I have never witnessed any greater sorrow. Uncontrollable tears, loud wailing, face afire with anguish, trembling from head to toe. The mother holding her 3-year-old son who was just pronounced dead by the doctor in the emergency room. The ER staff had worked for nearly an hour to resuscitate this little boy who had wondered into a farm pond. Amidst all her misery and woe this mother clutched her dead son with all her might, holding him as close as possible, stroking his curly hair, maintaining a hysteria of tears.
This scene of unbelievable sorrow and grief which I have witnessed repeatedly in my years of ministry, prompts my recalling the unbelievable agony of Mary watching her son Jesus being crucified. Any of us parents to watch such an ongoing atrocity would be beyond words in anguish and anxiety; and to think Mary’s agony lasted many hours before the final three hanging on a cross. It is no wonder so many Christians for so many centuries refer to Jesus’ mother as the “Sorrowful Mother”; so realistically and graphically depicted by Michelangelo’s white marble “Pieta” statue – Mary holding her dead, crucified son at the foot of the cross.
Perhaps the most impressive experience for me in all hospital emergency rooms was facing parents with a deceased child yet with a calm, tearless grandmother who stated: “We need to celebrate that my grandchild is joyfully in heaven”. What a profession of faith and belief in Jesus’ promise. I responded, “Yes, you are right. Yet, we are all jolted and shocked at the sudden loss of such a young and innocent life”. Countering the usual expectancy of years of living, makes a child’s death such a severe trauma for parents, as well as for all of us.
How is it that I am to comfort wailing parents in an emergency room whose son (riding a bike) was struck by a car, or the young couple whose infant first-born lies dead from “crib death” or the parents whose teen was just killed in an auto crash? Looking back over my 59 years of ordained ministry, I feel I stand before the Lord Jesus [to whom I keep seeking to dedicate my life] with guilt and shame – never in faith enough to ask Him to resurrect one of these many dead children. Where is my faith? Where is my dedication?
Further it is so unfortunate that we, including myself, do not express much gratitude for life and health, expecting them to be granted as our due; ignoring the fragile and vulnerable nature of human life.
So often it is not until we experience loss that we express gratitude for what we HAD. Taking for granted youth, health, wealth and happiness, typifies where most of us are most of our lives. Most of the time it takes sickness, poverty or old age to get us to appreciate and to bend our knees in prayerful thanksgiving. So enthralled with the gifts of this earth, we can easily refuse to acknowledge its brevity, putting us on a surprised collision course with death.
The disruption and termination of life’s amenities, so much enjoyed here and now, require the rational maturity to see them all as temporal; their eventual vanish as a mist.
Pretending, as with our heads in the sand, that our life here and now is secure for a good long time, is the ultimate rejection of rational behavior.
It is only hereafter that we can anticipate the shedding of no tears. Although in so many ways we all live in a valley of tears, many tears are self-imposed by not living to leave here.
The Rev. John Burkhart, Ph.D., is a retired Episcopal priest and professor of psychology; he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at inspirationsandideas.