Why do mothers and fathers have to bury their children? Second Sunday of Lent
We move more deeply into the Season of Lent. Today, as always, this season connects to our lives. Scripture presents us with challenging words. The Genesis story about Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, his only son, is, indeed, challenging. People use the story when they are reflecting on their level of personal freedom – for instance, how free am I to make a significant decision in my life, one that will require me to make a radical change in how I live my life?
We are not usually asked to sacrifice a child. This freedom of Abraham is usually seen as remarkable – to give up one’s only son. But, how can we freely face the death of our children?
The reality is that parents give up their child far too often in every corner of the globe. Of course, they do not do this by choice. They have this sacrifice thrust upon them – by sickness and death, by a tragic automobile accident, by an act of war or random violence, by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or by suicide.
I’m not sure who first said this, but it is a very painful thing for a parent to have to bury their child. We recently had yet another example of a high school massacre – in Parkland, Florida this time. Many family members, friends and strangers are once again dealing with senseless deaths.
I had a charmed life as a child. I cannot recall a single instance of being intimately linked to families close to me who lost a child. It may have happened, but I do not recall anything like this. My first recollection of this came when I was a Jesuit novice in Guelph, Ontario. The community cook lost two sons when they were young. That’s the first time I remember people saying that a mother shouldn’t have to bury her own son.
Most children now have this painful reality as a regular occurrence in their young lives. I read that many of the students heading to a meeting with Florida legislators had just come from funerals.
I’m not a parent, though I know enough to have a sense of what a parent goes through when they lose a child. I said that I have a sense. Nothing can compare to the reality … flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone. I find it painful to hear about another senseless high school massacre.
One of my first thoughts is of the parents of the victims (and the parents of the perpetrators). Far too many young lives have just been wiped out and the survivors’ lives changed forever. And parents, teachers, and friends have to bury someone before they should.
One of my first pieces for igNation was a review of Far from the Tree – Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon. It’s one of the most powerful books I have read. This is essential reading for anyone who has ever felt different or other, or for parents who have struggled with raising a child who has fallen far from the family tree.
One of the most moving parts of the book is his account of getting to know the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the perpetrators of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado (the “ground zero” of these high school massacres).
Sue Klebold offers these words about her son’s actions: “Columbine made me feel more connected to mankind than anything else possibly could have. I accept my own pain; life is full of suffering, and this is mine. I know it would have been better for the world if Dylan had never been born. But I believe it would not have been better for me.” Parkland, Florida connects us all to humanity.
And so, back to Abraham and Isaac … what tremendous and scary freedom was required! And did Isaac know what was happening? Just as tremendous a freedom is offered to the survivors in Florida – not between life and death, but the freedom to not be victims. It is a powerful sign of consolation that they are acting so forcefully and with hopeful energy that truly honours their classmates. Let’s pray that their actions make a difference.