Friday, February 5, 2016

Is there purpose in tragedy?

I know I haven't blogged in a while.  It's been more than an challenge to balance life and work and thinking of adding in blogging was just too much.  Not to mention, I didn't really have much to blog about.  I'm not sure many people really want to read about how I went to work, came home, made dinner, mothered, and went to bed.  I'm not a good enough writer to spice that up.

However, it's been a tough week and I have some things on my mind and feel like I need to get it out.  I thought about writing it in a journal or something but that just wasn't cathartic enough.

This last summer, Phil's aunt was diagnosed with Melanoma.  It was on her back and she had an outpatient surgery to remove it.  They checked a nearby lymph node, which came back clear and told her to come back for a 6 month skin check.  We exhaled a huge sigh of relief because the thought of having another family member go through a cancer battle just seemed too much.  Phil's dad may have passed away 2 years ago, but it still feels really fresh and kind of raw.

Then this past weekend, Phil's aunt (his dad's sister) went to the hospital because she had been really tired.  And long story short, there are three tumors in her brain.  She had surgery to remove one because it was pressing on her brain and the surgeon said it looks like the melanoma has spread to her brain.

To say that we are upset would be an understatement.  I mean, how much can one family go through?  His brother.  His dad.  Now potentially his aunt.  All within the last decade, all on the same side of the family tree.  And that's pretty much it for the family on that side.

I think it is normal when tragedy strikes to look for the "reason" behind it all.  Was it something the person did?  Who is to blame?  As people, I think we need to find a cause for bad things because it helps us feel like we can control our own destiny.

I know this happened when I went through my own cancer stuff.  I heard everything from "It's from teflon" to "you should eat organic".  For me, I found these comments really hurtful.  Like I was to blame for my own hardships and suffering.  It felt like I wasn't allowed to go through my own "this is unfair" grieving process because obviously I had done something to deserve this.

Not true.

But beyond the personal blame we try to rationalize when someone we know experiences tragedy, I think there is another level of "reason" we look for.  It's one of the main things I get asked as a Christian by atheists (aside from how as a person of science I can believe in a higher being which is a topic for another post):  Why would God let his people suffer?  Why does God let bad things happen to good people?

Which inevitably leads to my least favorite phrase of all time:

Everything happens for a reason.

Another variation would be:

God has a plan.

I kind of want to punch anyone who says those phrases in the face.

And as someone who has had cancer, it is a horrible thing to hear.  As I watched my father-in-law suffer and eventually die from cancer, the phrase was almost insulting.  Even two years later, discussing that phrase with my mother-in-law brings her to tears.

Let me use the example of my father-in-law.  I suppose we could try to think that everything happened for a reason.  That there was some life lesson we, as his survivors, were meant to learn.  But that puts our lives at a higher priority than Ed's.  Why is my life so important that someone else needs to die for my life to somehow improve or grow?  It's a self-centered view of the uncontrollable events life throws our way.

I think the hard truth of the matter is there is no reason.  Cause and effect, maybe.  But purpose?  No.  It's not that God is letting bad things happen to someone.  There is no purpose behind someone getting Alzheimer's or cancer.  There's no reason for someone dying tragically in a car accident.  No divine purpose.  God gave us all free will.  He gave us this life and said, "Go."  I think he tries to guide us.  But we aren't all on some predestined path.  That would take away our free will.

I think both of those phrases probably stem from Jeremiah 29:11 which says "'For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"  But I think that phrase gets misinterpreted.  Any parent knows that you can make all the plans you want for your children, but that doesn't mean that is how it happens.  I have plans for Henry to take a nap and often he lets me know he has other plans.  God's plan isn't set in stone.  It's His intentions.  He wants us to have a good life, but we have free will.

What God does do is offer to hold us up when bad things happen.  He looks at us and says, "I know you are hurting.  I am hurting with you.  And I am here to walk through this with you."  God never promised we would live lives free of pain or tragedy.  Grief is a part of life (at least if you are lucky enough to have people in your life you love and care about).

So now we prepare to walk through another cancer battle of a close family member.  I think an additional challenge for us this time is that it has brought up a lot of feelings and emotions from losing Phil's dad.  And just the unfairness of it all.  It seems so unfair that Phil has to go through another scare/loss so soon.  But there is no reason.  We live in a fallen world, full of tragedy and hardships.  And the best we can do it rejoice in the beautiful moments that life has to offer.  There is no light without the dark.  You can't feel the sun if you don't know the rain.  A day knows both daylight and dusk.  And other more helpful platitudes.


  1. I'm so so sorry to hear about Phil's aunt and what your family is dealing with. Melanoma is horrendous and this hits close for me because I am still just getting over having that same procedure done. I had a suspicious mole on my breast that had been changing and long story short, the doctor decided to take it out as well, and it did come back positive and was turning into melanoma so they caught it early, but it could have been so much worse. I often think about the whole "everything happens for a reason" thing around cancer. I've watched friends and family suffer through it and pass away and it is just horrible and sometimes so hard to wrap our heads around why, why things like this happen to good people. I hope you guys find peace somehow and can be the support that she will need during this time. Glad you're back in the blogging space.

  2. I'm soo sorry to hear this news. Such a rough go for your family! Cancer really is a bitch!!! I'm glad you are able to provide the support and strength to each other during this hard time. I'm also glad that you are back, but I do wish you had better news :) thinking of you during this hard time!!

  3. WHen people say everything happens for a reason when stuff like this happens my reply is "yes and sometimes the reason SUCKS".

  4. I know this is really late but I am sorry to hear about this. I cannot imagine your sadness and frustration at the universe. I hope things are improving now.

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