Recently, we learned of a tragic incident of a widely respected, hard working young man from central Nebraska. Tragedies are confusing, frustrating and exhausting. I know all too well because I experienced tragedy firsthand. It has been incredible to see the outpouring of love and support for this particular family. But here are a few things to be aware of and remember in times such as this.
1. No one hurts more than the family, and the family is most important. The loss of this respected young man is difficult, on many levels and for so many people. But regardless of who it affects, there is no one more deeply hurt than the family. During this time, stories will be shared, tears will pour and hearts will hurt. But after tragedy strikes, most will get back into a “normal” routine shortly after. However, a family is changed forever. I lost my dad and brother when I was 7, and this last May marked 20 years since their passing. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about their lives. By now, when I think about them, I am not struck with sadness, but this was not an overnight process. For friends, coworkers and acquaintances, years go by without thinking of those men they shared life with. But me and my family, it was a daily occurrence. Love, support and admiration are great, but remember, this tragedy has altered a family for the remainder of their lives. Everything will be different now, and it takes a long time to adjust.
2. Even the best intentions can hurt a hurting family. It is a tremendous honor to share the greatness of a life lived well and with purpose, but during the tough times of mourning, privacy is necessary. Continue to honor the life, but keep a respectful distance. When tragedy struck my family, it was amazing to see how my dad and brother affected so many people. However, hearing those stories continued to hurt me, more and more and deeper and deeper. Not because I had to keep hearing about the amazing lives my dad and brother lived, but because I was reminded daily that many people had much more life experience with the important people in my development than I had. As years have passed, I welcome the stories! But those first 5 years or so were daily reminders that I missed out on a whole lot of their lives. Mourning is much more about the family than anyone else.
3. Be mindful of your words and tributes. A family mourns however they see fit. If you’re close to a family enduring a tragedy, be there at the drop of a hat. Emotions during this time are unpredictable and, often, beyond natural control. If you are fortunate enough to be the person someone who endures a tragedy reaches out to, don’t try to fix their feelings or correct their response. My family made it through by blowing off steam, venting, yelling and crying to the people we chose to share our feelings with. Don’t force anything on this family. If they want comfort, offer comfort. The most important thing you can be is an ear and the best action is a hug, handhold and tears.
4. Show how much a lost life mattered. The best we can offer for a family enduring tragedy is to remember the positive impact that life had on you. I can stand here today knowing my life turned out better than I would have ever imagined because of the lives my dad and brother changed. I would have struggled mightily if I would have thought those men left this earth without having influence on those they rubbed shoulders with. I find joy knowing, and seeing, the lasting affect my dad and brother had on people. They chose to make their lives on earth matter. And even though they were taken too early, according to me, my life mattered because they showed me, my family and the world how important each life is. I wish I could go back and live my life with them here, but I endured this tragedy in order to relay the importance of living well beyond what they had the opportunity to do.
A popular Bible verse used in times such as this, which can also be incredibly frustrating, is Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.(NASB, emphasis added). Tragedies are not good situations. More often than not, they are the absolute worst events in a person’s life. However, putting our faith in God is the first step to seeing how He can use something terrible for good.
If you choose to only see tragedies as negative, then hope is lost. Hope is our lifeblood that keeps us moving. Hope is not wishful thinking, but the eager expectation of something great. Without hope, there is no future. Questions will be asked. Anger may take over. And confusion could cripple a life. But restoring hope to a hopeless situation is the greatest honor for a life lived well. My dad and brother honored God with their lives. The young man referred to earlier honored God with his life. Keep the faith and remain hopeful, because on the horizon of awfulness, is greatness and strength. The absolute best way to honor a lost life, and the family enduring the loss, is to honor the principles they lived by and to allow the light of Christ to shine through difficult circumstances.
There is a time and season for everything. Mourning, joy, sadness and anger. But the result must produce hope. Without hope there is no future. Show how the lost life mattered by living a life that matters. Love well, be respectful, honor all people, speak truth, serve and stand by your principles. There is good on the horizon. It may be far off, but we can see it and its path lay before us. There is hope on the horizon. Always remember, someone’s future depends on the choices you make and the goodness you produce. Make your life matter.
Thank you for the wonderful example of living well and for showing how each of our lives matter.