I recently received the following heartbreaking message through my website. Normally this is the kind of message that I would answer with a private email, but the person who sent it did not give me her email address. So, I’ve remove some details to protect her privacy, but here’s the message:
Thank you for the recent article “Memento Mori: The Contemplation of Death and the Wonder of Life”
My daughter died from an overdose 2 weeks ago. I have horrible thoughts and visions of her dying alone, so suddenly with no one by her side. My faith and hope is always in God, but where was God when she was dying like that? Can you recommend any articles or books that speak to this. It seems all books on death and dying are for those who’ve passed knowing they’re on the way. I need to know God was with her while she lay in moratorium for hours before being found. Many thanks in advance.
First of all, I am heartbroken for you and your family. Please know I am praying for you and I send you my deepest condolences. My daughter died eight years ago from natural causes, so on one level I know what you’re going through and an another level I have no idea. I know that there are no words for a time like this, so just know that I am so, so sorry.
Where was God in your daughter’s hour of greatest need? I know it is a terrible mystery as to why God allows such things to happen. I cannot begin to speculate, other than to quote Julian of Norwich, who maintained that when God keeps something secret from us, our best course of action is to trust in God, hard as that may be. But as for where God was: that is easier to answer. I am sure God was holding her close, enveloping her with infinite, vast, unconditional love. For God is Love, and so Love must love.
To respond to your request for something to read: one book that I think might offer a bit of comfort and solace for you is A Message of Hope from the Angels by the living Irish mystic, Lorna Byrne. Lorna Byrne’s particular gift is a lifelong capacity to see and communicate with angels. She has written several books, you can also find videos of her on Youtube and other video platforms. She’s very down-to-earth, just a normal Irish woman, but with a deep heart for the love of God as expressed through angelic spirits who care for us and guide us. Only one chapter in the book directly deals with death, but even its title would, I hope, bring comfort to you and your family. The chapter is called “No One Dies Alone.” Back to your question, where was God? God — and the angels, and I believe your ancestors as well — were with your daughter every step of the way.
I remember years ago hearing an Episcopal priest talk about a funeral he presided at. Only he and one acolyte were present. It was a dreary day as they blessed the coffin at the gravesite, before the undertakers took over with the task of lowering the remains into the ground. As the priest and his assistant walked away, the acolyte blurted out, “How said to be buried all alone.” The priest replied, “Alone? But we are surrounded by the angels proclaiming, ‘Make way, make way, for the image of God!”
Death is such a mystery, and when we love someone, we can be gutted by our grief. Losses that are sudden, accidental, or the result of violence or substance abuse can be even more painful. But I for one am convinced that every loss is cradled in the infinite love and mercy of God.
My great-grandfather, Carl Mattson, for whom I am named, died by suicide. He hung himself in the basement after fighting with my great-grandmother Serafina. This happened before I was born, so I never knew Carl Mattson, but I know his story, and it saddens me. But despite some stern messages I have received about the judgment of God, I trust that he died into the arms of mercy. I love Lorna Byrne’s simple message when she addresses the fear that so many of us have, that God will judge us (or our loved ones): “I have never been shown anything other than a soul going directly to Heaven.” It has been said of suicide: “Between the bridge and the river is the mercy of God.” I believe this with all my heart, and I believe it applies to all people, including those who die suddenly, accidentally, as the result of violence — or of overdose. We die into the mercy of God.
Lorna Byrne suggests that Heaven is a place of profound joy, and that those who go before us continually pray for us and watch over us with love and care (which is why I believe they will be waiting for us when we die). While it is heartbreaking for us to lose those we love, perhaps we can take comfort in knowing that their suffering has come to an end and that they have found a new and larger life in the heart of God.
A Message of Hope from the Angels is a very simple book, written entirely from the heart, with a message that is beautiful and filled with love. If you are also looking for a something that is a bit more philosophical in its approach, my favorite book on death and dying remains The Grace in Dying: How We Are Transformed Spiritually As We Die by Kathleen Dowland Singh. Singh draws from contemplative wisdom traditions around the world, combined with the best psychology of death and dying, to present a truly beautiful description of how death is truly a letting-go into the silence of Divine Love.
Again, I am heartbroken for your loss. Be gentle with yourself, you are on a long journey of grief and healing. But I trust and believe with all my heart your daughter is safe in the arms of Love. I hope you will find comfort from that same Love.