Subject: Sarah’s gone

Last fall, my friend Dave called me from his car and asked if I could give him directions to the hospital. He was headed there to meet his wife, Sarah, who had gone there to find out why her stomach hurt. We joked a bit, and then hung up. I assumed it wouldn’t be anything serious.

I was wrong.

The diagnosis was cancer. Doctors removed the tumor, but it had spread, so chemotherapy treatment was necessary.

In the weeks and months that followed, Dave sent to a group of his friends and family regular email updates about Sarah’s condition. She was in and out of the hospital a number of times. Through it all, Dave managed her care while working full-time and looking after their 2-year-old son.

Often, the tone of Dave’s emails was positive … and, when it wasn’t, my mind would reflexively put things in the context of “This is an unfortunate challenge that they’ll overcome.”

Dave sent us more than 70 email updates during the past five months, most of them characterized by his uncanny wit and wry sense of humor, which remained intact despite the enormity of what he, Sarah and their son were going through.

Last Thursday, another email update arrived. The subject line appears in the title of this post. It is the worst email I have ever received.

The wake was last night. Pictures of Sarah were on display throughout the funeral home, a number of which were from her and Dave’s wedding, an event that took place just four years ago last November. The receiving line at the wedding was the first time I met Sarah’s parents. The receiving line at the funeral home was the second. That should never happen.

Until now, almost all of the deaths I’ve had to deal with personally have been those of grandparents, both mine and my wife’s. Until now, they had been the saddest occasions of my life. Next to this, they seem happy. They were celebrations of lives well lived.

Dave and Sarah loved each other completely. They were at the beginning of their life together, and had only just recently brought another new life into the world. Since their wedding, they weren’t just “Dave” or “Sarah” to me; they were “Dave and Sarah.”

Seeing Dave standing alone at the wake last night and the funeral today, with that whole other half of himself missing, was gut-wrenching.

I have never hurt for someone the way I hurt for Dave right now. My heart is broken for him, and for his son.

Many people find comfort in their religion at times like this, and accept that this is part of “God’s master plan.” I am not one of those people.

I believe there are forces larger than us, that there are mysteries we don’t yet understand, but I do not believe in one omniscient, omnipotent being in the sky whose hand guides everything in our world. If such a being does exist—well, right now, I’m only interested in kicking its ass.

You cannot convince me that a wonderful, vivacious, loving, 37-year-old wife and mother got sick and died because it was “God’s will.”

My friend had to bury his wife today. His son doesn’t have a mother. That is just fucked up, cruel and wrong.

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  1. Elena
    Posted August 20, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Hi… I have to comment on this entry because it rings so true. I lost my fiance a few months ago and so, SO many people had these horrible comments about god’s master plan and god’s will, and god this and god that. I can’t even put into words how gut wrenchingly offensive it is to hear that from people who then skipped home to their significant others, spouses, partners, children etc and continued their lives more or less normally, while I went home to a vast empty NOTHING, my partner gone, my life completely changed forever.

    I know that all those people meant well, but thank you for putting in to words what actually would have been a slight comfort.

  2. meggie
    Posted January 4, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    I agree completely with both of you. People often find it difficult to just say “I’m sorry for your loss and for your pain”.
    If one has something comforting to say, such as “your wife brought such joy to those who were fortunate to know her”, fine but seriously, other than that, just keep it simple and limit yourself to things you actually know to be true. The fact that “god needed her more than you and your child” doesn’t comfort anyone, even if they actually believe it too.

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