Just a few weeks ago, tragedy struck the home of one of our close friends. Their 15-year-old son, Dylan, a great kid on his way to great things in this world, died in a freak sledding accident.
He could have gone down that same hill a million different times and not died.
But he did.
Now, as his parents, siblings, family, and friends try to process the loss, mourning, and sadness, many, many questions run through our minds. And one such question that dominates is, “Why did this happen?”
People often ask “Why?” when bad things happen in life, to them or to others. The question certainly arises when a family member or friend is killed in an accident or from a disease that happens “before his or her time.”
While asking “Why?” is a very common response to tragedy, and is a very natural part of the grieving process to help us try to understand and bring emotional closure, I have come to see over the course of my life that it just might be the wrong question to ask in these situations. Not only because we likely will never know just why our loved one died at that particular time, but because it often causes bitterness and anger, and, consequently, keeps us from asking the more important question: “To what end?”
In Tony Dungy’s (former coach of the Indianapolis Colts) book, Quiet Strength, Dungy recounts the most difficult experience he ever had in his life when his son took his own life at the age of 18. In so doing, Dungy discusses the need to ask “What?,” not “Why?”
“Why do bad things happen? I don’t know. Why did Jamie die? I don’t know. But I do know that God has the answers, I know He loves me, and I know He has a plan – whether it makes sense to me or not. Rather than asking why, I’m asking what. What can I learn from this? What can I do for God’s glory and to help others?”
The book goes on to chronicle how Dungy’s life answered those questions with some very life-giving stories and conversations. Here is one such story: “One worried father asked me to call his son, who he thought might be contemplating taking his life. We spoke several times over the next few weeks. ‘Why are you taking the time to call me?’ the son finally asked. ‘Because if someone had been able to help my son with a phone call, I hope they would have taken the time,’ [Dungy responded.] His dad called me later to thank me for helping his son get through that time. I was happy to know that our experience, as unbearable as it was, had actually helped another family.”
God’s plan in all of this may never make sense to us and we may never know why Dylan died as that particular time on that particular hill. There still is a whole lot of mourning and healing going on, and likely will continue in some ways for the rest of our lives.
Fortunately, though, I have already seen first-hand over the past few weeks how asking the question, “To what end?,” can result in some pretty incredible things. For instance, just a few days after Dylan’s death, I watched his friends (and he had lots of friends), freshmen in high school, pour out their hearts, one after another, at a candlelight vigil – sharing how he inspired them during his life and will continue to inspire them in his death to love better, work harder and with more purpose, and never take a minute of their lives for granted.
So, while we will all miss Dylan dearly for the rest of our lives, we need to keep asking ourselves and each other the two questions that guided Dungy through the valley he found himself in after his son’s death.
What can I learn from this?
What can I do for God’s glory and to help others?
We can rest in the fact that God somehow will use his tragic death to bring glory to Him and to help others in amazing ways, seen and unseen.
(As you finish reading this post, please pray for the Ridolfi family, that God will continue to give them a peace and calm that passes all understanding through this extremely difficult time.)
(This post is a modification of a post I previously published in September 2011 on the Providence blog about my sister-in-law’s suicide.)