We all know “Normal.” Normal lives with us day in and day out, keeping things on an even keel. He brings us back to center when life finds us hitting potholes in the road called our journey. We don’t see him or even acknowledge him most of the time, but we count on him always being there and we become comfortable in his presence.
His polar opposite and distant cousin, “Royally Messed Up,” doesn’t touch our lives. He lives with “other people” – people that we feel sorry for when we hear about their tragedy; people that we take a moment to pray for; people that are not us!
The thing is, Normal isn’t eternal for many of us and in a blink, he can die and cousin Messed Up can move in. The phone rings, someone knocks on the door, or the doctors sit you down and suddenly, Normal is gone.
For me, Normal died with a phone call informing me that my dad had been murdered. For a friend of mine, Normal died shortly after her first child was born and his eulogy was lost amid words like “genetic defect” and “only a matter of hours.” Last night, Normal’s demise was announced via a phone call to my daughter, informing her that a friend had been accidentally shot by another friend and had not survived.
In one moment last night, Normal met the end for many teens in our area. With one pull of a trigger (on a shotgun that they were “sure” wasn’t loaded), all of an 18-year-old high school student’s friends suddenly became those “other people,” as did the young man’s family and the families of the other teens that were involved.
The death of Normal leaves emotional devastation in its wake. Everyone deals with it differently but emotions like anguish, fear and anger are common. Laying blame and wanting answers as to why it happened come as easily as breathing. Sadly, even God is not immune in our quest to make sense out of something senseless. Even if there are people that we can point fingers at, God is still frequently included because “He let it happen.”
Why do bad things happen to good people? That is the question of the ages and one that I absolutely do not have an answer to. I do believe, however, that God does not sit around in Heaven, plotting out horrible things to befall us, His children. Jeremiah 29:11 takes that one off of the table by telling us, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
So what can you say to someone who has just buried Normal to make them feel better?
Sadly, there are no “magic words” that will make the pain stop. Sadder still is the fact that many people who have never lost Normal can’t seem to understand that. They know that they should say something – yet they don’t have a clue what will help. So they usually do one of two things …
- They fall back on familiar platitudes that sound empty, even to their own ears, like “I’m sorry for your loss,” “I know how you feel” or “We’ll be keeping you in our prayers.” Being sorry and praying for those who are suffering are both good and noble things, don’t get me wrong, but they simply aren’t even band-aids on what feels like a gaping hole in your heart. As for knowing how you feel – well, unless you’ve tragically lost Normal, you don’t have a clue how they feel so telling them that you do is a lie that they don’t need to hear.
- They try to give you a reason as to why it happened. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “It was just his time” and “It was God’s will” after my dad’s murder. I finally snapped on some lady I didn’t even know who happened to be at the funeral home and said, “So, you’re telling me that had daddy not tried to help those girls, God would have nailed him with a heart attack or a house fire later that night?!?” Telling someone that God’s will just ripped their life into pieces does not help. It basically says, “I don’t have a clue as to why this happened, but when all else fails, blame God by calling it a part of His cosmic plan.”
Bottom line – You can’t give people who just lost Normal answers that don’t exist on this side of Heaven and you can’t fix it and make it better. However, you can help by loving them and being there for them. Let them talk freely about their feelings. It’s OK for them to be angry at the person who died, the person who caused their death, the doctors who couldn’t save him/her and yes, even God, so don’t try to make them feel bad, guilty or “less” of a Christian if they admit to being angry. God can take it and believe me, trying to hide anger from Him is a losing battle. He sees through the mask every single time. David, who the Bible tells us was a man after God’s own heart was honest with God about his feelings. In Psalm 22:1-2, he cried out to God, saying, “1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2 My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
Remind those that you love that even though they don’t have answers, they don’t walk alone. In Matthew, Jesus told us all to give our burdens to Him and He will give us rest. Philippians calls that a peace that goes beyond anything we can imagine. The love of a Savior and the peace that comes from that love is what will get them through and to the point where Normal’s brother, “New Normal,” will move in. Help them find/remember/understand that and you will be a true friend indeed.