I had a post all written for today, but like a good writer should, I decided to do a little bit of research. My post was all about a guy that I had met a number of years ago when I played at The Cove, the Billy Graham Training Center, in Asheville, North Carolina. But my knowledge of this guy was limited to what I knew of him in the few days of our brief interaction more than eight years ago.
This guy had lost his entire family in a flash flood in the middle of the night (his website is here). His wife and four children were all killed and he miraculously survived. It was a tragic story and I have thought about it often in the time since. What I had written about in the post was the resolve and demeanor of this guy who had lost his everything. I didn’t even have children then, but I imagined how I would have felt had I been in his place and I couldn’t even think about reacting in half the way that he did.
As I researched, I discovered that there were a lot of people who were suspicious of his resolve. Personally, I attributed it to a strong faith in God and an incredible support system. It didn’t seem very odd to me until I really started thinking it through and until I remembered the way tragedy struck someone else whose life is in the public eye: Steven and Mary Beth Chapman.
Years ago, when my wife (then girlfriend) was still in college and the world was bracing itself for Y2K, my wife lived in the basement of a house in Coventry, Connecticut with two of her close friends during their senior year of college. One of her friends had gotten involved with promoting within the Christian music world in the Boston area. At the time, she was dating Steven Curtis Chapman’s keyboard player, so she invited him to celebrate Y2K together with us in their basement apartment in the “middle of nowhere” Connecticut.
I was fascinated by his story and his take on SCC (as I will call Chapman for short). He just seemed to think that he had a positive attitude all the time, almost like Pollyanna. He seemed to think that SCC had just not been through a lot of difficulty in life and he thought that his reaction and outlook would be a lot different had he experienced some tragedy or difficulty in life.
Fast forward eight years and tragedy was exactly what SCC and his family experienced. One of his adopted daughters was run over in the family driveway by her older brother. She succumbed to her injuries and the family was grief-stricken. Being in the public spotlight, they did not shy away from talking about it (you can see one of their interviews here). They were very frank and candid, not blaming God but being real about their grief, loss, and sadness. In fact, contrary to the belief of the musician that I met, SCC did not fold under pressure or dramatically change his outlook, he actually gained more respect in my eyes as he did not pretend to be anything other than a grieving father in the midst of this tragedy.
As I thought all of this through after writing my initial post, I couldn’t help but wonder at the difference. Now, while I’m not an expert in counseling or in the area of grief, I do know that everyone does not respond to grief the same way. To prescribe an identical approach towards grief is to be guilty of ignorance. There may be similar experiences, but no one responds exactly the same way. Still, it seemed very odd to me to know that there were little similarities and even very large gaps between these two responses to grief. One man had lost his adopted daughter, the other had lost his wife and four children. Both men had strong faiths which they leaned upon. Both men have been used by God to tell their story and make a difference in other lives.
When all is said and done, both of these men experienced tragedy that I hope never to parallel or duplicate. The loss of my parents was devastating enough and I would prefer to keep my family around for a while. Yet, I know that my hope lies beyond what is right in front of me. Romans 8 gives us a picture of the brokenness of creation. Accidents happen, tragedy strikes, questions arise which seem unanswerable. Trite and comfortable or spiritual answers may be “correct” but not appropriate.
If I were in the place of either man, I just don’t know how I would respond, and to be honest, I’d rather not even try to imagine it. Only God knows their pain and suffering. It still seems odd to me that there would be such a difference in responses (and I’m not the only one, check this out).