Today is the anniversary of my wife’s death. She died in a freak accident that still leaves me puzzled years later. This time of year always lays heavy on my heart but a few blog posts from different directions hit me. Flos Carmelli, in particular had a very interesting series of posts, (The comments and responses are also very enlightening.)
Because of my wife’s death this subject is of more than academic interest to me. I hope she is among those who have been saved. I am not sure I am in the top half of worthy humans so I certainly home “multitudes” are saved. I also believe there are evil people who have rejected God. That exhausts the limits of my knowledge on this subject.
The other subject that I had to face was the role of chance, contingency, and perhaps luck in our lives. My wife died at age 39, in the presence of her 12, 10 and 3 year old sons. She suffocated when a piece of camping equipment landed on her. The “zone of danger” was very small, approximately 3 feet square. The hazard existed only for about 5 seconds and you had to face a particular way to get a fatal result. My wife had to get up from her position and move into the danger zone within a few seconds for all of it to happen the way t did. Although my sons were the first aid response, their efforts were unsuccessful.
I was away on a business strip and had arrived earlier that evening, the Wednesday before Easter. She and the boys were on a short camping trip, to arrive Holy Thursday afternoon. As a family we would observe Good Friday, and celebrate Easter with our combined extended families. The accident happened at 2:30 a.m on Holy Thursday. Easter did not happen that year.
The cascade of events leading up to her death was so precise, it could not have been planned any better. I realized that “Why?” was not a question with any meaningful answer. I did decide a few things. God did not “intend” (in the same way we humans intend) for my wife to die. A series of random contingent events happened, as they happen every day. God does not intend for three young boys to watch their mothers suffocate. That leaves us with a mystery. God has the power to intervene, but does not, whether it’s mothers suffocating or passenrsers on American Flight 11.
I concluded from that, and from listening to other stories when I later joined the bereavement ministry, that God’s consistent failure to work miracles to save lives is somehow related to the concept of free will. I can’t get any closer than that.
Interestingly, in our bereavement ministry classes we collect the top ten stupid things people say to those who are grieving for a lost loved one. Number one on the list—by far:
“It’s God’s will.”
Number 2: “I know exactly how you feel.” Number 3, for people like me, “You’re lucky you’re still young, you’ll find somebody fast.” My own personal favorite was “My dog died lat week, I know just how you feel.” Told to my 3 year old son: “God needed another mother in heaven to watch over all the babies that died.” My son replied simply, “I need my mom, He can go find another one.”
All of these people mean well, but the comments all display a belief that somehow God plays some form of cosmic chess game with humans as pieces. I don’t think this is true. I am not sure of God’s plan for us. I do not know why thing happen the way they do and how God works in our lives. I am very suspicious of those people who claim that they do know. I do not believe that God works miracles (defined as departures form the laws of nature) very often and perhaps only a handful have occurred in the last 1900 years. I think He very seldom interferes in human events. I know He cares for us, but He cares in ways that we cannot comprehend and it is unfair of us to think He will intervene miraculously in our lives.
I do believe in the power of the Eucharist, a miracle that occurs daily. I believe that God speaks to me in the silence of the Blessed Sacrament chapel.
My next post will discuss the role that our priests play when we are dealing with the loss of our loved ones.