Dr. Phil Dunford, a Presbyterian Pastor did the service for my father in 1998. Phil had asked me and my brothers it it would be okay if my father's alcoholism was mentioned during the service. Mark, Bryan and I agreed that it was okay and we encouraged him to do that. Phil has been rather amusing, candid and interesting, minister during his time here, and his words that day at my father's graveside have crossed my mind many times since 1998. I offer them here, so that others might benefit from his insight:
"In life we all have something we aren't good at, something we can't handle. It may be a fear of something, or something we aren't capable of doing, it is for us, a handicap. Doug's absence from time to time in our daily lives was usually evidence that he was dealing with his handicap. If he wasn't around for a few days or a week - we knew Doug was dealing with his handicap that plagued him so much of his life. You know, if you think about it... if Heaven doesn't take those who struggle with a handicap... it must surely be an empty place..."
(Kent Dorsey, with permission from Dr. Phil Dunford, September 2015)
As a Funeral Director, occasionally someone asks what to say to grieving people. I am not an expert, but after being around this business so long, I think the important thing is to convey sympathy, and stay short on words. Our aftercare provider, Doug Manning says, "Hang around them, hug them, and hush". I tend to cringe a bit when I hear someone greet a newly bereaved person and try explain away why a death happened, or delve into their own personal theological beliefs without knowing for sure what the bereaved person is thinking or personally believes. We get this occasionally with the online guest book, when the safe thing for the hurting person is to simply say, "I'm sorry", or "I really thought a lot of your dad...". To me, this is magnified in a situation when the death involves a young person and well meaning folks throw cliches at the bereaved parents. I had a father who lost a teenage daughter in a car wreck tell me, "I had a lot of well meaning people say things to me I suppose they thought they should say - but most of their comments hurt - and none of them helped..."
I think too, most of us know not to say, "I know just how you feel" to someone who has experienced a death - because the truth is we are all so different we don't fully know how they feel and occasionally someone can resent a comment like that.
So repeating that I am not the expert, I will give the subject of "Why?" to retired Baptist pastor Doug Manning to address. Doug gave me permission to reprint this from his, "Thoughts for the Lonely Nights" book. The rest of this site is pretty candid so we might as well stay in that form:
"Why did this happen?" is the number one question in grief. I could fill several pages with platitudes, cliches and beautiful phrases that would sound good and say nothing. We don't know why. No one knows why bad things happen to good people. I know that if bad things only happened to bad people we would all be good for the wrong reasons. I also know we would be in a desperate search to define the exact line that separates the good from the bad. "Just how good do I have to be?" would become the national obsession.
I do not know why this happened to you. I don't know why things happen to me. It takes all of the faith I can muster to think that one day I will know the answer and to be willing to wait until then. You can bet that the first day they have question and answer time in Heaven, I will be on the front row with my hand up.
In the meantime we must live without any definitive answers. I know you must crave an answer to the why. Sometimes it becomes almost an obsession to us. Sometimes we feel if we could just get an answer to that question, it would make everything all right. I do not have an answer to your question. There is no way to make sense out of the nonsense that life throws at us.
I do not know what caused your loss. I do know some things that were not the cause.
This did not happen to punish you. At one time, I had such a rigid concept of God that I was afraid to love my children too much for fear He would take them away from me as some kind of punishment for my faults. I searched the Bible on the subject of punishment. The Bible is a growing revelation. As you progress through it you see folks discovering new ideas to replace old concepts. Early in the Bible there was the concept of "Our fathers have sinned and the children's teeth are set on edge." That bothered me for it seemed to say the children suffer the acts of parents. As I moved through the Bible the concept continued to change, until I came to Ezekiel 18. There the Bible says we should not say that any more. It goes on to say, in my vernacular, that everyone is responsible for their own actions. God does not parlay one life against another. He does not sacrifice one life to get even with another life. Both are of equal importance. Both are loved.
Suddenly I saw the arrogance of my thoughts. I am so important that others would be hurt to save me? This did not happen to you to punish you. This did not happen to you to teach you a lesson. I don't know the answer, but I know that is not it.
I hope you will excuse this foray into the world of religion and I do recognize that you may not be into the same Bible or faith as I am. If you would allow me to do so I would like to sound preachy just long enough to tell you of my struggle toward some kind of answer to the "God question" in grief.
The only thing that I can come up with that makes sense, and it is far from perfect, is to see life as a large card game with fate dealing the cards. I had a struggle here. I wanted God to deal the cards and there be some way for me to get Him to deal me only good cards. I finally had to see it as life itself doing the dealing. God will not determine the cards. His role is to stand beside my chair and help me with whatever cards I get.
That is not a good answer. It is full of holes and problems. It is only my answer. It fits me and may not fit you at all. But all the other answers I tried left me with a why bigger than I could handle. Maybe, in time, you can write out an answer that makes sense to you. I hope so.