March 1, 2012
I knew the kid. My husband just said that to me, as he had found out that his ex-wife’s cousin died of an overdose. I knew the kid. Making a statement like that almost always makes us feel old and consider our own mortality all at once. The past tense makes it clear that what we had is no more. The term for someone younger proves to us that we are older. Mortality of course is one of those issues for reflection during Lent.
Human and mortal are really synonymous, but we often exist as if they are not, deluding ourselves into thinking that we just keep on keeping on, putting one foot in front of another…tomorrow is another day. Several years ago I did my cousin’s funeral. He committed suicide when he was 26. He had no known history of mental illness, no health problems, no big life traumas. He had been a criminal justice major and so owned a gun. He took it early one morning out to the golf course in Flagstaff and shot himself in the head.
It was a long time before anyone in his family thought that tomorrow was another day. All they could exist in was the grief of the present. I watched my aunt in particular go through all those normal stages of grief: denial, anger and blame, and then eventually the more restorative ones including acceptance. She was broken for a long time, buried under the untimely and tragic loss of her son compounded by losing her husband to complication of diabetes a year later.
When tragedy and loss, suffering and pain surround us, how do we continue to function? How do we entrust our fragile hearts to all the perils of life? How do we live without suits of armor protecting our vulnerabilities, including the emotional ones?
I think faith is the only answer. The resiliency of the human spirit is really the presence of the Holy Spirit. We hear God calling to us, often in the form of others who need us, indifferent to our pain and suffering. People who lose children always do better when they have surviving children they are forced to care for. Those people and situations who need, need, need – that is God working to get us back to a place of functional health. We grow stronger because of what we have survived – the tragedies that eventually open us up to more blessings. We are human and mortal – delicate creatures of God’s.