Friday, March 13, 2015

Tonight We are All Warrior Nation

Darkness looms heavy over Warrior Nation tonight. As the rain continues to pour, tears flow from town to town along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. On this night we are all Warriors: Yellow Jackets, Indians, Fighting Irish, Hounds, Panthers, Admirals, and every other community in between has joined The Tribe.
                                                                                                            We keep watch with the North Woolmarket/D'Iberville family tonight. Facebook is flooded with Warrior Support, evidence that The Tribe is circling the wagons, creating a hedge of love and strength for the coming days. 

 We all feel the heaviness and heartache that is radiating from the very center of Warrior Nation. And what you find at the heart of our community are two loving, broken parents that don't deserve this. That could never have fathomed this. That are trying to make sense of the unbelievable nightmare that pours down on them with no relief. And we, who are attempting to comfort them, cannot comprehend the full extent of the gut wrenching, soul twisting, heart exploding pain that holds the Ward family captive. 

The Wards weep. God weeps. Warrior Nation weeps. 

We all weep. 

 Pastorally, I couldn't let this dark night go by without doing something. I tried to figure out  "what" I could do, and here's the best I could come up with: I don't have the answers to the hard questions that plague us all tonight. What I do have is insight born through awful, personal tragedy to give. And so, I will offer what I have, and pray God will take my small basket of bread and fish and multiple it to provide spiritual nourishment to those that are hurting.  


In that spirit, I have compiled a "What Not to Say" List, and a "What to Say/Do" List. My intention is not to hurt anyone. Please don't feel "bad" if you have already said these things. We ALL have said these things. Just from here out try to be mindful, Warrior Nation, and refrain from offering these space fillers. 

DISCLAIMER: I know the temptation. You DON'T know what to say. You feel awful for them. So you just reach back into your "Grieving Parent Files" and grab the first cliche you find.  DON'T DO IT. I promise standing there and saying nothing just enduring the awkward silence for a moment is better than saying these things...

What Not To Say to Grieving Parents:                                                                                                   1. "The Lord needed another Angel." Please, don't say this. Or any derivative of this. Regardless of your personal religious or spiritual persuasions. Trust me. It stings. Try to put yourself in their shoes. If God needed another "angel" then God could have created one. Or chose another one. Not MY baby. I can't tell you how many well meaning, loving people said this. And I can't tell you how badly it hurts.  

2. "This was God's Plan." Nothing like that. Regardless of if you believe that, or if that is in fact the reality of the situation. I don't care. No parent wants to hear this days after their child has been ripped away from them. Who are YOU to say what is and is not God's plan.

3. "Everything Happens for a Reason"  Really? Again, are you the Governor of the Universe? Sometimes insanely, devastating, unimaginably horrific accidents happen to some of the most loving, giving, selfless people. And we can't make any sense of it. It's not your place to try to wrap it up in a neat package, and tie it with a "God" bow. Somethings just will not make sense this side of heaven, and it's not your job to try to force sense out of tragedy.

4. "At Least You Still Have Your Other Children." Or  any "at least" sentiment, really. "At least" hurts, badly. Trust me. 

5. "I Know How You Feel, I Lost My Youngest Child in 1965." Stop right there. The parents are carrying a load that is unbearable. They cannot hold your pain, too. Don't share any "sad" story. No loss, cancer, divorce. None of it. This is for later. Much later. If you are close to the parents and want to be somewhat of a journey partner, or a guide if you will through the grief process, that time will emerge. If you just want to offer yourself as a witness that you CAN survive this...wait...there will be a time for that. Don't do that on this tonight. Or tomorrow. For the love of God DO NOT do this coming through the mammoth line at the wake. And don't say this at the funeral. Swapping horror stories is for much, much later. I know it seems "helpful" to say, "I know your pain I lost a child," but it's just too heavy right now. Save it. 

6. "God knew you could handle it." "You must be strong people." "You are stronger than I am."  " I couldn't do this." None of this is helpful. Maybe you do think they are strong. You are probably right! Maybe you think you couldn't do it (God forbid you find yourself having to endure such heartache). But, seriously, this all hurts, too. 

So What IS Helpful to Say? 
A good rule of thumb is to make "I" statements, instead of trying to "make sense of their situation" statements:  I'm sorry. This sucks. It's totally unfair. I can't fathom your pain. I'm here for you. I'm praying for you. Let me know if I can do something to help you. I love you. I loved ______(name of child). Tell them what you loved about their child(ren). I will miss them. I will miss _______(fill in the blank with a memory). I'm going to call you in a few days (Call them.) I'm going to stop by and check on you. (Stop by. Bring food. Or gift cards. Or something you know they would appreciate. Don't stay long, unless you are super close to them, or they have asked you to stay.)  If you can't say any of this... Just don't say anything at all. A touch. A pat on the back. A nod. A loving gesture says it all. 

What Can You DO?
1. Pray
I mean really, really pray. Like put your face to the ground and cry out to God for mercy for this family. Intercede on their behalf--night and day. Whenever you think of them.  I KNOW we would not have made it through without the countless multitude of  family, friends, parishioners, clergy, casual acquaintances, community members, and people that just heard our story praying for us. Pray without ceasing, Warrior Nation, for the Ward family!

2. Let the family know you are praying for them. 
 Again, the cards and letters that flooded in. What a source of strength and encouragement!

3. Meet the Primary Needs. Communities usually do this well. Warrior Nation will shine in this respect. Keep doing it. Don't stop. This serves to nourish the family physically, but also reminds them that people are walking with them. The Tribe is helping carry the load. I can't tell you all the love and presence that was showered on us, and is continued to be offered, and how much it means.

4. Go through the Parents' Liaison:  It's best to try to coordinate most of the "gifts" or "offers to help" through someone close to the family. In our case it was my sweet sister, Cherry.  This role is not for the faint of heart. But someone needs to rise up as the liaison to the rest of the world. The right person usually emerges. I say this to say, if you are trying to give food, gifts, monetary support, whatever, try to find out who this person (or people are) instead of going straight to the parents. 

5. GIVE MONETARILY: Who plans to bury their child? God have mercy, children? Give! Here's how you can offer financial support: If you would like to help Jimmy  and Amy Ward, you can contribute to the Jimmy Ward Gulfport Firemen's Fund by contacting any branch of Bancorp South. 
Click here for the details: WLOX Story: Gulfport Firefighters Respond to Tragedy


In closing, I offer this prayer for the Ward family, the family of the young men involved in this terrible tragedy, and all of Warrior Nation:
Great God of mercy, you created us in your own image, redeemed us by Christ's blood, and give us new life through your Holy Spirit. There are times when life conflicts with life and we find ourselves in the crucible of unforeseen tragedy and unbearable suffering. In this dark hour we ask that you provide a beacon of hope to light our way. We, also, offer ourselves to aid the Ward family, who are met with adversity beyond their capacity to endure alone. We offer you our hands to do Your work; We give You our eyes to see as You see; We give you our tongue to speak Your words; We offer our hearts that You may love through us. It is through such giving that we become more like you. Stir up in each of us a holy desire to think less of ourselves and more of others until we are so intertwined with Christ that it is God alone that lives, breathes, and prays in us. Amen.

Lord Hear Our Prayer,
Mj