It has been five years since my dad, Javier Esqueda, passed away unexpectedly. The huge hole my family have without him will continue for the rest of our lives and it has been very hard to get used to the idea that he is not with us anymore. I still struggle to refer to my dad in the past tense when in casual conversations his name comes up, but I am sadly conscious that the present and the future will continue without him. My mom could have celebrated her 45 wedding anniversary last December, my two brothers could have celebrated their college graduations with their proud dad, my two children could have enjoyed their granddad (who I am sure would have spoiled them a lot), and I could have had the total support of a man who would advise me always, looking for my best interest; but all of these things were not and will never be possible.
The Bible declares that death is a direct consequence of sin (Rom. 3:23) and an intruder that gets in our way and reminds us that life is short; it fails to represent the way life should be in an ideal and perfect world. God created us to live and enjoy life. The term that clearly illustrates this reality is “Shalom” that means flourishing, well-being, and complete peace. Therefore, sin and its direct consequence, death, are a vivid example about the vandalism or loss of Shalom. Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6) and he came to give us abundant life (John 10:10). When he died on the cross for our sins and through his resurrection, he conquered death. However, the final destruction of sin and death are yet to come (1 Cor. 15:25). Therefore, even though our sins are forgiven because of Christ sacrifice, followers of Christ continue living in a world where death is close and becomes so personal when our dear ones die.
My das was a Christian and now he is rejoicing in the Lord’s presence (2 Cor. 5:8). In the same way, as a Christian myself, I am also certain that our separation is temporal and one day I will also be with him and with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:17). Nevertheless, at the present time, the pain I feel because of his absence is real and, even though it may seem to diminish with time, it never goes away and it is always waiting to wake up from being asleep at any remembrance of my dad. All human beings suffer when a loved one dies, but as Christians we do it with hope in the resurrection (1 Thess. 4:13). Consequently, we live between hope and pain, between the memories of the past and the promised joy for the future, but with the agony and uncertainty of the present time. It does not matter that my dad died five years ago now or that I am an adult, I am and will always be an orphan just like my two brothers, my mom is a widow, and my two children will grow up just listening stories about a granddad they do not remember or never met in the same way it happened to me.
Through this experience I have realized how little we are prepared to face death although it surround us all the time. When somebody is in sorrow, the natural reaction is not to get too close because “we do not know what to say.” It is true that there is nothing we can say or do to fill the emptiness or to diminish the pain that comes from losing a dear one. However, the Bible tells us that we need to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). In reality, we do not need to say anything, but just being present and accompany those who suffer. In a word, we need to show “empathy”. This term means to share the experience and feelings of another person. In common day language, we would say to “walk in each others shoes.” When we identify ourselves with the feelings of those who suffer, we are really helpful and provide real encouragement for them.
Unfortunately, we tend to think that when people are passing through a dark valley we need to cheer them up trying to minimize their pain or changing their perspective. Even though we may have good intentions and sincerely are trying to help them, what we do is to invalidate their emotions and, unintentionally, we increase their pain. Empathy is so important and yet very hard to find! My dad’s death has made me more aware about people’s pain and when I hear about the illness and deaths of the parents or children of my friends and colleagues I can only cry inside. I know that I can and should greatly improve my ability to express empathy to those around me. In fact, I think we all need to get better in this area so we can better comfort those around us who are suffering. In reality, all of us struggle in different ways, and underneath the smile that we usually see in other people there is a pain that is experiencing in silence and that is begging for support and encouragement.
It has been five years already since my dad passed away, but life continues to go on. Quotidian activities continue with highs and lows, with moments of happiness and moments of sadness. My mom and brothers have learned to live without my dad, my children to grow without a grandfather, and I to cry alone when I remember how much I miss my dad. Time fails to fill the emptiness, but it merely gets us distracted so the pain is not as vivid as it was at the beginning. If you have the privilege of being close to your parents, do not miss the opportunity of telling them that you love them. If you, like I, have lost at least one of them, I share your pain as we continue grieving with hope.
NOTE: Octavio Esqueda is among the featured columnists at Baptist Press en Español, and this article was also published in Baptist Press.