It happens more often than not. A loved one dies abruptly in a car crash just moments after leaving church. A mother and father outlive their son. A terminal illness is contracted, inflicting its recipient with a five-month death tag. A glowing newlywed has a miscarriage. Regardless of the circumstances, death always stalks that loved one you couldn’t envision life without and violently uproots them from existence, leaving you with a gaping emotional laceration and an endless list of questions.
A predominant one might be, “Why did God allow this to happen?” Even King David speculated this when the Lord smote Uzzah after he “reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled” (2 Sam. 6:6). Uzzah was simply trying to secure the ark of God, yet he was struck down. This enraged David and prompted him to name the site “Perez Uzzah,” signifying the outbreak against Uzzah (6:8).
With senseless deaths occurring incessantly, is it acceptable to blame God? Jennifer Taylor, production director for Bailey Publications and BTC Media, doesn’t believe so.
“I feel people are given free will and this is why bad things happen,” Taylor said.
Taylor lost her true love, David, in an auto accident on March 1, 1987, three months before their daughter Mary was born. It was a Saturday afternoon when things went amiss. David had a car he raced on weekends and Taylor noticed it was gone. She said this triggered an immediate sense of foreboding, prompting her to call his family, friends and ex-wife.
Taylor knew something bad had happened because he was supposed to get his kids that Sunday and never showed. Taylor said he wouldn’t have forgotten his children. A call to a local news station confirmed a 31-year-old male died in an accident involving a TR-4, David’s car. After the parents were notified, an officer was sent so Taylor could identify the driver’s license. It was a match.
“I was numb,” Taylor said. “I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t cry. I lost 10 pounds in three days.”
Taylor said all she had was her precious baby growing inside her and so she became her focus. She had to become her focus if she was going to make it through this tragic event in her life.
Another who knows of tragedy is Bethany Shanahan, a controller for NDA. Shanahan’s mother died in 1996 from an infection that occurred in the hospital during a bone marrow transplant meant to treat her cancer.
Shanahan remembers when the grim news was first revealed to her. Her dad told her and her siblings in the living room of their house after school. She already knew tragedy had struck because of the cars parked in the driveway, vehicles that were supposed to be in Arkansas with her mom.
“My dad was having trouble with the words,” Shanahan said. “So I said, ‘She died, didn’t she?’ He totally broke down and said, ‘Yes, she did.’ I felt extremely awkward watching him cry and took the first opportunity to go to my room so I could be alone.”
An article on Helpguide.org, “Coping with Grief and Loss,” defines grief as a natural response to loss and the emotional suffering people feel when something or someone they love is taken away. The article states that grieving is a personal and highly individual experience; the way in which one mourns is determined by his or her life experiences, personality and coping styles, faith and the nature of the loss. The daily effects of grief reveal these traits.
For Taylor, the struggle is memory-induced. Taylor said Mary is her constant reminder of David because she acts just like her dad did, extremely intelligent, funny and silly. Her heart still aches.
Shanahan said her initial grief was more intrusive, bombarded by teachers and counselors telling her how to deal with it. She said it was obnoxious and made her feel abnormal. As such, Shanahan sought seclusion. She said she used it later on to get out of emotional situations.
Along with the daily impact of their horrific tragedies, Taylor and Shanahan said they also contend with adverse effects.
Taylor said her predominant symptoms are pain and hurt. In addition, it is the reality of raising a child without her father. She said it’s a true loss for Mary because he was an amazing man and the two would have been very close. Taylor believes his death affected her daughter’s life more than anyone else’s.
Shanahan said her experience caused her to become extremely cynical, adding it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just how she rolls now. She said most people find it funny, but suspects her husband may find it annoying at times.
The article on Helpguide.org mentions there is no timetable for grieving and that healing happens gradually. There is even a form known as complicated grief which entangles its victim in a constant state of mourning. Those who suffer this fate become so transfixed on the person they lost that it discombobulates their life and cripples their relationships.
Taylor doesn’t believe it lessens; people just become used to that feeling. They’re forever changed, she said.
Shanahan said it definitely never stops, but it does change. When the distressed get through the initial shock, anger and sadness, it turns into something else. It becomes a little piece of themselves and allows them to have more understanding of what others are going through, a superpower of sorts. She said the ability to empathize is not something everyone has; the ability to feel the hurt that others feel is a gift.
Shanahan said she only feels twinges of sadness now when her daughter does something that she wishes her mom could be there to see. She knows her mom would’ve loved her child so much and it is in these moments, the sadness floods her.
If they could speak with their loved ones again, both women know what their last words would be.
Taylor would tell David, “You idiot! Why didn’t you wear your seatbelt? I love you so much. What do you think of Mary? She’s really something, isn’t she?”
Shanahan would thank her mother for being such a good mom and reminisce on all their time together, letting her know how much she appreciated it.
Though their losses have not been paltry, each has developed a coping mechanism on their path to perseverance. Taylor said it was hard in the beginning, but her memories keep her going. She advises newcomers to learn from it and talk about it. Help others, be kind and bring joy to people, she said.
Shanahan instructs those entering the realm of grief to think what the bereaved would want for them and try to live their life that way. She said time fixes most things, so know that it gets easier as more and more times passes.
“I live each day for today,” Shanahan said. “You can’t let a tragedy tear you down. If I passed away and my daughter ruined her life over it, I’d be so angry. Live your life like that person that died would want you to.”