It is difficult to understand why God would allow a young, very much loved child to die. Why would He not answer the prayers of his family and cure him of his illness? What good can possibly result from his death? I read a heart-rending reflection by a father who was pondering such questions. He couldn't come up with any answers.
"There is only one positive thing I can see: My son will never be in my position. He will never have to undergo the sorrow of watching someone die."
What if someone close to me hasn't got long to live? How can I watch that person die? I imagine sitting by his side. How can I bear to witness his last suffering? I will go to pieces and be a crying mess. I can already feel the lump in my throat. Tears are threatening to seep from my eyes, so I thrust the thought away. My mind says, Enough! Don't think about that too deeply. It really is too painful to contemplate such a scene.
I heard a beautiful story of a son who spent days by the side of his dying mother. She had slipped into a state where she couldn’t recognise those around her. But each day the son kept vigil, and on her last night when she struggled to breathe, he climbed into bed beside her and held her close within his arms. He stayed there, suffering with his mother, until her last moment of life.
Of course, I have already watched someone die: my son Thomas. I had always thought I’d be frightened of witnessing a death and holding a dead body. I also thought I would be unable to bear the emotional pain. During Thomas’ pregnancy, whenever I imagined him dying, my mind froze. I couldn’t dwell on this probable scene for very long because I knew I’d start to despair.
But when the time came, I forgot my fear. I held Thomas in my arms after the doctors stopped treating him in the NICU, and there was no question of me abandoning him. Difficult though it was, I wanted to be with my son as he passed from this life to the next. Of course I cried with grief but I didn't go to pieces. I coped.
I think again of that man who had to witness the death of his son. It is true the child will never know the agony of sitting by a loved one's side and watching him die. He will never know the pain of ongoing grief. Thomas will never know those pains either. But they both must know how difficult it is for anyone to endure such sufferings. I'm sure they are very grateful we stayed with them until the last moment and longer. They must know just how much we love them.
It all really comes down to love. That same love that causes us so much pain that we are tempted to run away, also gives us the strength to stay. Love overcomes all our fears. It helps us do things we don’t want to do. Love enables us to hold onto the dying, embracing them closely. It encourages us to stay by their sides whispering comforting words and praying for their souls, until the very last moment. Love never lets us forget them. I guess it's the cause of our grief.
I think again about the possibility of having to watch a loved one die, and again my heart is gripped with fear. Don't think of the future. Live in the present moment, I tell myself. And I shall, because if sorrow does arrive, and a loved one needs me once again to keep him company during his last moments, I know God will be there and afterwards with His strength and His love. I also know that I have to do what I hope someone else will do for me.
Of course, witnessing the death of a loved one is only the beginning. The bereaved father thought he'd have to cope with an endless, meaningless grief. And yes, grief never really does disappear. But is it meaningless? Death might seem to result only in pain for those left behind, but I know that's not true. Suffering results in extraordinary graces. It has incredible value.
I have been thinking about something my dear friend Patricia said to me: Hearts that have had to accommodate huge grief, now also have room for so much more love. I keep tossing that thought around my mind.
Room for so much more love? We all have to love and love some more, until we love like God. That's our mission in life.
Could it be... we grieve because we love, but love grows and grows because of grief?
I know I haven't expressed my thoughts very well. I'm still pondering. I'm still tossing Patricia's words around my mind.
Thank you, Patricia.