November 4, 2012 92 Comments
A couple of years ago when I was recovering from illness and couldn’t yet live on my own I rented a room for a year from a very sweet family who had originally come from the Middle East. They took me into their home and into their hearts and when I eventually moved back to Sacramento we kept in touch.
A few weeks ago I enjoyed a happy phone conversation with my friend and I heard about the wonderful, long overdue trip she, her husband and two college-age daughters took this summer to visit their aging parents and grandparents in Iran. We ended our talk with my promise to make the two-hour drive to visit them over the upcoming holidays.
Saturday afternoon I was a little surprised to see my friend’s phone number blinking on the receiver.I could immediately tell from the tone of her voice that something was not right. She said that two days ago her oldest daughter awoke from sleep because she was having trouble breathing. They dialed 9-1-1 and she was taken to emergency. A short while later she went into a deep coma. The rest of the story is like a bad dream.
They discovered the daughter had an inoperable cyst in her brain and the next day tests showed that her brain activity had ceased altogether. My friend ended by saying that they would be taking her off life support Sunday afternoon. There are no words to reply to news like this so we wept together on the phone, she for her daughter and I for her.
The girl was just 21, a recent college graduate who was planning on entering medical school and hoping to later work with Doctors without Borders. She was very intelligent and extroverted with a larger-than-life personality and laugh. She lit up the house with her warmth and vitality.
When children die before their parents, the natural order is disturbed. It is especially painful when the children are young and did not drink deeply of all that life has to offer. Right now my friend and her family are in shock. Real grieving will arrive later when they realize there will be no future with this daughter in it. Family holidays will never be the same, the day of her birth will now be mirrored on the calendar with the day of her death, in their old age there will be one daughter missing from their bedside.
After we hung up I thought about my friend’s sudden and dramatic loss and compared it to another phone call I had received just last week. This was also an announcement about death but this time the person was my age. He was dying from terminal cancer and had only weeks left to live. His family, too, were in shock but there was time for their leave-taking, there was time to give and ask for forgiveness, to express love and say goodbye. His life had been long enough for many opportunities.
In both cases the families are asking “why.” Why him, why her, why now, why like this. It reminds me of that period of time when a child is four or five and follows every statement with the question – why? Why is the sky blue? Why is sugar sweet? Why do birds fly? Why do we have five fingers? Eventually, the parent in exasperation will often say, “Just because.” Because ends further interrogation. This non-answer becomes the answer.
Why are some deaths so terrible, why is there illness, why do the innocent suffer, why isn’t life fair … the big questions can’t be answered by the mind; they are divine mysteries. To make this life bearable, to appreciate its sweetness, to live through the dark as well as the light and find some peace, we have to disengage our egos. We have to give up our desire to control life’s direction and outcome, and to acknowledge our submission and our dependence on the Divine. When we are Christians, we say Not my will but Thine be done; when we are Muslims, we say Insha’Allah. Bon voyage, Shahed.
“…All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”. Julian of Norwich