“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” ~Martin Luther King Jr. A few years ago, when my younger son was about ten, the reality of the losses that go with living in this beautiful but flawed world suddenly hit him. I’ll never forget the conversation. This was a child born two months before 9/11, and since we live in a New York suburb and my husband worked across the street from the Twin Towers, what was a loss for so many has been my son’s reality his whole life. Both of my sons are in the generation of children who live in a forever-changed United States.
My sons have also grown up with me as a mother, a person forever changed by two monumental personal losses when I was twenty and twenty-one.
I am the youngest of five. Above me were two brothers, then my two sisters. Both of my brothers died in the same year when they were just twenty-three and twenty-seven years old. One brother died by his own hand after several years of battling mental illness. My other brother died in a plane crash in Pakistan with fifty-three other people just ten months later.
What my son really wanted to know that day was “Why?” Why do we live in a world like this, where people we love die? What is the reasoning behind human life including such extraordinary pain? Why?
The why of loss is the ultimate question, isn’t it? I can tell you that after twenty-five years of living with the loss of my brothers, the two people I was closest to in the world, I have no answers. Yet, that is the answer.
We don’t know why these things happen. We can’t possibly fathom why terrible things have happened in human history, over and over, both in big ways and in small.
How could our limited human brains possibly come up with a justification for the most horrific losses, the greatest pains? They can’t. It is beyond mere human understanding. It is a waste of precious time while we who are still here try to go on with our lives.
So what do we do? How do we go on when we are faced with excruciating loss?
I was a senior in college when my first brother died, and a professor (who was also a minister) gave me a crucial bit of advice that I took to heart. He simply said, “Try not to become bitter.”
It is so easy to go the route of anger, resentment, self-pity, and the should-have mentality. It is worth fighting against, because it will eat you alive. Nothing is gained. The loss happened.
I was so sad for years, and I still cry sometimes about them, but there is no undoing my brothers’ deaths. Trust me, I often thought time-travel would be the perfect answer to bring my brothers back because it would allow me to do something different to save them. It’s ridiculous and yet the brain will go there.
The biggest load off my shoulders, and it took years, was complete acceptance that they were gone.
Then, my college professor’s sage advice kicked in. Don’t become bitter. It happened, so now what? I’m still here. My brothers loved me so much; the last thing they would want is for me to not live my life to the fullest. I can hear them now: Live. Love. Be here now. Marvel at life. See the good in everything. It is there.
So that is what I said to my son. They weren’t just words; it is how I live my life now. Life is good. There is beauty all around us. There is devastation and pain and people who hurt others, but who knows why?
We can help others deal with pain, we can comfort others; we should do this: we are all in this crazy, beautiful world together.
Just always remember: ‘bad’ things will happen, but there is more good than bad. There is more happiness than sorrow. There’s more life than death. It is all around us, as long as we are open to it.
The why of loss does not have an answer. The why of life has an infinity of answers. I am not bitter. I am a believer that life is a mystery, but it’s amazing. I am here, so I will enjoy every precious moment. It’s what my brothers would want. I accept life, and I am in awe of it.