When my oldest grandson was 19, less than a year after his HS graduation, he was killed by a drunk driver speeding through a red light. Patrick and his best friend had just rented an apartment, and he was bringing some of his belongings there when he was at the wrong intersection at the wrong time. The drunk smashed into Patrick’s car broadside, killing him instantly. A woman who saw Patrick through the side window of her van wrote that he looked very happy the moment before his sudden death, which he didn’t see coming.
I remember being at home in the middle of our staircase when I answered my son’s call about the “accident.” Stunned beyond belief, I couldn’t move for the longest time thinking if I didn’t move, maybe it was a bad dream?
When a grandchild dies, the natural order we impose on life is ruptured. The universe becomes askew. We search for a rationale. We make up meaning for the meaningless. We try to hold faith. We search for purpose. We want to believe in a plan. But all we see is randomness. Good luck or bad luck.
Since childhood I have held religious beliefs, even though the trappings of formal religions often seem too institutional and rigid for me. But a belief I have not forsaken is in some form of afterlife. Some awareness and recognition. I take comfort in the idea of reuniting with loved ones.
It also suits my sense of fairness. Some of us suffer much more than others. Some have their lives cut short. For instance, walking through the halls of Sloan-Kettering Hospital I’ve seen children with cancer. Why must they be so afflicted? It’s not possible to be indifferent to them. To say, “Oh how unfortunate. What bad luck!” No, that won’t do. I need more. There must be more for these children and for Patrick and all who have suffered unduly. It is that hope for more, for an evening out in afterlife, that is my faith.
Michael Wallace, retired high school teacher and school district administrator, is married with four children and seven living grandchildren. He was diagnosed with a follicular lymphoma in 2003.