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
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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