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Consoling Myself


What do you say when someone dies? I have read the comments of many grieving people who have been hurt by tactless remarks from their “miserable comforters.” Fear of offending someone who is already hurting has often made me feel awkward and self-conscious. Sometimes it has stopped me from saying anything, perhaps making me look uncaring when, in fact, I feel deep concern for the other person. Other times, I wonder if perhaps my self-consciousness has caused me to say something unintentionally offensive.

For the past nine months I have been on the receiving end of condolences, and either I have remarkably unself-conscious, thoughtful, socially adept, and caring friends (a very likely possibility), or I have chosen to appreciate the fact that they care enough to express their concern and would never knowingly offend me. I cannot remember receiving a single hurtful comment.

I have been impressed that even strangers are quick to say the right thing when they learn of my loss. I have had to make many phone calls changing accounts to my name or taking care of my husband’s business affairs. Without exception, before conducting the business at hand, the person will say, “First of all, let me offer my condolences,” or “I’m so sorry to hear of your loss,” or some other expression of concern.

Frequently I receive phone calls for Ted from telemarketers—usually stereotyped as rude people, right? They, too, are so taken aback when I tell them Ted has died that they quickly offer their condolences and tell me they will update their records. They don’t even think to ask me if I would like to contribute to their worthy cause!

Today was an exception. I received a phone call from a cheery woman asking for Ted. Since she didn’t say “Theodore,” I thought she might be a personal acquaintance who was unaware he had passed away. I braced myself to tell her the news. “May I ask who is calling?” I said. She gave the name of her charity. I told her Ted had died last September. “Will you repeat that?” she asked. I repeated it. “Oh, no problem,” she replied. “I’ll update our records.”

No problem? I think not. But I console myself that one fewer telemarketer will be dialing my number.

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Good Grief


                Over the past months, as I have been dealing with Ted’s battle with pancreatic cancer and with his death in September, my reading choices have naturally gravitated toward books, articles, and devotions dealing with grief.  Devotions are best, because they are short enough for me to absorb and have an inspiring message.  However, I did tackle Philip Yancey’s new book, The Question That Never Goes Away, which deals with one aspect of grief:  asking Why?   As you might guess from the title, this is a question that will not be answered with certainty this side of heaven.  But often we do ask it.

                Yancey wonders whether it would really relieve our heartache to know why a loved one was taken now, in this particular way.  He suggests that since we cannot know why, we should concentrate on our response:  “Find meaning in the midst of suffering and offer real and practical help to those in need.”  What meaning might be found in the death of someone we love?  One possible answer is that my grief and the caring responses of others to the death of one man confirm the value of each of us in God’s sight.  The universe is not a cosmic accident without good or evil, without purpose, as some scientists would have us believe.  We matter.  By responding to death with personal grief and caring support to those who are suffering, we acknowledge the existence of God, the reality of a moral universe.

                It is important to have your theology sorted out before you face a crisis.  All Christians are theologians, whether they realize it or not.  Our lives display our beliefs.  Back in June when Ted learned that the chemo was no longer working, and that a more potent medicine with intolerable side effects would add only  a few months to his life, he chose to accept his imminent death as God’s will.  I don’t think he ever asked Why?   Yes, he wanted to live; he enjoyed life, and he loved me, his children, his grandchildren, and his friends.  He wanted to stay.  Yet more than that, he loved and trusted God and desired His will.  His peaceful acceptance has made his passing to eternal life less difficult for me, but certainly it has not been easy!

                We know death is the enemy.  And we know that Jesus struggled with God’s will when He faced His own suffering and death.  We also know that at the death of His friend Lazarus, “Jesus wept.”  These thoughts give me comfort, and keep me from vainly asking “Why?”

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I am a Christian, a mother and grandmother, a sister, a daughter, a teacher, a widow, a friend. . .  My life is first of all defined by relationships–to God, to my family, to my students, to my friends. Of course, I am many other things: a reader, an e-mail writer, a piano player, and a somewhat reluctant traveler, for example.  And now I am a blogger.  I’m not sure why, except it seems to be a logical next step for someone addicted to e-mail.