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When Tragedy Strikes

When Tragedy Strikes

My husband and I have recently experienced a very unexpected tragedy in the life of some very dear friends of ours.  I feel compelled to write about it without sharing any personal details.  My goal is to help those who want to help those suffering unimaginable grief but don’t quite know what to do.

As most people know, life can change in an instant.  If you have ever lost someone suddenly, without any warning, then you know it throws everything about your life into chaos.  First, I want to go through some things I have learned over the years; both as someone who has experienced loss and as someone helping another with loss.

Maybe you are not sure of what to do, what is needed, or how to help when tragedy strikes another.  There are many practical things we can do.  When our friends received the call that changed their lives forever, a close friend and business partner quickly stepped in and made the calls to their closest friends and family.  He became the central command center for relaying information.  This kept everyone informed without our friends getting bombarded with decisions, phone calls, and texts.  The local friends quickly got a meal train scheduled.  Some of us catered meals to their house as they had many friends and family stopping by over the course of a week.

Meals are a necessity.  Years ago, women made casseroles; it wasn’t a big deal to throw one together and take it to the family.  However, cooking styles have changed.  I have about three different options I can prepare and two things I can quickly pick up if and when it is time to swing into action.  In this particular case, I couldn’t do that so we catered sandwiches for lunch between the burial and the service.  I noticed someone brought several pounds of coffee, jugs of creamer and sweet-rolls for breakfast.  I remember when I was in a similar situation, my cousin brought huge amounts of toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates and plastic utensils.  This is all very much needed, yet many times, an overlooked way of helping calm the chaos.

It’s important, if leaving food with the family, to label it.  Write what the dish is and include the main ingredients for allergy purposes.  Also, write a date and cooking instructions on the container.  If you are around after mealtime, it is helpful to clean up the kitchen and put away the food.  Remember, they are tired and overwhelmed.

It is hard to go from your normal life, get a call that changes it forever, try to wrap your mind around what just happened, and have your house fill up with family and friends.  It is important to understand what the grieving family is experiencing.  They are tired, they are stressed, they are unprepared.  They don’t feel like emptying the trash, picking up water bottles and dirty plates and cups.  Yet, often we forget what they are left with when everyone goes home for the evening.  Think about the traffic in their home; the floors get dirty and the bathrooms, too.  All of this just adds to the burden they are under.  They need YOU, not the mess.  They need their friends and family to be there with hugs, love and support through action as well as appropriate conversation.

I have been in a place in my life where I didn’t understand or notice these things.  I have been on both sides of a tragedy and have learned by experience and observation.  When I was thinking about my friends and praying for them last night, I pictured a camel with a load of straw on its back.  My mother had a saying, “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back”.  She would say this when that one more little thing just became too much.  I hope these practical ways will give you insight into how you can take a straw off the camel’s back rather than add to it.

Our grieving friends and family need us in practical ways as much as they need our emotional support.  So next time you are wondering how you can help, remember these tips.  People need to eat, they need you to take out the overflowing trash, help keep their house somewhat clean, and show them love and care.  I know with each experience, I learn more.  I have observed that the tiniest things we can do make the biggest difference in their darkest moment.

On another note, it’s important to understand that everyone grieves differently.  Some people need to be quiet and process privately; others need to talk it out or be busy.  Some people can move on while others get stuck in it.  Our friends are people of very strong faith.  The road ahead will be difficult.  They will need us to love on them, listen to them, pray for them, and be patient with them.  They will need to be conscious of each other in their family and marriage because they each have to grieve in their own way.

We know from the Book of Job that terrible things happen to the best of people.  Job was a righteous man yet suffered catastrophic loss.  This tragedy did not surprise God. In fact, God allowed it for divine purposes.  It’s easy to understand how someone can love the Lord when things are going great.  It’s a whole other thing to watch someone experience great loss yet still remain faithful and exude peace and joy in the process.  Job’s tragedy did not change his faithfulness in the Lord and the Lord rewarded the second part of Job’s life for it.

Everything that God allows is for some eternal purpose.  The good things are easy to understand while the tragedies are much harder to comprehend.  But as my sweet friend said, “God is in control and I would ask him when I get to heaven why this happened.  However, it won’t matter then, will it?”.

Because our friends have an eternal perspective and they know their son was a strong believer, they will get through this dark time.  That is the hope all believers have who have lost believers they hold dear.  When we lose someone, we are the only ones that experience that death.  When the young man was ejected from his vehicle, his soul had already begun to transport to Heaven.  We experienced the death, but he kept living.  That is eternal life that is promised to all who believe and trust Jesus as their savior.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16

What about you?  Do you have questions about what lies on the other side of this life?  Do you have peace in the midst of life’s most challenging circumstances?  When you know the Lord, then you will have peace and you will find joy in the midst of every situation.

While Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he was comforting his Christian friends.  He was the one suffering, yet his focus was comforting his friends!  He writes, “”Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again:  Rejoice!.  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:4-7

To rely on the Lord is the only way to get through a tragedy when it strikes.


Janice Bobanis

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