August 22, 2019

When tragedy strikes a community, townspeople comfort the bereaved

Tears have spilled over and flooded our community like a swollen stream in springtime. The most joyous week in the year became veiled in sorrow when an accident claimed the young life of one of ours. The New Year looks bleak indeed.

That’s what townspeople everywhere feel when an elderly friend dies and will long be missed, or a neighbor up the road suffers a heart attack, or a young man drowns in a boating mishap or a beloved wife of 60 years is suddenly gone, or someone loses a tough battle to cancer, or a teenager succumbs to congenital disorders.

That’s what communities suffer when one of their own disappears from their midst in a moment, like sunshine obliterated by storm clouds or candlelight blown out by wind. Or like a shooting star that brightens the black night, then vanishes.

All small towns have experienced the dreaded hush that stifles any chatter or laughter along the street, that wipes away any smile in grocery stores or service stations, in post offices or restaurants, in schools or shops. We’ve all been there in certain times, and it is only time that can ease the collective pain.

Every one of us in close-knit villages and communities throughout coastal Maine has seen the pall hovering over the town in such times of grief and loss. We read about each other in area newspapers; we sense each other’s needs.

In larger cities, that is not always the case. Crowds of people may move to the rhythm of a shared pulse rate that connects workplaces and highways, apartment buildings and shopping malls. A drumbeat that motivates and orders, that signals and orchestrates; its listeners often follow by rote. They remain strangers.

But in communities like ours – like yours – pulse rates are tied to our very heartbeats, and that is why we hurt when those around us do. Someone summed it up this way: “The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him, ‘What are you going through?'”

This week in our town and, no doubt, in others where tragedy has occurred, we’re asking of each other, whether bereaved family or special friends, “What are you going through?” and “How may we help?”

A hymn often sung in church reminds us of our role in community: “So my pain is pain for you, in your joy is my joy, too…

“We are many parts, we are all one body and the gifts we have we are given to share. May the spirit of love make us one indeed; one, the love that we share, one, our hope in despair, one, the cross that we bear.”

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