Up Front and Personal

Sudden Loss Teaches Each Moment Is a Gift

by Veronica Szczygiel

Losing a loved one hurts. The hurt is slightly appeased, however, if the death is expected. Take my grandmother’s passing in March. She had been suffering from cancer for several months, and her prognosis was not hopeful. Although her death was still difficult for me because I loved her so much, I knew it had ended her physical and mental anguish. Her death was expected. It was merciful.

But how does one pick up the pieces when the death of a loved one comes as a complete shock? The news of an unexpected death punches us deep in the gut. It hurts. It is cruel.

I received this brutal punch on Aug. 20. While vacationing with my family, we learned that my father’s best friend, Christopher Tobiasz, was killed in a boating accident. I was in shock. Chris was like an uncle to me. The sudden loss of our beloved Chris brought my family and his community to a standstill. How could this happen? And what do we do now?

One thing we can do is to remember and relive memories of the departed. Dr. Christopher Tobiasz, 57, was a cardiologist and a highly respected member of his Williamsport, Pa., community. Originally from Poland, his parents smuggled him out of the then-Communist country into America. Chris knew well the hardships his family successfully surmounted, and those experiences honed the strength, compassion and humility that defined his character. In his short life, he manifested the essence of the American dream. Uncle Chris loved boating, woodworking, fishing and travelling. But he didn’t love these as much as he did his wife and two children. And he sure loved my father. My dad has so many stories about their shenanigans in high school that I wouldn’t be able to do them justice in such a short column.

Along with remembering, we can also turn to Jesus. Jesus, being fully human, understood exactly the pain we feel at the unexpected loss of a loved one. Jesus loved visiting friends. However, upon arrival at His friend Martha’s house, instead of seeing a happy family, He found a grieving one. He learned that His dear friend, Lazarus, had died suddenly. Jesus was immediately grief-stricken, and He wept openly at Lazarus’ tomb. In fact, Jesus hated the idea of His friend’s death so much that He brought Lazarus back to life.

So what else can we do? We don’t have the power to bring back the departed. Only Jesus holds the power of resurrection, and He showed us new life is possible by giving Lazarus life. And Jesus fulfills the promise of eternal life for us through His own death and resurrection. So until we meet our own time of earthly departure, we must simply carry on. We must live out God’s message of love as Chris did. And we must live out our lives fully in God’s will, remembering that, as Chris showed us so clearly, each moment is a blessing.[hr]

Veronica Szczygiel, a member of St. Anthony-St. Alphonsus parish, Greenpoint, is a recent graduate of Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences with a master’s degree in English and American Literature. She teaches religion at Marymount Middle School, Manhattan.