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The loneliness of loss

By David Moore

We were awakened by the noise in the middle of the night, and I was the first to reach the source.

I stood at the top of the steps leading to the basement and called out to my mother. Within seconds my father and two of my younger brothers joined me. We seemed glued to the floor, reluctant to run down the steps to this woman we had grown to love so deeply. She lay motionless at the bottom of the steps, breathing heavily.

My mother never regained consciousness. The death certificate would render the cause of death “basal fracture of the skull.”

The next several months were times of confusion and loneliness as I struggled to cope with my loss while trying to regain a footing on life. At the tender age of 11, and the oldest sibling, I also knew instinctively I had to step up to adult responsibilities.

Twenty years later (1981) while changing planes at an airport, I heard my name called over the loudspeaker as I was summoned to the nearest white paging phone. My wife had discovered the lifeless body of our 8-month-old son in his crib that morning. The cause of death was determined to be Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Desperation and loneliness were my constant companions as I awaited a flight that would return me to my wife and family. For the second time in my life, I faced the unique loneliness reserved for those coping with loss.

Job experienced almost unbelievable loss. In one day all of his children, his physical health and all of his wealth vanished. Instead of finding comfort in remaining relationships, Job watched as, one by one, his friends dismissed him as selfish and uncaring. His wife remained by his side, but even she came to the point of suggesting that he “curse God and die” (Job 2:9).

Job’s response to this admonition is instructive. “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10, NKJV). In other words, who are we to choose what to accept and what to reject that comes our way? Does God not know us better that we know ourselves? Is He not concerned about our well-being? Does He not have a master design for those who put their trust in Him?

I would like to pose two important questions that relate to the experience of loss and the loneliness that accompanies it.

1. What should be our response to those close to us who are coping with a recent loss in their life?

My most vivid memory of the response to my mother’s death from those closest to us is that everyone looked sad. When we lost our son that memory returned as I observed the pained expressions on so many faces. In both situations I felt compelled to try to cheer these people.

I was very young and I have no recollection of advice, counsel or theological rationalization for my mother’s death. However, when our son died I vividly recall many well-intended explanations. These ranged from “sin” in our lives to God’s testing us to see if we would “blame” Him.

First, we need to know what not to do in responding to those close to us who are coping with loss. Do not project sadness and pity. The sufferer doesn’t know how to interpret that. Are you somehow assigning responsibility for the loss to them? Are you indicating that the despair they are feeling will be long-lasting and have far-reaching implications? You don’t have to tell jokes. Just smile, be comforting, and talk about things you would normally discuss with them.

Secondly, don’t feel obliged to provide some kind of explanation. Rather than offering advice, solutions, or cures, just share in the person’s pain by touching them with a warm and tender hand. It will provide far greater comfort than trying to come up with a reason for their suffering. Remember Job’s friends?

2. What should our response be to God when we are coping with a recent loss in our lives?

It is difficult to see the hand of God when we are going through the greatest emotional pain of our lives. But it can provide some comfort if we know that God brings purpose to everything that happens to us, and that ultimately we will come to understand it.

Though I cannot predict what the future for my brothers and me would have been had our mother not met an untimely death, I do know that God has been gracious to all of us. My father remarried to a woman whose husband had died. She brought a daughter into that marriage and later my brother Donnie was born to that union. Had the circumstances been different for either my father or my stepmother, Donnie would not have been born. Neither would Donnie’s two children. Knowing how Donnie has impacted his world for Christ, and how his two children are serving the Lord today, it is obvious that these lives are bringing honor and glory to God.

The loss of my son is more recent, but it is easier now to see the hand of God in this loss. He was our third child, and after his birth my wife and I determined our family would be complete. After his death we decided to have another child. We obviously have no idea what kind of life and influence for the Lord Rustin would have had. We do know the life and influence for the Lord Royce has enjoyed, and he would not otherwise have been born.

Royce has always had an unusual tenderness toward people, and his life has demonstrated a rare compassion for others. He led Bible studies and Christian gatherings while in high school, and in college served as president of the Chi Alpha Campus Ministries for three years before entering medical school, where he is now in his third year. He has touched countless lives through his testimony and Christian witness, and many will make heaven their home because of him. How many more he will touch only time will tell.

God knows us intimately. He allows us to suffer loss for reasons that are rarely clear to us at the time, and may never really be clear to us in this life. But God is always concerned about our well-being. He has a master design for all of creation, and it perfectly includes each of our lives.

It is natural to feel a sense of loneliness during times of loss. It is natural to wonder why. It is also incumbent upon us to trust God completely. Job summed it up this way: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2, NIV).

DAVID MOORE is assistant vice president for Institutional Relations, The Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education.

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