Last night, I learned that the daughter of a work associate of mine has cancer and that my colleague has flown to Australia to be with her. Today, as I looked at my blogging schedule, I realised that I had wanted to blog about the subject of gratitude and the juxtaposition of these two things started me thinking about how very difficult it can sometimes be to maintain an attitude of gratitude. Life is full of ups and downs, as we all know, and it may be easy to be grateful for life when things are going well for us, but when bad times come around, as they inevitably do, we start to wonder what it is all about, why these things are happening and perhaps we might even begin to question our faith.
On one occasion, a friend of mine told me that she could never believe in a loving God after watching her husband die from cancer. Where is God in situations like these? It is a question that we all need to face, one way or another, and I believe it is it is wise to recognise that if Jesus himself did not know the answer to this question, then it is a question we will probably never be able to answer satisfactorily either. According to scripture, Jesus was beaten, scourged and crucified and he is recorded as asking what amounts to the same question that naturally occurs to us when we are challenged by such terrible life events, “why hast thou forsaken me?” (see God, Where Are You?)
It is, of course, absolutely no consolation to another human being to suggest that some good may come out of the situation. The fact remains that we are mortal. We must leave this existence at some point in time. Our exit is often not as graceful as we might wish it to be and the timing of our departure is also something we often know, or understand, very little about. Sometimes, as with the death of another friend of mine that occurred earlier this year, our time has come to an end whilst we are in good health and enjoying life to the full. My friend went out riding one day, suffered a tragic accident and died a few days later in hospital. This was a terrible shock for all those who were close to him.
Those left behind to cope with tragedy are often confused, disoriented and might, at some time, experience the whole gamut of emotions from anger to grief; and those seeking to comfort their friends and loved ones often feel completely inadequate and ill-equipped for the situation in which they find themselves. It is at such times that words completely fail us. There is nothing that can be said to make the situation better, so perhaps it is best to not say anything. Perhaps the role of those who are closest is simply to be present, to hold, to love and to grieve. To allow time to pass.
This last year, my mother died. I was there at the hospital with her but had fallen asleep at the moment she passed away. It was a peaceful passing and it was expected too, but still, I had not thought that she would die that evening. My father died about twenty years previously. On that occasion, I got to the hospital too late. For years, I was annoyed with myself for stopping on the motorway, half way there, for a coffee and I was also annoyed with myself that I didn’t get into my car immediately the first time my sister called me. But again, I did not realise that he would die that day so I finally managed to forgive myself.
Thinking back to my colleague’s situation, although the condition is very serious, her daughter is alive and where there is life, there is yet hope. Sometimes, the most remarkable recoveries are made and whilst we must accept that life will take its inevitable course, we can and should remain hopeful. It is the best possible attitude to adopt in such difficult circumstances. Personally, I do not believe that God intervenes to save some people and allow others to die. The role of prayer, I think, is not to attempt to influence God in this situation, but to influence ourselves; to remain hopeful, whilst at the same time recognising that we are not in control of events and so we can only accept whatever will happen.
Looking back on the lives of my friends and family who have now passed on, those who have influenced me and loved me unconditionally, I can now say that I am deeply grateful for each and every one of them. If I had known them even for a shorter time, then my life would still have been the richer just for knowing them. The time will come when, one day, I too will pass from this life, and my hope is that some of my friends and family will simply be grateful that I once lived.