I find myself still looking at the stories and images of the mother who lost her parents and her beautiful children in a fire on Christmas morning. I study them as if I might identify what enables her to survive such loss. Photos from the funeral captured the bewildered, distraught faces of mother and father watching the coffins of their daughters being carried into the church. Her face crumpled in grief, his raw with pain. How will they go on? How do us humans do it? What is it that keeps us going, through those horrible minutes, hours, days, weeks, months? Perhaps only years will make the ache sear less.
Heartbreaking stories like this one can be found in some community, every day. This one haunts me because it happened only minutes from where I live. They did not live in a war zone or a blighted ghetto – she had everything and still lost it all. If it can happen to her…
And yet I look at her and marvel: she bravely comforts the father of her children, sharing stories of her beautiful girls and making plans for their remembrance. Making plans. Carrying on. She will carry on with this business of living even as, (I can’t help imagining) she wishes she were dead. The human spirit is magnificent.
We lose the ones we love most in the world — and yet, continue to live. Most of us still find a way. Such losses can seem impossible from the outside. Part of me wants to turn away from this terrible story, it feels wrong and voyeuristic to want to know more. But I cannot help wanting to, even as I observe with dread. As if I might see how to arm myself against comparable experiences. This same thing is unlikely to happen to me, but there is no escape from what life doles out to us and something else as terrible might again. How would I go on?
We all eventually lose what may seem to be the source of all love — a lover, a spouse loses their soulmate, a child loses a parent, and most horrible of all – a mother loses her children, and still find the will to live. Slowly, slowly finding moments of laughter, once again discovering the beauty in light and recognizing the myriad of feelings beyond the numbing punch of grief that once threatened to end it all. How? Many have the comfort of their faith guiding them through. But even those of us without the clarity of belief in the wisdom or master plan of a God, there is something greater than the fear of death that keeps most of us going.
I see around these parents, a beauty glimmering like a haze softening the curtain of anguish. Somehow, in the darkness of mourning we must sense something, some light of hope. Or perhaps we see it reflected in those who gather to comfort us. In a New York Times article on the funeral a man who only shared the same church with the family called out to the children’s father as he passed by “Brother, I love you,” and according to the man the father reached over and said “I love you, too.” Perhaps that’s it – what drives us forward from our loss, just love.