Waleed J. Iskandar

(by Nicholas Wolterstorff)

What do you say to someone who is suffering? Some people are gifted with words of wisdom. For such, one is profoundly grateful. But not all are gifted and they blurt out strange inept things. That is OK too. Your words don't have to be wise. The heart that speaks is more than the words spoken. And if you can't think of anything to say, just say, " I can't think of anything to say. But I want you to know we are with you in your grief."
But please: Don't say it's not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, Demonic. If you think your task as a comfortor is to tell me that really, all things considered, its not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place youself off in a distance from me. Over there you are of no help. I need to hear you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench. I know: People do sometimes think things are more awful then they really are. Such people need to be corrected ~~ gently, eventually. But no one thinks death is more awful then it is. It is those who think it is not so bad that need correcting.

I skim some books on grief. They offer ways of looking death and pain in the face, ways of turning away from death out there to one's own inner "grief process" and then, on that laying the heavy hand of rationality. I will not have it so. I will not look away. I will indeed remind myself there is more to life then pain. I will accept joy. But I will not look away from Eric dead. Its demonic awfulness I will not ignor. I owe that ~~ to him and to God.

The worst days now are holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Birthdays, Weddings, January 31 ~~ days meant as festivals of happiness and joy are now days of tears. The gap is to great between day and heart. Days of routine I can manage; no songs are expected. But how am I to sing in this desolate land, when there's always one too few?

Innocent Questions make me wince.
"Will the family all be home for Christmas?" What am I to say? "Yes, I say, we'll all be home."
"What are your children doing now?" I go down the list: Amy, Robert, Klaas, Christopher.
But I omit one. Do I call attention to the omission or do I let it pass?
"How many children do you have?" What do I say, "four" or "five"? "Five" I usually say. Sometimes I explain, sometimes I do not.
And now he is gone. That future which I embraced to myself has been destroyed. For twenty-five years I guarded and sustained and encouraged him with these hands of mine, helping him to grow and become a man of his own. Then he slipped out and was smashed.

Let me try again. All these things I recognize. I remember delighting in them ~~ trees, art, house, music, pink morning sky, work well done, flowers, books. I still delight in them. I'm still grateful. But the zest is gone. The passion is cooled, the striving quieted, the longing stilled. My attachment is loosened. No longer do I set my heart on them. I can do without them. They don't matter. Instead of rowing, I float. The joy that comes my way I savor. But the seeking, the clutching, the aiming, is gone. I don't suppose anyone on the outside notices. I go through my paces. What the world gives, I still accept. But what it promises, I no longer reach for.
I've become an alien in the world, shyly touching it as if it's not mine. I don't belong any more. When someone loved leaves home, home becomes mere house.

There's a hole in the world now. In the place where he was, there's now just nothing. A center, like no other, of memory and hope and knowledge and affection which once inhabited the earth is gone. Only a gap remains. A perspective on this world unique in this world which once moved about within this world has been rubbed out. Only a void is left. There's nobody now who saw just what he saw, knows what he knew, remembers what he remembered, loves what he loved. A person, an irreplaceable person is gone. Never again will anyone apprehend the world quite the way he did. Never again will anyone inhabit the world the way he did. Questions I have can never now get answers. The world is emptier.
My son is gone.
Only a hole remains, a void, a gap, never to be filled.