In the past week I have felt the impact of the deaths of two people--one I know and one I have never met.
The first is a gentleman who attended my church. He was a kind man who lived a good life. He was diagnosed with cancer and, though he fought a good fight, his illness was too aggressive to be beaten. His wife spoke at his funeral and demonstrated a faith and strength that will serve her well as she moves through her grief to continue with her own life. She and I are not close, though I have known her for some time. In situations like these, it is often hard to know how to be of assistance; how to lessen the burden of the grieving. But, as I sat in attendance at her husband's funeral and played the organ for the service, I felt impressed that all of us there were helping to lift her burden simply by surrounding her in her time of need.
The second death was that of a little girl named Preslee Sullenger. Just 18 months old, her blue eyes, blond hair, and sweet demeanor put me in mind of my own baby the first time I saw her picture. Though I only came to know of her a week ago through a network of internet acquaintances, I feel as devastated by her tragic death as if she were a part of my own family. As word spread through cyberspace of her accident and her fight to survive, a veritable army of support rose up around this family. I found myself one of thousands praying fervently for a miracle, as it became clear that the odds were stacked against Preslee. And now, after her passing yesterday, I can do nothing more than add my tears and anguish to those of so many united strangers, hoping that we can somehow lessen the burden of two broken-hearted parents by our willingness to mourn with them.
Having a heart open to sharing the pain of another deepens our connection to each other and allows us to experience the transformative influence of even total strangers. And perhaps, when there are no right words or gestures, it is ultimately the best gift we can share.