Today is 12 years to the day since our youngest son, Sam, died at 17 of the leukaemia he’d been fighting on and off for 15 years. At the time, we were told, he’d suffered more relapses than any child in Australia, but in the end his tortured small body simply gave out.
At first, I did not want the pain and grief to diminish; I felt it would be a betrayal of his memory. But inevitably they did fade.
This week my wife – normally far more inclined than I am to cling to every memento – suggested it might be time to remove his towel from our bathroom door. I’m still not ready. It reminds me of Sam every time I get into the shower.
People cope with grief in different ways. For some it remains sharp and fresh; for others, like me, the quotidian realities of life eventually subsume it. But Sam has a way of emerging, suddenly, unexpectedly, unexplainedly – in a dream, visiting somewhere we went, seeing someone who knew him. Suddenly, embarrassingly, there are tears in my eyes and a pit in my stomach.
No one, if they live long enough, can avoid emotional anguish. It is hard to define what role faith plays in coping, because people differ. My wife could not have coped – could not cope now – if it weren’t for her Christian faith.
She dug deep into the Bible to extract a sense of meaning and purpose in Sam’s life, and to confirm her conviction that God’s will in life and death is perfect. She has no doubt that Sam is with God and she will see him again. Nor do I.
For me, rather than comfort, the gift of faith was a blessed acceptance. I never raged, demanded of God “why?” or pondered what might have been. Instead I think with gratitude of all Sam was to our family and so many who knew him
“The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” said Job in the Old Testament book of his name. This is a profound truth.
If I have one comfort to offer those who grieve, or suffer any distress, it is not my thought but that of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Barney Zwartz is a senior fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity.
This article first appeared in The Age.