There is seldom any greater need for kindness than when a person grieves. One of my dearest friends was Sandy. We worked together waiting on customers who came into the restaurant and playing jokes on the dishers and cooks. We would arrange it so we could take our breaks together. Even if it meant that one would have to come in early or stay late. She had schizophrenia and I worked hard to make her an assistant. Someone to be in charge while I was gone up north to open a new franchise. She was fired while I was away. We didn't need a Tin God, was the reason given to me.
She went from job to job after that with limited success and somewhere along the way she stopped taking her medications. She had to move back home with her parents and would frequently come in to tell my husband and I about her imagined engagement (ring and all) to Bob Dylan. Her parents disabled her car but that only led to her hitchhiking around town to various bars where she would sing. One night she came to my place and told me she was hitching to Oklahoma to see her grandparents. That was the last time I saw her. Two years later hunters found her remains in the desert, two men were arrested and convicted of her murder, Seems they had been bragging in a bar in Texas about how they raped and then stoned Sandy to death.
I asked myself 'What kind of God would do that?' She was the hostess at my wedding and I still have her picture waiting in my wedding album to give her. She'll never experience the joy of her own wedding day, the day to be beautiful in a white dress. The minister talked about the 'good' Lord who took her away to live with him. I did not pray again for a long time. I wanted no part of a God who would take away my best friend. I needed someone to lift me from my sadness, but no one did.
I wondered why no one had ever interpreted death to me. There were lots of explanations about life and how to live, but no words about death.
I had to face this problem again as a parent when my sons encountered death. I wanted them to have some kind of answer and not perceive it as a bad thing. I still don't know or understand it. It may be something I can never imagine. But I believe God, who gives peace beyond all understanding, will continue to love us. If God is love then we do not have to be anxious about what will happen to us. How I wish something like that had been said to me when Sandy died.
A wise parent will build up the concept of the soul when children are still young. Point to the child and ask 'Who is this?' If the answer is, 'Me,' then say, 'That is the body-house you live in, but not the real you. You are inside, special, separate.' Then if somebody close dies, that child may accept that the real person is still somewhere, not gone. We all share birth and death, and children experience both in their life's journey.
Pearl Buck expresses the experience in The Big Wave :
Kino (a child): What is death?
Father: Death is a great gateway.
Kino: The gateway--where?
Father:Can you remember when you were born?
Kino: I was too small.
Father : I remember very well. Oh how hard you thought it was to be born! You cried and screamed.
Kino: Didn't I want to be born?
Father: You did not. You wanted to stay just where you were in the warm, dark, house of the unborn. But the time came to be born and the gate of life opened.
Kino: Did I know it was the gate of life?
Father: You did not know anything about it so you were afraid of it. But see how foolish you were! Here we were waiting for you, your parents, already loving you and eager to welcome you.
That's it! That's what makes it possible for all of us, old and young, to face death with courage and hope. We do not know the details. There are surprises ahead, but through faith, God is waiting for us at the gateway. This is a gift we need to share with our children.
In memory of Sandra Kay Owen.