Jason’s body was found hanging from a rope while Jody and I were picking through used windows at the local Habitat for Humanity Restore facility. Jason’s mother and sister, total strangers to us, happened to be shopping in the next aisle when they got the cell phone call. The screaming was the loudest and longest I’ve ever witnessed, wailing erupting from deep within a mother’s love for her son and a sister’s love for her brother. A 31-year-old father of three hanged himself.
We made our way to the end of the aisle, and when we rounded the corner we saw the mother and daughter hugging and holding each other, screaming and shouting. “No! No! No! This can’t be happening!” When the mother dropped to the floor, I stooped down and supported her from behind. Not fully aware what was going on, I asked the daughter what happened. Between the sobbing and shrieking she was able finally to say, “My brother Jason hanged himself! My God, he hanged himself!”
Jason’s mother, a short, deeply tanned woman, wailed an endless lament, “How can this be happening? . . . My son is dead! . . . Why did they tell me over the phone? . . . He has three kids! . . . Angela, call your father! . . . God in heaven this can’t be so! . . . Oh, my God! . . . Pray for me! Pray for me!” And so we did. On the floor of the Habitat Restore, surrounded by used toilets and bathroom sinks rescued from remodeled homes, Jody and I prayed for a grieving mother and her daughter.
As Jody continued to offer physical and emotional support to the mother, I stepped aside with the daughter and honored their wishes by calling their pastor and deacon of the church they attended. As I made the calls, a Habitat for Humanity employee stood outside waiting for Jason’s father to arrive. Another employee brought a glass of water to the mother who was too weak to stand.
It was a scene of human tragedy into which you don’t expect to enter. But when you do, hopefully you’re able to bring comfort and support in ways most needed. Strangers helping strangers.
There was another bystander with us at the scene, one trying her best to do whatever needed to be done. Several times, she stooped down and assured the hysterical mother that “God has a plan in this . . . All things work out for good for those who trust God . . . God’s timing is perfect . . . God never gives us more than we can bear.”
In the midst of the chaos, I didn’t respond to her theological explanations, but in retrospect, I’m convinced what she said was as cruel and insensitive as saying, “You deserve this!” Who are we to say to anyone – especially one suffering immeasurable grief – that God’s timing is perfect and everything happens by virtue of divine say so? When we pronounce that God brings such tragedies or is a complicit partner in them, we reveal our own arrogance and ignorance.
Ultimately, we left the windows behind; getting the perfect one for our house rehab didn’t seem as important as it had an hour before. We left the Habitat Restore facility a bit dazed over what had transpired.
I wonder if religious people would be more godly in the world if we just stopped trying to explain and defend God and shut up long enough to lend a hand where needed. Is that wrong?
[For previous installments of A House Story go to www.danielplasman.com/blog/ and pull down the CATEGORIES menu and select A House Story]