During Holy Week, a friend from church, who also works with my husband in the medical field, lost her husband. It was sudden. Unexpected. A bunch of us worked together to provide a “mercy meal” at her home following the funeral. It’s something lots of people do as a way of providing comfort during a time of shock. But once this initial period is over, that’s when the real grief often begins. And that’s when friends of the one grieving often struggle with how to help. (Linda Robertson wrote a great article for Huff Post about this last year: “Weep With Those Who Weep… Please.”)
But we don’t just struggle at times of great personal loss of people we are close to. If we have any conscience at all, it’s also difficult to know how to respond to more universal tragedies. Who can watch the national news and not weep for the families who lost their teenagers on that ferry boat in South Korea? Or those who lost loved ones on the airplane that disappeared? In mud slides. Tornadoes. Floods. Fires. Recently I was texting with a friend in Tupelo who was holed up in his house with his family, praying the tornadoes tearing through his region would spare them. They did. But others weren’t so fortunate.
Today I am packing for a trip to Seagrove Beach, Florida, with my husband, children, and grandchildren. It is my favorite event, with my favorite people, at my favorite venue. I couldn’t be more excited. And yet while watching the news coverage of the worst flooding near our beach house in thirty years—bridges and roads washed out, some houses destroyed or damaged—I felt guilty because I was so concerned about how it would impact our vacation. Shouldn’t I only care about the lives of the people affected by these disasters? Is it okay to celebrate the good things in our lives while others are suffering? Does one person’s joy inflame another’s pain?
In the early days and weeks after my car wreck last July, I remember lying in the hospital bed in our home, or sitting in a wheelchair at the front door when I was alone and couldn’t leave the house. I watched as others went jogging by, or walking their babies in strollers, and some on bikes, and yes, I was envious. But their freedom to do those things wasn’t really adding to my pain. I had to force my sweet husband to leave me alone and go swim his laps after work some days. He felt guilty because I couldn’t enjoy the same freedom as he did.
These aren’t questions that have easy answers, but they are weighing heavily on my heart on this beautiful Friday afternoon in my neighborhood, when the sun is shining and the birds are singing and the blue sky is dotted with bright white clouds. Tomorrow night when I watch the sunset at my beloved beach, and all the days following which will be filled with joy—with the laughter of my granddaughters as they play in the sand and run from the waves and help Pops fly kites—I know I will be rejoicing why others are weeping. I can only assuage my guilt by helping others whenever I can—giving physical, financial, emotional or spiritual support in their times of grief. And then by turning to my family and welcoming them to the beach house for a week of bonding and rejoicing in the beauty of God’s creation.