Finding Comfort Where None is to be Found

This article was written by Christine A. Scheller, and was originally posted at on Huffington Post’s website.

It took me all weekend to get used to hearing the name Gabrielle Giffords reported in the tragic context of the Tucson shootings. Not only was the event horrific, but I also couldn’t shake the similarity of the congresswoman’s name to that of my late son Gabriel Gifford Scheller. The endless stream of news triggered a wave of memories from when police showed up at my door in the early morning hours of March 29, 2008 to report that Gabriel had killed himself. The horror of an event like that is so vast that unless you have lived through one like it, you can’t truly comprehend it. One moment, life is mundane, ordinary, perhaps even joyful. The next, it is torn to shreds so completely that you believe with every ounce of your being that it is over. At least I did.

And I was right, in a sense. Everything I thought I believed in was called into question, and everyone I thought I trusted was placed into one of two categories: safe or unsafe. Safe people didn’t say much and if they did, they most certainly did not speak in spiritual platitudes or pronounce judgment on the situation or on my son. Unsafe people did and do pretend to understand, minimize the horror or its impact, express some perverse need to identify with it, or otherwise just creep me out.

My husband had absolute peace that Gabriel was with God, but he really struggled with flashback images of how Gabe killed himself. I didn’t wrestle as much with our son’s final moments as I did with where he is now and why he did what he did. A friend who is a psychiatrist counseled me early on to give up the second battle because, he declared, “Suicide is inherently an irrational act; it will never make sense.” (Likewise, random acts of public violence.) A Lutheran pastor comforted me by saying that how we die doesn’t determine where we spend eternity.

Over the past couple days, I have heard the tragedy in Tucson blamed on irresponsible political rhetoric and mental illness, neither of which provide satisfactory answers. In situations like these, we long for some kind of solace, for someone to tell us we and our loved ones are safe. In D. Michael Lindsay’s book Faith in the Halls of Power, former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson is quoted as saying, “When people are presented with entirely unfair and unreasonable suffering, the president of the United States has to assure them … that the universe has meaning, and that the universe is not an emptying, echoing void.” Gerson goes on to say that complaints about politicians’ use of religious rhetoric don’t often emerge in the context of public tragedy. Thus we waited for our president to speak.

We don’t want just anyone to tell us that everything will be okay both in this life and in the next; we want someone with authority to say it. My husband, a former pastor and longtime Bible teacher, was too paralyzed with grief and shock to attend to the practical details of our son’s funeral, but he was able to get up and spontaneously preach a mini-sermon that comforted many, including me. I couldn’t access my faith, but I was able to take comfort in his. Conversely, as he struggled with those terrible mental images, I shared with him something that had helped me when I kept mentally replaying the final moments of friends who had died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. I realized one day as I was praying that they had only lived through the horror of Flight 93 crashing to the ground for an instant and then it was over. The same was true for Gabe’s final moments.

An old friend also sent me a note encouraging me to take solace in beauty wherever I could find it. As I took her advice, the beauty around me ministered to me and reminded me, as Gerson suggests, that order coexists with chaos. The universe is not an emptying, echoing void. A glorious California sunset would break through the kitchen window as tears flowed over the dishes I tried to do. The bougainvillea came into bloom despite my grief. My other son, who had been suffering from clinical depression for five years, finally received a correct diagnosis and the help he needed. We moved home to New Jersey and to the warm embrace of the family and friends we had missed so much when we lived out west.

There was good to be found, but none of it made up for, or brought meaning to the loss. It co-existed (co-exists) with it. Violence, whether it be self-inflicted or directed outward, teaches us that ours is an undeniably broken world. Yet even in this horrible moment when one young man walked into a crowd and shattered the lives of so many, another ran toward the bullets to provide triage to his wounded boss and to others around her. Three people conspired to stop the gunman as he struggled with his weapon. In a split second everything changed again. For him, for the people present, for their families, for his family, for the Congress, and for us. As we haggle and fight over what happened and about what needs to be done in light of it, may we not forget the sustaining beauty that exists in every moment we are privileged to live on this earth. Even the dark ones.

Photo Credit.

6 Comments:

  1. Jenny said on January 22, 2011 at 10:33 am ... #

    This morning my devotion guide reminded me to give thanks even on the grey days. I lost the love of my life unexpectantly 5 months ago. Sam survived cancer twice, but did not survive the complications of an emergency surgery. I check this website often and today I am thankful I did. I am so touched and comforted by the words of this article. Christine, I am sorry for your loss. I want to thank you for sharing your pain, your honesty and comforting words. In the grey days of winter, it is hard to see the beauty of God. You have reminded me to look for beauty each day. I am trying to co-exist with loss and not finding it easy. I also find others to be either safe or not so safe…they do not know what to say, do not acknowledge your grief or say all the wrong things. I struggled for weeks with how Sam died since I did not make it to the hospital in time. I am comforted by the words of the pastor, how we die does not determine where we spend eternity. Through all your pain and loss, you have written something so beautiful and so comforting to someone else living with grief. For your article, I am thankful. May God fill us with his peace and comfort us in our sorrow as we co-exist with a world full of chaos and beauty.

  2. e. surles said on February 20, 2011 at 9:39 am ... #

    This evening at after 5:30 I will have lost my child who died on february 20, 2009.I grive for my son each day and if tears would bring Him back He would already be here.I question everything and the hurt never goes away.My son spoke three languages fluntly and was a gifted pianist and the person that hurt Him still walks free. I miss my son who loved his family and was a good person.There are parents that say their child is a good person and you find out that child was not what the parent said. I know Iam a teacher but, my son was a good good person.And I ask WHY?

  3. Pam Erwin said on February 28, 2011 at 10:51 pm ... #

    I lost my son to suicide on May 16,2010. We are not in control- the Lord is. Our loved ones are in the most peaceful,beautiful place. I have heard that even when a leaf falls from a tree, it disappears before it hits the ground. Focus on your blessings daily, & not the loss. Make a list daily, & focus on one blessing a day.

  4. maria said on March 5, 2011 at 2:17 pm ... #

    My son Andrew 17, was murdered October 5,2010. My heart is broken. I wonder if he is safe. I feel so alone. I know that GOD is with me. On the night he was killed, I heared him leave this earth. We were far from one-another. I heared his last breath. I then felt him exit
    I then woke up. I then received the phone call. I struggle every day.

  5. naomi said on March 14, 2011 at 1:32 am ... #

    My son Bobby took his life 2-21-2011..now three weeks ago tomorrow..I am not sure what im feeling right now…its a mixture of emptiness,love sick like nausea,sadness for his 3 siblings and anger of not being able to be there to grab him and hold him to cry his pain away with him. I know God and Trust in his promises to us and my other childrens faces every morning and all of the love our community has shown for him and us is what has brought my strength to cintinue pressing forward.I also felt him slip from me that day as a mother i think that connection from womb to world is always there. I was sad that whole monday for no explained reason and then i got the call that family needed to get to the hospital quick..Why Quick? i still dont know, he was already gone. But right then i knew and will tell everyone for the rest of my life…if someone just so happens to cross your mind or stay on your mind for a while, “Call them.” A few encouraging words or just letting them know you think of them, may make a difference. He had so much about to happen in his favor but the puzzle peices had been placed and his picture here on earth completed. I had hi, 18 years dec 14 2010, but in my heart & mind for eternity. I love you my lil Bobby(pj)W. and will see you again.

  6. Kelly said on March 22, 2011 at 7:47 pm ... #

    thank u for sharing ur story i am sorry for ur loss

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