Sep 18 2009

A Black Square (Death): Part 2

Published by at 12:53 am under Death

If you remember my story from part 1, I told about my time as a camp counselor during the summer of 2002 in Daytona Beach. One day, we were playing kickball. A counselor, Mitch, an offensive lineman for Eastern Tennessee State – 6’6”, 275 pounds – kicked the ball deep. Another counselor, John, ran to get it. As Mitch sprinted around third toward home, John was closing in fast. Everyone screamed in anticipation of the play. I was in the outfield and about that time, I looked at home plate. Lorena, a 10-year old oblivious to what was happening and eager for her turn to kick was standing ON home plate. And Mitch didn’t see her. I couldn’t offer any help. I could only stand and watch. Mitch plowed into Lorena. She was steamrolled to the ground as he somersaulted over the top of her.

Etched in Stone
I left for Chicago without anything to offer Alex but my presence. As one standing powerless in the outfield, scenarios ran through my head of what it would be like to see him for the first time. I walked in to a well-lit room with teal carpet and flower wallpaper. Alex was leaning against a bookcase. I hadn’t correctly envisioned the wave of emotion that washed over me. I got hot. My limbs felt heavy. Numbness seemed to swirl around my head and face. I began crying immediately. Alex walked toward me and I to him. We met in the middle and hugged.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” I repeated over and again.

It felt more as though he were comforting me. I couldn’t believe it. My friend’s brother was gone and so were words. I had nothing to say.

Presence with Silence

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Namathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance…they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. (Job 2:11-13)

It turns out that grieving people don’t need to hear a slew of words from everyone.

For once in my life, words failed me. Because I don’t think there ARE words. There is a time to tell stories but I learned that listening to people speak nervous, rambling words can be more annoying than comforting. They mean well, but they speak poorly. There are memories, yes. But there doesn’t need to be an endless stream of words. And that, among other reasons, is why we cry. It’s all we have. As sweat leaves the body through physical exertion, so tears leave with emotional exertion. And there is no greater emotion to be experienced than the finality of death. So we cry.

What I learned is that the grieving just need people to be with them. Presence communicates care. It was enough for Job and his friends to sit in silence for seven days after Job lost all his sons, daughters, possessions, and health. Ironically, it was later, when Job’s friends started talking, that things got ugly.

We’re All Outfielders But We Can Do Something
“…mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15). The shape mourning takes can change depending on the person and time of day. I learned to take cues from them. “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4,7). As their emotions shift from tears to silence to talking and back again, we shift with them. Cry, sit, listen, speak. Just be there.

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “A Black Square (Death): Part 2”

  1. Jessicaon 18 Sep 2009 at 3:39 am


  2. Lydiaon 18 Sep 2009 at 10:35 am

    I lost my Mom almost three years ago to cancer and how I wish people had understood the need for silence. Words can make certain situations more painful.

    Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom. I hope everyone who reads your post will take what you’ve said to heart.

  3. Antonon 18 Sep 2009 at 11:41 am

    I don’t really know Alex, but it turns out I have a lot of friends who do and I’ve been praying every day for his family. Andy, I’m really glad that you’re posting these and also that you went to Chicago and mourned with your friend. I’m someone who doesn’t really know how to act when it comes to mourning and it’s been good for me to read about how you handle it.

  4. Megson 18 Sep 2009 at 11:58 am

    i have often thought that people would do better just to hug, just to BE THERE than to open their mouths at times like these (the same goes for other personal tragedies/”deaths” like divorce). I try to remember that.

  5. Jenniferon 18 Sep 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Really glad you were there, sounds like he needed a good friend just to be there. That’s what good friends do.

  6. Elizabethon 19 Sep 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Good stuff, Andy.
    (Hard, but good.)

  7. Brad Hueberton 20 Sep 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Wonderful, bro. I love your writing voice and the tenderness you are able to capture with your words. Keep going, I’m cheering.

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