I was sitting in my usual meditation place, ready to practice Centering prayer, when my daughter Sophia came in and said, “I’m leaving.” The words, “Bye, have fun!” were on my lips when I caught myself and stopped at “Bye…” Sophia was going to a memorial service for her 17-year old-friend and last year’s prom date, Pat. Pat died in a car accident on March 22, 2014. He was hit by a car while crossing a street in St. Pete Beach. His friends who had been waiting for him at a restaurant saw his body lying in the street. They all had rented a room together in St. Pete Beach to celebrate the beginning of their last high school spring break.
How do you say good-bye to your daughter when she is going to a memorial service of a friend she sat next to in sixth period at school, who won’t be sitting there on Monday? How do you talk to your 17-year-old about the death of her friend? How do you bring God into this event? Where is God in the death of a 17-year-old boy about to leave for college?
While Sophia was at the memorial service, I sat in silence and prayed and held all of the grieving kids and especially Pat’s parents up to God’s care… That was the only way I knew how to practice the presence of God at that moment and how to feel connected to a God who I know is loving. I don’t like God’s timing and I don’t understand why a 17-year-old boy who has always been kind and considerate to everybody had to die. I don’t understand it but I know by faith that God is in all of life and God is also with us in death.
Sophia wrote a Facebook entry for her friend Pat as all of his friends did. It said,“Thank you for being the most amazing prom date and friend. Rest in paradise, Pat we all love and miss you.”
This blog is about practicing the presence of God in all of life and the Holy in the ordinary events of life. Is death an ordinary event in life? Logically, I can say yes, death is a part of life!
Can I see the death of a 17-year-old as Holy and practice the presence of God in it? Definitely not! I am not one of those people who could say to the parents that their son was “called to be back home with God” or that it was “his time to go home” or that “God is taking care of him.” I still question God and ask “WHY? Why God, why does a 17-year-old boy have to die?”
My friend Runelle’s daughter Margaret was murdered by Ted Bundy in 1978. Runelle is the most loving and kind woman you will ever meet. When I first met Runelle and she told me about her daughter’s death, I could not believe my ears when she said that God has blessed her with feeling no hatred toward the murderer of her daughter. I asked Runelle to share a sentence or two for this blog entry and she wrote, “Jack [her husband] and I realized that there was no acceptable alternative than to go on with our lives. God’s grace, many prayers offered for us, and counseling gave us the strength to carry on; God was with us every moment.”
God was with us every moment, wrote a woman who lost her daughter to the cruelest murder I can imagine.
Runelle, I admire you and I look to you with awe, learning how to accept and experience the presence of God in all of life. You are truly living what Kent Nerburn wrote in his beautiful book, Ordinary Sacred:
“We are not called only to proclaim God but to be the presence of God, reflected.”Kent Nerburn – “Ordinary Sacred“
My friend Ann’s son, Frederick John Cox, died at the age of 27 in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. His favorite quote was, “Do what you love; love what you do!” Though Freddy’s life was taken at a tragically young age, he spent his years truly living! He celebrated each day and turned adversity into opportunity for growth.
I was blessed to be part of Ann’s grieving and healing journey. I am humbled by her courage and determination to turn this excruciating loss into good for other children with her non profit organization, Bettaplace.
Ann wrote, “At age 21, Freddy dropped a friend off at home after a night out at a party. His friend went into the house and committed suicide with a gunshot to the head. This is an excerpt from an essay that Freddy wrote afterwards:
‘Learn from your experiences; good or bad. But why does it take such drastic measures to create a lesson in life for some people? So it all comes down to WHY? But to strive to answer that question will only lead to dead ends. To stop asking why and accept and believe will be the only step that will move you forward on your journey in life. Don’t look at that day. It is important to remember the good things, and not to dwell on that day.’
When Fred died on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center on 9-11, I used his own words to save me from myself. I never looked at any images of 9-11 or at Ground Zero. When Ground Zero was completely cleared one year later, I went to New York to see where my son, whose first breath I witnessed, breathed his last breath. I created a foundation in his honor, and published the childhood story I told him as a boy, as a children’s book, with illustrations and songs. As Fred pointed out, I learned so many lessons…and I learned new ways to get closer to God, as I travel the road of grief and forgiveness. As for losing my son…I have no words. But today my best prayer is, ‘Dear God, show me what you want me to do, because I really want to do it. Amen.'” I love you Ann and I am grateful for the presence of God, reflected in you.
Today, I am meditating on what Mary might have felt on this Friday so many years ago when she watched her son die on the cross, and I am praying for all mothers who have lost their sons and daughters…
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. Rest in paradise, Pat, Freddy and Margaret, we love and miss you.”