The note comes on a page of prayer requests, just one of several announced in our church on Sunday morning, when we were away. There really is no profits to be had in comparing personal tragedies. While someone's sadness, someone's horror, may grotesquely overshadow all the rest in the ears and hearts of those who hear them, each request for prayer, in distress, bleeds with sadness.
Yet, one of those prayer requests jumps off the page and superglues itself to my psyche for next two days--and it's still there. The grandson of a woman in our church who's known enough grief already in her life is beginning "intense chemotherapy tomorrow for leukemia. He'll receive treatments two times a week for the next two months," the note says. And then this: "Please pray for Raymond that the side-effects will be tolerable and for the family as they care for him during this time."
If that request would be an essay, I would cut the last line because the specific instructions actually undercut the horror. Here's the story: two chemos a week for two months for a little boy, maybe five. Some sadness is borne from worlds so dark the very finest words are none at all. I simply can't imagine those young parents, or that grandma.
Life may yet afford me more lessons on sadness, but I think I've come to know that no hurt goes quite so deep as that of a parent watching a child, his or hers, suffer. Makes no difference if the child is five or fifty.
When my wife lost an uncle a quarter century ago, her grandma sat in the receiving line at the funeral home, and I asked her--she must have been in her eighties back then--how she was doing. "It's not easy to bury a son," she told me. I'll never forget that moment because in some ways I hadn't even thought of the two of them as mother and child and that this man who died was the third of her boys to leave before her.
Our son called last night with bad news, nothing anywhere near the proportions of twice-weekly chemo or sudden death, but bad news nonetheless. From this father's perspective, he and his girlfriend have suffered enough bad news; they didn't any more. Their sadness, 500 miles away, left my wife and me in silence for the rest of the night.
I need to tell myself again, in times like this, that the creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible, is also a parent, and also a father who also stood by and watched while his beloved child suffered and died. That the king of the universe knows our sorrows and sadness, that he's been there, that he's shouldered the same damned yoke--all of that is really, at times, our only comfort.
The only blessed truth worth repeating, again and again, is that He knows. And for that divine fact, this dark morning, I am deeply thankful.