Thursday, December 17, 2009

Heartache doesn't take a holiday

12/9/09 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Heartache doesn’t take a holiday

Sadness and sorrow are not a popular subject in the month of December. The glitz and glamour of the season tend to mask the reality that many have serious health problems during this festive time of year while others are suffering the loss of loved ones. Heartache doesn’t take a holiday just because the calendar says it’s time to celebrate.

Listening to the news, I wince when the latest casualty count of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are announced. I am enraged at stories of cruelty to men, women or children. I am concerned about the homeless population. I tear up when I hear tales of animal cruelty. I worry about the future of humanity. And when the newscast is over, I go back to my nice, normal, middle-class lifestyle.

But these newscasts are about real people. And the escalation of violence in our country means that when vile, awful things happen, life is never the same for any of us. There’s a new normal. A new reality — Bad things happen to good people.

It dumbfounds me that there are so many multiple murders. Family members are killing generations of family members. Individuals are shooting up their office staff. I keep wondering ‘why?’ When did this start happening? Has it always been this way and we just never noticed? Is it possible to stop this madness?

The recent Fort Hood Massacre stunned the country. Initial reports said that Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, calmly gunned down and killed 13 soldiers, injuring dozens more. Unbelievable. An officer killing his comrades? The killer was brought down before it was a complete bloodbath. But there’s a new normal at Fort Hood.

On hearing this, my first thought was fearful: “Is this another 9/11?”

My next thought was outrage: “What kind of a monster would do this to his comrades?”

My final thought was “How are the families going to cope?”

For every person killed at the hands of another, hundreds of people are affected. Wives, husbands and children are robbed of a spouse or parent. Extended family, friends and neighbors lose a companion. For all those involved, there’s a certain loss of innocence that can never be reclaimed.

The recent senseless, execution-style shooting of four Lakewood, Wash. police officers sent shock waves across the country. Another monster on a mission walked up to a table in a coffee shop and blew away four police officers. By default, his act affected hundreds of other lives. Immediate families were devastated and entire communities are in mourning. Christmas will be tough this year.

These large-scale tragedies make headlines nationally but locally we have similar struggles on a smaller scale. Some folks are fighting for their lives due to illness; some are winning the battle but some will lose. Individuals are victims of homicide. Again, these families must cope with heartache this holiday season.

Just before Thanksgiving Retta and Jim Cunningham lost their son Tom. He was shot and killed, on a city street in Hayward, CA, as his daughter watched. They were on an outing to get ice cream. Another senseless killing.

Aislinn Blackstone, daughter of Len and Deb Blackstone, celebrated her 31st birthday at Riverbend Hospital last weekend. She has been there for nearly two months, struggling to stay alive. Her battle began with a case of the flu. H1N1 or Swine Flu. The usual symptoms of exhaustion, fever, and cough escalated to pneumonia, blood clots and plummeting oxygen levels.

Eventually, this not-so-ordinary illness became sinister, as she developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome or ARDS — a life threatening lung condition. Unable to breathe on her own, she was put on a ventilator. Her family was told to prepare for the worst. An email was sent out to pray and she survived the 72-hour crisis. Today, she is still hospitalized but winning the battle.

Christians, Jews and Muslims all know the story of Job as related in the Old Testament Bible. He’s the guy that bad things happened to in spite of his impeccable relationship with God. In the course of one day this godly, wealthy man lost everything he had due to wind and fire; raiding and murderous thugs and painful boils: His ten children, servants, animals and his health — were all gone (later to be restored).

Bad things do happen to good people. Eventually, we all hit a rough patch and have to hold on for dear life. This has been one of those years for many people all across this land. Frankly, many families would just as soon skip Christmas that year.

“When Bad Things Happen to Good People” was written by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner after the death of his son at the age of 14 from a rare, incurable genetic disease. In the book Rabbi Kushner seeks to answer the question: “Where do we find the resources to cope when tragedy strikes?”

Most people will tell you that it is faith in God that gets them through the painful days and sleepless nights. By faith, they believe that their prayers will be answered. By faith they trust that if their prayers are not answered it is because there is a better plan.

It is by faith that we endure times of grief but it is with hope that we look forward to the time when heartache takes a forever holiday and that every day is Christmas morning. Shalom, everyone.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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