“How do you deal with that?”

It’s a common question when death comes suddenly. The grief surrounding it all comes just as quickly. There is more than enough sorrow for everyone. Along with the sorrow, there is a shock that is felt when we hear of a tragic accident. And when the tragedy involves a young person, the shock can bring tremors for years.

The experience of being part of a family who went through such a shock is still fresh in my mind. Their son was in his early twenties; full of energy, early success with jobs, well developed plans for the future, and a loving group of family and friends.

He was taken away from them in an accident that has yet to be reconciled. As I met with the parents, siblings and other relatives, the pain they were feeling was overwhelming. I passed on my prayers and condolences and turned around to see one of my own sons. I imagined losing one of them.

That’s when true compassion took over. My emotions were not under control.

It’s one thing to say we are compassionate and another to actually show it. Compassion: With-passion, or with-suffering. Compassion means you engage with others to the point of sitting with them in their suffering. Talking about it and not engaging can be as hollow as telling someone they’re in your prayers when you seldom pray.

For some reason, tragedy like this family experienced does lead us into a deeper place with them. We seem to share in their loss, and our own shock doesn’t disappear that easily, either. It lingers for a time until we realize that it may never go away. We wonder if we will ever be able to laugh again.

So, how do you deal with that? The right words come at the right times if we listen for them.

The words came surprisingly to me as I opened a book and picked up where I had left off the previous day. In it the theologian Walter Brueggemann was discussing the loss of things we hold dearly in our lives. He cited the late Sen. Patrick Moynihan who was addressing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the effect on not just our country, but also the newly widowed Jacqueline.

The senator said, “We will laugh again. But we will never be young again.” Pastor Brueggemann commented that we will eventually laugh again after most all suffering. But our laugh will be like the Easter laugh that is forever scarred by the passion and suffering of Good Friday.

We never will be young again. Because along with the tragic death of a youngster, comes the loss of an age of innocence: an age that once held a life that was pure and promising, and now is no more.

How do we deal with that? We can deal with it through prayer, through compassion to others and by hugging tightly the ones still with us, whose innocence you love dearly.

The Rev. Peter Mark Gdula is a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.

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