in the early moments.)
Grief is a very unique and individual emotion. Two people can’t sit down and duel with their grief – grief doesn’t work that way. Grief for one person is just as bad as grief for the other person. There isn’t ‘better’ grief and ‘worse’ grief.
While some can empathize greatly with the good people – parents, siblings, friends, law enforcement, and others – of Connecticut this evening, grief will be a personal journey for each individual who has been touched by the Sandy Hook tragedy. There is not any person who can fix the hurt or make the hurt better in the short-term – no one! And this is the hard lesson we learn as human beings. This is the human condition – living and then dying hurts.
Now, for those of faith, we can learn to depend on God and find strength in our faith in God. We can be thankful for this, of course. But, there are many without faith, too. And what I am compelled to think is that we – as well-meaning people – need to be sensitive to anyone and everyone who is experiencing loss and grief – whether believers or not. And our immediate counsel can’t be to offer a quick fix by hoisting the nature and words of God on a hurting and grieving non-believer. Frankly, I think when we do this we are actually hurting even more the non-believer and we, likely, are not doing what even God would have us do when working with grieving people.
But here is how this can happen. Instead of talking about God and hoping for a God-miracle, let’s be like God. Let’s live God. Let’s show God. Let’s let our actions speak for God. Let’s exemplify God. We can be profoundly godly even without having to express why we are doing what we do. Does this make sense? God is big enough to reveal himself if and when he needs to reveal himself – he probably needs little help from us in his personal revelation. How about we ‘do’ God instead of ‘talking about’ God?
Perhaps, frankly, we like to burden God with someone’s hurt – in our words and pious counsel -because we don’t want to personally share in the personal hurt of the hurting one? Maybe it is easier for us to share words with a hurting one about God than to share deeds and action to benefit a hurting one in the name of God?
So, we need to be sensitive to those who hurt – especially to those in Connecticut this evening. But it needs to be about action – not just words. And we need to remember that there are people everywhere all the time who hurt – not just tonight. There is plenty of hurt to go around – not just when the headlines blaze into our otherwise comfortable castles with bad news. Let’s be ready.
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick… (Matt 9:12 NIV)
Let’s do some care-giving.