Tragedy and Our Souls

By Donna Kushner

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Tragedy is no stranger to the global community of missionary kids and their families. Amongst us grief is a common theme. Sometimes the grief is the result of a tragedy. Recently I experienced this sort of grief, but from a distance–three times in a few short weeks. Our wired world forces us to experience grief this way, now that social media can inform us of a death or other sudden loss within hours of it happening.

I have pondered on this today as I learned of the third tragedy. It is not unlike the grief that we talk about for MKs—sometimes geographically distant, sometimes experienced alone and, certainly, cumulative. Sometime I wonder how we can all bear so much grief, especially when it is accompanied by a sense of helplessness because of being several steps or possibly many steps, removed from the site of the tragedy.

I remember a talk I used to give to women preparing to move overseas, about the “Leaving Lifestyle” that is one part of missionary life and, certainly, MK life. One result of the leaving lifestyle is that we each end up with many dear relationships flung between continents and it is impossible for us to keep up with all of them. But when tragedy strikes it is as though time shrinks and we can see ourselves with that friend and memories come flooding back. Maybe we haven’t been able to keep up with that friend. Or maybe the tragedy has struck not our friend specifically but instead it struck our friends’ friend. Either way, we feel the impact of the grief and yet feel helpless to enter in, to do something in response.

We can choose to retreat. Distance ourselves from social media so that we don’t even know when tragedy happens within our far-flung community. We can choose to post a condolence. We can reach out to those we know who were affected by the tragedy. All are valid options. But what do we do with our souls and the impact that these tragedies have on us? Where do we go with the grief? And are there ways that we can enter into the grief and tragedies that come upon our community even when there is this distance made by time and geography?

Maybe a first step is acknowledging the difficulty of processing this sort of grief. When we can physically come alongside a grieving person and sit with them in their loss and tragedy it gives us the opportunity to grieve as well. But when we can’t we have to find other ways to process. Journaling, talking with a friend and taking time to reach out in some way to the grieving person can help.

Talking with God about how we feel about tragedies can help. Telling Him how helpless we feel. Or maybe we are angry and wonder where God was when this happened. God can handle these questions and though we might not receive answers to our why questions He welcomes them. Reading the Psalms of Lament reminds me I am not alone in crying out to God.

I wonder if simply acknowledging that this gigantic web of relationships that is our community is too much to keep up with, and that, like the arcade game “wack a mole” we are just never going to be emotionally ready to hear about a distant tragedy that has happened to someone we at one time shared life with. There is a place to sit and grieve the loss even when there is nothing tangible to be done in face of it. It means we have loved. The Jewish community’s grieving process includes the tradition of ‘sitting shiva’. This lasts a week and includes the mourner sitting on a low stool to greet those who come to mourn with him. The idea is that in grief we are brought low. Tragedy in our community brings each of us low. May we give ourselves and others the space to feel the grief for as long as we need to, no matter how distant the tragedy is to our current lives.

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