Matt's best man at his wedding was Jason. Jason, the Peace Corps volunteer, the artist, and the constant friend. Matt began a friendship with Jason that extended to Jason's family. Jason's Mom and Dad and younger sister, all became a second family to him, a very stable family when he needed it. Jason's parents, Ann and Randy, very graciously and lovingly stepped in and filled a gap that Matthew was experiencing at a very difficult time in his life, and were able to strike the balance between being confidantes, while at the same time not trying to become de facto parents. Jason's family took Matt with them to their lake house, and Randy taught Matt how to water ski - or at least tried to. Jason's parents were also very generous, not only with their time, but with their material resources, and as a high school graduation present, sent the two of them on a trip to Scotland - truly a gift of a lifetime. Jason's parents were always spoken of together - "Randy and Ann," or "Ann and Randy." It is hard to think of one without thinking immediately of the other.
Tragically, Randy died last week. He took a terrible fall down the stairs at their home and died less than 24 hours later as a result of the injuries incurred. We have all been in a state of shock, and trying to take it all in; knowing that as deep as our own grief may be, the lives of Randy's family - including his own wonderful parents - have been dealt an even more serious blow - far beyond our own capability to imagine. Yet this is the first loss of this kind by "The Four Horsemen." They are each trying to deal with it in their own way, and each is experiencing pain and grief that comes out of losing someone who was very special, and so very important in their lives.
Grief is an inevitable part of life. We all face the death of family and/or friends at some point in our lives, but even knowing that it will happen is not a preparation for the enormous sense of loss that is experienced. The long fatal illness of a loved one is supposed to prepare you for the inevitable, but it never really does. Because no matter how prepared you think you are for a loved one's death, you cannot imagine that staggering finality until it actually happens. Tragic, sudden loss takes you completely unaware. The world tips over. Even knowing that life holds no guarantees for tomorrow, most of us exist in our own world of the willful ignorance of our mortality - we act as though there will always be another tomorrow, that we will always have another day in which to love and live. When that rug of confidence is pulled out from beneath us, we fall; because even knowing what we know about the inevitability of death, we are still surprised by it. W. H. Auden, in his poignant poem "Funeral Blues," speaks eloquently of that all-pervasive sense of loss:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, Silence the pianos and with muffled drum Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead. Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves, Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. He was my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest, My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong. The stars are not wanted now; put out every one, Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun, Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
The sorrow expressed in Auden's poem is a common feeling during the first few weeks and months following the death of a family member or close friend. It seems impossible that the sun could come up in the morning ever again, because your own sun seems to have vanished. There is also denial. After the death of the father of one of my own friends, and also at the death of my own father, I dreamed they were somehow alive again. So real were the dreams, that each morning I had to face and experience anew the reality of their death. Pain attacked again and again. That all-encompassing sense of grief was ever-present, surgically sharp and precisely cutting into every aspect of life. It is unbearable, yet borne: grief simply is.
Offering a word of consolation to anyone experiencing grief is next to impossible, but most of us long to be able to give some comfort, to offer some respite from the heartbreak. Those words, sincerely offered and gratefully received, still do not wield a magic wand of inner peace or a lifting of bereavement. A terrible hole is carved out of a grieving soul's heart, and it is a hole that can never be filled, or gotten over, but it is one that you learn eventually to accommodate into your life. As time passes the joyful remembrances can block out or dull the sharp feelings of loss. Life does go on, and we wonder why it does, yet we wake each morning, and somehow continue to exist, to carry on. Grief is still constant in its attention, it is around and within us, grief simply is.
God does offer us strength for the journey through grief. While grief often simply is, it is God's perfect love that always was, always is, and always will be.
As ever, Gentle Reader, I wish you enough...