I wrote this post over a year ago, after the tragic events that occurred at an elementary school in Connecticut. I am not really sure why I haven’t posted it before, but I have been reflecting a lot on loss lately, and so it seems time to share it now.
Public tragedy. An uncomfortable reality we reluctantly accept as part of life. The never-ending cycle of violence in nations, communities, schools, malls, homes, and even churches leave many questions that are hard to answer.
What in the world is going on?
How could anyone do such things to other human beings?
And even more, how could anyone endure such horrific tragedies?
When innocent lives are lost in tragic, dramatic circumstances, the country, and perhaps even the world, sits up and takes notice. The stories are all over the news. The families grieve in public. Their grief, so private and painful, becomes a grief we try to bear with them.
It is right and honorable to grieve with families who lose loved ones in tragic events. But it is also seems a bit dishonest. When we hear of a deranged gunman shooting out a window in an elementary school to commit mass, premeditated murder, or of a bomb going off in the middle of a busy city street in the middle of a publicized event, we realize that it could have been our children’s school; it could have been our city. It could have been us. And so our grief mingles with fear. Even in the outrage over the senselessness of it all, there is a collective sigh of relief that even though it could have been us, it wasn’t.
It is easy to say that we share their grief, but the truth is, we don’t. How could we? Parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends all lost something real and tangible in those tragedies. They lost real people that were special to them, and beyond that, part of their identity.
What makes me a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter, a teacher, a friend? It is nothing more than the people who define me that way. Tragic loss changes that definition, not in the heart and the mind, but in the day to day routine of life. I often think of the tragedy of losing a loved one when the table is set, and one place is no longer needed, when the laundry is washed, no longer to be worn, or when plans are made, never to be fulfilled.
This is the tragedy of losing those who make us who we are. It is in the redefining. A child lost will always be child to his parents, or husband to his wife, or mother to her children, but not in the practical-ness of daily life. Not in the restaurant where a table for five suddenly becomes a table for four. When the Christmas cards must be signed, and the name of that precious loved one is not included. When the milestones come and go, and all that is left is what might have been. There will always be mourning, always a sense of loss, even as those who remain work at the redefining.
When national tragedies strike, I wonder about those who lost loved ones that same day, quietly, unassumingly, un-newsworthy-ingly. We pause, we mourn, and we move on. We send cards, flowers, casseroles, and condolences. But we avoid making eye contact, because the dark pit of grief opens through the eyes. Grief is uncomfortable. Grief is raw and unpredictable. It does not make good small talk. It requires that we listen. And that we stay.
Our lives quickly resume “normal,” whatever that is. And we forget the suffering. But they don’t forget. How could they? For them, there is no national tragedy. There is no personal tragedy. There is only grief, and the real tragedy lies, beyond the loss, beyond the grief, in the collective amnesia we seem to develop over the suffering of others. May we weep openly and aloud at the reality of their tragic losses, as the Savior did, and may we bring the promise of future hope by simply being present. The best thing I can do for someone enduring tragedy is to just show up, and let God work at the healing.