Life just got incredibly hard for four families in my community. No longer are worries about finances and social distancing and lack of toilet paper on the forefront of their minds. My interest in reading the obituaries in the local paper doesn’t usually send my morning into a wave of saddness because if you see one young person in the pages, it’s occasional at best. Today there were four. Thirty-one, thirty-one, twenty-five, twenty-three.
Of course I don’t discount the others who appear in the obituary pages each day because every life lived is worthwhile and the people they leave behind have the same grief for their loved ones as the young people’s family and friends do. But there is something about seeing so many pictures of bright, young, smiling faces in one two page spread that is jarring. My eyes scan for what their loved ones are going to miss most about them. Their sense of humor, their passion for animals or music or nature. The million tiny things about these kids that cannot be crammed into four column inches. And if I’m honest, I’m curious about how they passed.
Sometimes there are clues based on what’s said in the memorial words – a short illness, struggles with mental health – braves ones don’t mince words and state it was a suicide or drug overdose. When my brother died of suicide at 21 (I still have the obituary tucked into an otherwise empty photo album) we preferred to use euphamistic phrasing. But no matter the cause, the loss of young life is the loss of hope for the future. Weddings, families, careers, celebrations, everyday life.
It’s important to me that I can care and feel sad for the families of these kids I have never known because it reminds me I am human. There is so much more going on in the world than my small problems. I can pray for the families whose lives are forever changed by the sudden and early loss of life. This is called empathy, something Michelle Obama shined a spotlight on last night as something necessary to our society. That “each of the 330,000,000 lives in this country has meaning and worth”. It is lacking tremendously under our current president and administration. If you didn’t catch it live, take a few minutes to watch her moving speech, her hopes the country will soon move in a new direction.
I didn’t mean to get political or preachy there although I’d hardly call empathy a political topic. These young deaths have unsettled to me and that is good.