I just received word through the social media grapevine that a couple that I knew only distantly in college suffered a great tragedy – the husband was killed in a car wreck late last night and she is now widowed with 6 young children and a 7th on the way.
Tomorrow is the 1 year anniversary of death of another friend from college who was diagnosed, fought, and died valiantly from an intense form of cancer all in a couple of months time. His wife was also left widowed with 3 young children, pregnant with their 4th.
On Dec. 12, a lovely young mother here in town also died from cancer, after 6 months of fighting, leaving behind her husband and 3 daughters who are 3, 2, and 6 months old. She was only 32.
Y’all, these are such tragic, sad stories. They break my heart and make me weep copious amounts of tears – for the families, for their suffering and shock. For their children, for the loss they will now grow up with. For the spouses, for their heavy, heavy crosses. And, in some ways, for myself, in fear that it could happen to us next. In thanksgiving, that it wasn’t us.
This is why I often dislike social media. It seems like every other story is something awful – it’s a fire, a shooting, an upsetting cause of death, a natural disaster. Stories of loss and sorrow swirl around and around and we get caught up in it. We lose ourselves. We cry on our beds at night and beg God to not take our child/spouse/parents/best friends. We start freaking out about every possible thing that could cause harm to someone we love. These responses are, of course, normal because our natural inclination as humans is to try to avoid death.
The funny thing is, this is that we quickly forget that someday it WILL be us. Someday (if we haven’t already), we WILL suffer the loss of someone we love. We will have to let go of those we hold so onto so tightly in order that they might go back to the One they came from.
And, someday, it WILL be us, taking our dying breaths. Perhaps carrying some cross of suffering. Or, more than likely, after a long, full life, God will allow our heart to stop beating, our breaths to stop coming, and we’ll go home to Him without much fanfare or noise.
But why is all this talk about death so important? Why should we spend time reflecting on and perhaps mourning for and with families or people that we didn’t know very closely or who’s story we’ve only heard because of other people sharing it? Or, even thinking about those loved ones we’ve already lost?
Because, death reminds us how to live NOW, this day, this moment.
These stories we encounter or maybe even the loss in our own lives should give us pause and challenge us to do better with the day we have been given –
to look at our kids longer, to spend more time with them than with our phones or TVs or computers;
to appreciate our spouse more and forgive quickly, to tell them thank you often;
to do things we love with people we love or to do things we DON’T love with people we love and make them joyful anyways;
to eat good food, have a treat, see the beauty in nature and to truly enjoy all the small things that we generally take for granted;
most importantly, to thank God that our story isn’t over, that there’s more life for us to live, that we have a chance to make our life the best we can for one more day.
As the always wonderful Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen put it, “It is not so much what happens in your life that matters; it is rather how you react to it.” Whether the tragedy or loss affects us personally or we are just following along from the outside, what will make the difference in the end is how we respond to it. We can drown in sorrow and fear, allowing those things to damage our quality of life. Or, we can offer it back to God, allowing Him to refine & strengthen us by fire.