While reading through Nicholas Wolterstorff’s powerful book Lament for a Son, I came across this moving description of how tragic loss leaves a hole that cannot be replaced. In this book Wolterstorff, who taught philosophy at Calvin College, the Free University in Amsterdam, Notre Dame, and Yale, chronicles his own journey through grief after the loss of his 25-year-old son, Eric, to a mountaineering accident.
These words helped put words to a loss our family is dealing with as my 21-year-old nephew died tragically just over three weeks ago. While we hold firmly to the faith-filled hope of eternity in Christ, we also wrestle with the painful reality of living without one we love so much. Wolterstorff gives a word for that which I find so real and fitting: the “neverness” of loss.
Gone from the face of the earth. I wait for a group of students to cross the street, and suddenly I think: He is not there. I go to a ballgame and find myself singling out the twenty-five-year olds; none of them is he. In all the crowds and streets and rooms and churches and schools and libraries and gatherings of friends in our world, on all the mountains, I will not find him. Only his absence.
Silence. ‘Was there a letter from Eric today?’ ‘When did Eric say he would call?’ Now only silence. Absence and silence.
When we gather now there’s always someone missing, his absence as present as our presence, his silence as loud as our speech. Still five children, but one always gone.
When we’re all together, we’re not all together.
It’s the neverness that is so painful. Never again to be here with us—never to sit with us at table, never to travel with us, never to laugh with us, never to cry with us, never to embrace us as he leaves for school, never to see his brothers and sister marry. All the rest of our lives we must live without him. Only our death can stop the pain of his death.
A month, a year, five years—with that I could live. But not this forever.
I step outdoors into the moist moldly fragrance of an early summer morning and arm in arm with my enjoyment comes the realization that never again will he smell this.
As a could vanishes and is gone, so he who goes down to the grave does not return, he will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more. (Job 7:9-10)
One small misstep and now this endless neverness.Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 14-15.