When I first saw the handwriting I immediately knew that the person writing was distressed. The heavy hand, the thick letters, the presentation on the page signaled to me that I was dealing with a disturbed individual. Then as I read his cry for help, it became clearer as to why he was in such a mental and emotional state. His wife had recently died. His parents also were dead, he was in jail, scared and feeling alone. The cumulative effect of grieving his losses, his incarceration and legal troubles, had resulted in his being placed in a segregation cell, locked down 24/7, on the brink of insanity.
As a jail chaplain, I am daily confronted with desperate cries for help like those of the man mentioned above. Often, the simple act of listening, accompanied by prayer, does wonders to alleviate the anguish and suffering being experienced. However, those dealing with grief present a problem that isn't easily addressed.
Last week, we experienced our own encounter with grief. It all began when I got a phone call from my wife, Marilee. As we were talking, Marilee heard a knock on the door. As I am listening, I hear her say “Who is it?” Then I hear her say, “Hi Dovi!” Then I hear muffled voices followed by Marilee saying, “Oh no! Help Jesus, Jesus!”
Instantly, I knew something was terribly wrong. Then Marilee was back on the phone saying that a dog had gotten our pet rabbit Houdini, and that he was dead. I immediately jumped in my car and headed for home. When I arrived 5 minutes later, I was met with a horrific sight, our beautiful rabbit Houdini was lying in the front yard, bloodied and broken, and Marilee crying in the front yard.
It was a scene of utter chaos. Our neighbor Dovi had stayed with Marilee and was holding the dog on a leash and was talking with the police on the phone. Another lady had stopped her car when she saw the dog attack Houdini. She had corralled the dog and put a leash on him.
As I am surveying the situation, I see two young kids approaching coming up the street, looking concerned and frightened. As it turns out, their dog Fergus had got out of the fenced back yard when some workmen had left the gate ajar. Having found Fergus missing, they had gone looking for him.
These were really sweet kids, a 5 year old girl and an 8 year old boy. When they saw what was happening, they began to cry. At that point, I told Marilee to go into the house. I then had to explain to the kids that Fergus had killed Houdini and that the police had instructed us to keep the dog until the police arrived. I tried to assure them that Fergus was going to be OK but I could tell from their tears that they were not convinced.
After about 45 minutes, their mother arrived and I had to explain to her what had happened and how the police had insisted that we keep their dog until the police arrived. Immediately she broke down and began to cry. She explained to me that she was a teacher in Thurston and that it had been one of her students who had been killed the day before when a pickup truck ran through a red light, killing 3 children. She said, “It’s really been a tough week!”
For the next two and a half hours, we stood in the front yard under a tree, trying to get some protection from the gentle rain that was falling. I invited them to come inside but they chose to stay outside, thinking the police would be coming at any time. During that time the father arrived after getting off work.
It was an awkward situation but it was amazing how through this tragic event, God somehow knit our hearts together and we bonded with each other.
When Marilee brought some cheese and crackers out to feed us, many tears were shed. One of the most touching moments was when the little boy told Marilee he was so sorry about the bunny. Marilee hugged him back, thanking him and assuring him that Fergus would be alright.
After 3 hours, everyone was wet and cold and the police were nowhere in sight, so I told them to just take Fergus and go home. But then their truck wouldn't start so they had to call a tow truck. That is when the police finally were able to respond.
After interviewing the witnesses and taking our statements, the police had to take Fergus into custody for observation. The police officer assured us that based upon our good report and his observations, Fergus would be released in the morning.
As I watched, the police officer placed Fergus in the back of his squad car, and the kids went up to him to say good night. It was a bittersweet moment. I felt for the kids as I returned home to place Houdini’s broken body in a box for safe keeping, until I could bury him in our rose garden in the morning.
When I did go inside, the house seemed so empty. I immediately sensed Houdini’s spirit was gone. All that remained was his cage, his food dish, and his two stuffed bunny playmates. With heavy hearts, we embraced each other and went to bed, saddened by our loss, grieving for our Houdini.
Before going to bed, I mentioned our loss on my Facebook page, where I posted a picture of Houdini in Marilee’s arms. The next morning, we awoke to scores of people expressing their condolences on my Facebook page. But what happened next is what really blew my mind.
When I was about to get the newspaper, I was greeted by a knock at the door. When I opened the door, I was face to face with a dear old friend and former classmate named Janetta. On the porch beside her, was a beautiful bouquet of fragrant white tiger lilies, left by Marilee’s brother Bob.
Surprised to see her, I invited her inside, noticing that she was carrying something under her arm, wrapped in paper. Janetta had been staying with us previously while her husband Don was undergoing chemo at the hospital. Janetta explained that when she read about Houdini’s death, she just had to come see us, because she knew how much we loved him. It was then, when she presented me with a beautifully framed painting of Houdini that she had done 3 weeks before. It had been intended as a thank you gift for our hospitality. But when she heard of Houdini’s death, she jumped in her car and drove 39 miles to deliver the painting in person.
Needless to say, I was moved to tears. I thanked Janetta and then she had to go because her husband Don was waiting in the car. I immediately hung the picture of Houdini in a place of honor on our living room wall.
After breakfast, as I was leaving for work, I again opened the front door only to discover another lovely potted pansy and a beautiful sympathy card from our neighbors across the street, signed by all of them. But that wasn't all that was there. There was another card decorated by a child with a beautiful drawing of a rabbit and signed by a little girl we didn't know named Jane. Along with it was a little ceramic rabbit with real hair growing out of the top of its head. These expressions of sympathy really comforted us and our hearts welled up full of gratitude and thanksgiving.
But that wasn't the end of it. When I came home from work at the jail, there was another expensive bouquet of flowers in an exquisite glass vase, with a note from Fergus’s family. In it, they expressed their thanks for our understanding, our kindness towards them and their sympathy for our loss of Houdini. They reported that Fergus had been released from the animal shelter and was happily at home.
Through this shared sorrow, we have been comforted by those who have reached out to us, through cards, flowers, and tons of internet postings. God is healing our hearts and slowly restoring our joy.
Do you know someone who is grieving a loss? If so, you might consider a kind word, a card, or even flowers. Who knows, it might be you who God uses to be His agent of healing and comfort. I know a family in Springfield who could really use your words of comfort, having lost their three children.
“Blessed be God, even the Father or our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort. who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
2 Corinthians 1, 3-5