Tragedy comes in many sizes and shapes. We find it in the macrocosm of human history. 

Tragedy also strikes us in the microcosm of our own personal histories. On Saturday, August 13, 1994, at 12:30 a.m. (PDT) my brother, Jerry, passed into eternity. Just seven weeks earlier I had been with Jerry and his fiancée, Melinda. They were showing Nicky (Melinda’s mother—a delightful lady) and me where they hoped to build a home. It was just bare dirt overlooking bare hills, but the two of them saw so much more. Jerry had been through so much difficulty and sadness through the years that I was delighted to see their playful excitement. They were planning to marry on August 26.

Then in July a long latent cancer struck with a vengeance, and the prognosis was grim. Jerry, hating hospitals, asked to go home, and dear Melinda (I cannot say enough good about her) watched over him virtually day and night.

Lee, my younger brother, and I flew out to be with Jerry. Those few days together are among the most precious of my life. I will always treasure them. Jerry was completely lucid throughout. We cried. We laughed. We retold old stories and filled in long forgotten details. Melinda and I held each other as Jerry shared the prognosis with his son, Jay. We prayed together. I anointed Jerry with consecrated oil. Then we said good-bye, and as we did Jerry whispered to me, for his voice was now down to a whisper, “Have a good life!” A long standing pastor/friend, Eugene Coffin, and I conducted the memorial service August 17.

How I am doing through all this? The most dominate sensation is emptiness. Because both Mom and Dad were seriously ill and died during our growing up years, Jerry was not only an older brother but something of a parent figure to us two younger brothers. And so, at first, I kept thinking, “How dare the world go on without Jerry!” But then I realized that for me, in one sense, the world is not going on. Something of real substance in my life is gone, really and truly gone. And there is an empty space. Jerry, I know, has passed from this life into greater life, but the empty space is there nonetheless.

Then, too, I feel sadness, bone weary sadness. I am not one who cries easily, but I find my eyes moist a lot these days. I don’t feel strong right now. I am needing to be weak and vulnerable and to depend upon others. I hug Carolynn a lot. I do feel some guilt at being absorbed by personal loss when huge tragedies are engulfing the world. But great tragedies at a distance do not diminish personal tragedies close at hand. I am learning to disregard this feeling.

Where is God in all this? A very present help in time of trouble. But not in any dramatic way. The grief process is something I must walk through, and it is enough to know that God is walking through it with me. And so I am doing the tasks at hand—the duty of the present moment—and in the doing I find myself praying often the prayer of Lady Julian, “God, of your goodness give me yourself, for you are enough for me. And only in you do I have everything. Amen.”

And may I conclude with those words which Lady Julian says God, in tender love, speaks over all who are in pain, “But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

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