"...weep with them that weep." (from Romans 12:15)
I'm a very verbal person who can always seem to know just what to say in any and all occasions. Well, so it seems, but in this situation, it's just not the case.
I don't live in Franklin, Mass. and I've never lived in Franklin, Mass. And, I know only a handful of people who do live in Franklin, Mass. I don't know the family of Michael Doherty, but my heart goes out to them.
It's been all over the Boston-area media for a week. Michael Doherty, age 20, had gone to a party, stayed late on Saturday night May 13, and then never showed up at home as expected. For almost a week, the police and many volunteers were searching for him. As of this writing (on Sunday afteroon, May 21), a body was found yesterday in a thickly wooded area near Interstate 495 which is presumbed to be the body of Michael.
I'm sure I'm writing the words of thousands and thousands of people from all over the New England area who've followed this story over the past few days: I'm so sorry for the family's loss.
This horrible event at this time of year brings back a flood of memories. Yes, I can relate in a number of ways to the Doherty family's terrible loss. In late June of 1983, my brother Eddie, age 27 at the time, collapsed at his place of employment in Weymouth, Mass., was rushed to South Shore Hospital, spent about ten days on life supports, and died in early July of that year. My wife was almost nine months pregnant with our first child. He will be thirty-four in just a couple of months. It was a bittersweet time. The funeral home "visiting hours" was one of those situations of a long, long line with scores and scores of people filing by. We, the family, were all in a state of shock and had no idea what to say. The people going through the funeral line said things like, "I don't know what to say," and we completely understood. Eddie's funeral was on a hot, humid day. It was so hot that an altar boy fainted during the mass.
There's one line someone said during that those terrible days that I do remember. It was said in private by my father to his wife and two remaining siblings. Gene Baril was a tough and pragmatic guy, although this loss had reduced him to helpless tears. But after he'd gone through a couple days of crying and mourning he bluntly said to his family, "Other families go through tragedies. Why shouldn't our family experience a tragedy, too?"
I know that may seem like a strange thing for him to have said, but he'd been in law enforcement for decades and he'd watched a lot of people go through a lot of tragedies. As crazy as it may sound, for me the statement was helpful.
Six months after my brother's death, I went through a severe depression. I was truly frightened, because I had no idea why I was depressed. This may sound foolish and "super spiritual" to some people, but God spoke to me and told me why I was depressed. No, God did not tell me in an audible voice, but in a deep inner impression. He showed me that I'd never truly grieved my brother's loss, and the severe depression was me doing exactly that. There was no escaping it. I would have to go through the time of severe depression, and then I'd be O.K. And, I was.
My brother and I were not close. He did not look like me at all. He looked like the Scottish relatives on my mother's side and I look like the French-Canadian relatives on my father's side. He was an outstanding mechanic and had the mind of a engineer. I'm a typical "liberal arts" type- I love writing, and good literature, and history and culture but I wouldn't know a crescent wrench from a nail gun! (Well, actually I do know a crescent wrench from a nail gun, but I liked the sentence! But, I've never used a nail gun in my life, and only a handful of times have I ever used a crescent wrench! I think you get what I mean.) I'm a public speaker. As an Assemblies of God pastor, I preached and taught in public hundreds and hundreds of times. And, I'm a good speaker. My brother would never have aspired to speak in public. Never. But if he tuned up your car it would run better than you could ever imagine. Well, his loss, despite our being opposites, was not easy. It was very hard. I had a lot of "survivor's guilt". I still experience bits of that at times. Eddie, for instance, would love my son-in-law David who is also a mechanic, and my two little grandsons who love to help Daddy work on cars. I think of that a lot. My youngest grandson even reminds me of Eddie- but we all lost out on what Eddie would have done with his life had he lived.
My parents never got over the death of Eddie. They sort of "put it in the the rear view mirror" and tried to move on, but they were never the same. Something like Eddie's death at an early age- you never forget that.
So, when I send my condolences to the Doherty family, I'm not speaking theoretically or hypothetically. I have no answer to why God allowed this tragedy to happen. During the years I pastored, situations such as this were the hardest to deal with. There are no easy answers. But I know that in the darkest night and the most horrific storms, if you turn to Him, God will come and comfort you, and enable you to "go through stuff" that you could never otherwise endure. I know.