We will never be the same again.
Grief changes us, and the shooting at Arapahoe High School puts us all in grief again. Numerous times every day I think and pray for the innocent girl who was ruthlessly shot by a boy who was mad at someone else. My daughter is just a year older than she is. I know how much a dad loves his daughter and cannot imagine what her family is going through and how much they wish they could have protected her from this catastrophic event.
The shooter’s family began Dec. 13 with very different expectations for their future. Being parents of the perpetrator of the crime complicates their grief and demolishes the platform for them to grieve openly.
It is times like this that remind all of us how connected we are and our connectedness reveals the importance of each life. My Clinical Pastoral Education instructor, Foy Richey, impressed this point on me with a diagram on the white board.
“If your life is a circle,” he said while drawing a circle, “your loved one is another circle that overlaps your life. Some connect, like the Olympic rings and other times it is almost like an eclipse.”
Then he said as he erased the portion of the circles that overlapped, “And when that person is gone, that part of your life is missing.”
For family, friends and Arapahoe students the “part missing” is definitely larger than those of us a few more miles away, but our connectedness is revealed in the grief we all feel. It is not unusual to try and pass through that sadness quickly, as if we can somehow get past it and return to the same place — the way things were. But that is not healthy and it is impossible to be the same again.
Grief looks like a dark and bottomless pit that lies in front of us. We fear we will never come out of it if we allow ourselves to go into the sadness, confusion and anger that comes with life-changing grief. But it is in that place where we face the reality and begin to understand how to live life in a different way and how to live with a piece of us missing.
It is also a place where God meets us. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Jesus was called, “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve -- even in pain -- the authentic relationship.
“Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”
Dietrich Bonheoffer, hanged by order of Hitler in a concentration camp gave us those powerful words for people who suffer immeasurable and unjust loss.
The measure of our grief is proportional to the part of us that is missing so our responses will be different. I am tempted to blame and get angry, but I feel it is more productive if I accept responsibility.
What can I do to help our world be a better place? Can I encourage a disturbed young person, even as I pass them during the day? The sadness motivates me to find an answer and live in a way that values life and notices need around me.
“Your life matters” is the message of my book about a baseball player. I hope that message redirects someone who is about to cause harm and gives a grieving soul the reason to continue. There will be other things for others and me to do, so let us go deep into our pit of grief, experience reality and find a healthy way to make a difference, because we will never be the same again.
Dan Hettinger is author of “Welcome to the Big Leagues” and founder of the Jakin Group, a ministry of encouragement. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@Welcome2theBigs).