The mystery of dying young

Faith is the only answer to one of the most confounding types of suffering in this world - the death of a young person - and the experience of suffering often strengthens that faith, according to panelists at a seminar last Saturday in Chantilly.

"Why Does God Allow the Good to Die Young?" was the topic of the conference at St. Veronica Church that included presentations from a parent, a priest and a grief counselor. The event was sponsored by the Arlington Diocesan Council of Catholic Women and the Office for Family Life

Dr. Marie Anderson, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, said she usually talks from a medical perspective at conferences, but this time it was "totally personal." Anderson lost her teenage daughter, Kristin, in a car accident in July 2004. The topic was a question with which she has struggled and one that has brought her to a deeper level of faith.

"This is one of the most difficult issues to address, and yet we must address it," Anderson said. "It is a million dollar question and one that I am convinced has no answer."

She said the Church teaches that the answer is a mystery that we must accept. We, as human beings, are not in control, especially in matters of life and death.

"I am grateful for my 2,000-year-old Church that gives meaning to suffering. I am grateful to know that prayer is more powerful when it comes from the broken hearted," she said. "I realized very soon that in order to get through it, I had to embrace Christ and trust that He'll give us all we need to get through it. It is in that trust that we grow in faith."

Anderson said that she received great consolation from the Blessed Mother, who knew her pain as a mother having lost her Son.

"Mary was a great comfort. I could relate to her," she said. "She stood at the foot of the cross."

Anderson said that the death of a child is a pain that never heals, but that she feels connected to her daughter at eucharistic adoration and at the consecration at Mass, when she is close to God, and she knows that He is close to her daughter.

Anderson said that her spiritual life grew "astronomically" as a result of her experience, and that she is able to relate to women with terminally ill children in her work at Tepeyac, for whom the Kristin Anderson Perinatal Hospice Program was named.

Father Alex Drummond, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls, told conference attendees that it is because of original sin that sickness, aging and bodily death came into the world. He said that, although it is always difficult when someone you love has died, there is a "completeness" with old-age death that is lacking when the person is young.

"Only faith can get us through," Father Drummond said. "This experience helps you grow in faith."

While there may not be an answer to the question, "Why does God allow the good to die young?," he said there are some threads that can be weaved together.

"If we truly love, we will suffer. When we are parted, we hurt," Father Drummond said. "If we didn't love, our lives would be so empty."

"He who loved the most, suffered the most," he said. "On those three hours on the cross, Jesus suffered all the sins of the world - all sins of the past and the future, out of love for us and to redeem us."

Suffering only makes sense if it becomes redemptive, he said. The worst suffering to see is a young person die, especially a parent experiencing the death of a child.

"God doesn't will the evil but comes and suffers through it with us," Father Drummond said. "That human suffering is where we feel a divine love. We cannot let go of God because it is the only way we can survive."

Jeanette Reinecker, a licensed clinical social worker from Owings, Md., said grief like that of losing a young person often affects individual's relationships - with themselves, with others, with the deceased and with God.

But she said life experiences shape who people become later, and prayer helps them get through times of grief.

"Our prayer might be, 'Help me to understand, but I trust You until I do,'" Reinecker said.

Socarras is a freelance writer from Annandale.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2008