Today, I decided to go get my nails done. There are a few events coming up in the next few days that require “professional” attire. My normal raggedy nails will not suffice, so I decided rather than painting them myself, I would get the shellac polish at the nail place. As I was sitting in the pedicure chair, I could over hear the lady next to me talking. Mind you, they sat us right on top of each other (and we were the only 2 in there), and I wasn’t eavesdropping, I could just simply hear. I wasn’t sure why, but she kept talking about her and her husband were going to look at burial plots, and she didn’t want anyone else coming with her. That only struck me as a little odd, but not really. I have burial plots ready to go thanks to my grandfather, so I thought the conversation was odd placed. She seems in good enough spirits, maybe a little tired at the end of a long day, but happy enough. So, just a weird place to have that conversation, but not the conversation itself.
When she got off the phone we started to chat. Small talk really, which is not my most favourite thing on the planet. It’s awkward, and if it’s not awkward on it’s own I make it that way real quick. But she was nice enough, so I played along. Talking about different places in North Carolina we had lived, if I was in school and what I was studying, etc… The little things. Finally, this was our conversation:
Lady: We just recently had our first son. (Pause)
Me: Oh wow, Congratulations!
Lady: Thank you. He died two days ago.
Lady: (awkward polite laugh thing) Please don’t say your sorry.
Me: Oh… That sucks…
Lady: Yeah. His funeral is on Saturday, so…burial plots.
Me: Wow. Yeah. You said son? What is his name?
Lady: (Tells me his name)
Me: Oh wow, I love that name.
The conversation continues to some things regarding this, and moments later she gets up to leave and says “Good luck with the rest of school.” To which I reply “Thank you. Good luck Saturday.”
And with that she left. And I will probably never see her again. But in that moment, my heart broke for a complete stranger, which rarely ever happens. My heart frequently goes out to strangers, but rarely does it break. I can look at the suffering of a fellow person and think “wow, that must be rough” and not give it a second thought. That may seem heartless, but if anything it’s a protection for me. If I allowed myself to dwell on the suffering of humanity, I’d probably stay in a puddle in my apartment and never leave. So I compartmentalise. I put things in my mind where they belong. The above story did not belong in a nail salon, it belongs in a case study in class, or in the hospital with a chaplain. Not where we were supposed to be relaxing. I didn’t know what to do with this conversation, and I still don’t. I don’t know that I ever will.
What I do know about this is that what happened to this woman and her family is not fair. I am fully aware that life is not fair and nobody ever said it would be. But there’s “Life’s not fair” and then there’s this. No parent should bury their child. That’s just too much to handle. I can’t even begin to pretend like I could ever imagine that feeling. What I also know is that had she not told me what was going on, I would have never known. She was able to laugh, and carry on a normal conversation in the midst of her grief. Granted, I don’t know where in the grief cycle she was, but I can’t imagine being capable of anything after something like that. It is completely normal to not function after something like that, and it is okay. But she was functioning, and functioning well all things consider. How strong of a person do you have to be, to be capable of that. And I don’t know her religious affiliation by any means, but the only thing I could think the rest of the afternoon was “I bet Jeremiah’s feelings were almost, kind of comparable to this woman.”
In Lamentations 3 (also my favourite bible verse) Jeremiah has watched the destruction of his city and his home. Which, in my opinion is a little more than just “unfair.” In verses 22-24 and again from 31-33, Jeremiah recalls the goodness of the Lord, and that is what helps to see him through. I have claimed multiple times that I felt like my world was coming apart and crashing down, but compared to this woman it really never has. Compared to Jeremiah’s situation in Lamentations, my life has been a cake walk. So how could this woman even think to laugh, or carry on a conversation with a stranger? Does she know the steadfast love of Jesus? Does she know it is good to sit and wait for the Lord? Does she know that the Lord is her portion? I pray she does. That is the only way I could see getting through what has happened.
What I do know, is that I need to be more open and more aware of my surroundings and be willing to let my compartments bleed together. This wasn’t some case study I had to analyse in Pastoral Care. A case study I could remind myself is fake and put it away without a feeling. This was a human life, this was real. This was not a situation I was going to read in a case study group and have help in knowing what to say when. This was real and it happened with a human being.
What I was reminded of today. Was the grace and compassion of God. I was reminded today that even when I think something is completely unfair, and makes no sense, and don’t understand, God does. I can’t imagine the woman I met today doesn’t know the love of Jesus. To experience the loss of a child is more pain that I would ever wish to bear or ever want anyone to bear. But to handle it in a manner that you can speak it, and not fall apart? That takes knowing you are being held by the creator of the universe. That takes knowing that even in the midst of a tragedy greater than words, that the “Lord will have compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict of grieve anyone (Lamentations 3:32-33).”
I am still trying to wrap my mind around what happened today. I will probably be attempting this for days. But as I leave, I want to encourage you to read Lamentations 3. It may sound crazy, but if Jeremiah can hold to it when his city is burning and crashing down around him, then why can’t we in the middle of our circumstances.
My heart breaks for this woman and her family. For all of those experiencing such a tragedy, I hope they find peace, rest, and any joy they can. I pray that they remember the one who set the world in motion, envelopes them in his love and grace. I pray that if they do not know the comforting love of the Saviour, that they are given the opportunity to know it in a very real and tangible way.