a web of grief

In ancient Israel mourners displayed their grief by smiting their chests and tearing their clothes. For seven days, at least, they wouldn’t dress themselves, make their bed, take a bath, or do any work at all.

I understand that. Today we mourn the loss of a young man in our church. And no one feels like doing anything. It is the morning after death that Emily Dickinson describes, writ large across an entire congregation.

Daniel, 23, was involved in a bicycle accident Friday evening, and never recovered consciousness until he died Sunday night. He was a strong, friendly and godly young man who served others faithfully and cheerfully. Active in almost every program in our church, he had given himself completely to God.

His family will miss him the most, of course. It’s a large family, and he was the oldest of seven sons. His brothers, his sister and his parents were very close to him and to each other. Their grief is so very great.

But I was also moved by the huge outpouring of love and prayer online by the many young people who knew him. The web became a way of keeping up and reaching out.

There were blog posts, of course. Kim Hoyt, whose children grew up with him, posted from Argentina. She writes:

We just aren’t able to see the big picture. Sometimes we are left heartbroken and confused by circumstances beyond our control. But we have the express, written promise of God that we will be overwhelmed by what He has prepared for those who love Him.

But she pointed to his bio for a software program he just built and pulled photos off Facebook. Facebook itself became a powerful way for his friends to process their grief, sharing prayers and memories constantly throughout the weekend.

What is clear is that suddenly many people were praying and asking others to pray. Linnea Svensson, who only knew him for a short time in Chicago, wrote “I’m mobilizing Sweden, my friend.” Someone else assured him that churches all over Oklahoma were praying.

Certainly more traditional connections were involved. At 3 in the morning college students who didn’t go to our church or even know him were on their knees in my living room praying. And the church prayer chain emails sent out, even to former college student who had attended our church. There were phone calls in the night.

But Facebook provided an ever-expanding web of compassion and care. The Jackson Citizen Patriot picked up the story based on Facebook chatter, as friends of friends of friends joined in. When I posted a link about the funeral arrangements, it was reposted on 12 other networks in 20 minutes. My son collected over 120 photos in a few hours.

The stream flowed online just as it did offline, as dozens of young people who had known him as a teacher, mentor, coach or friend passed through the hospital room, often speaking directly to him in their posts, telling them they were coming or had been there, even thought they knew he was completely unaware.

His Facebook profile became a resource, as the family posted updates. During an impromptu worship service in a hospital waiting room, a slide show from his profile pictures played while friends and family prayed and sang. And then, when Daniel passed on Sunday evening, his page became a way for his peers to sort things out.

Dr. Heidi Horsley, an adjunct professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work, says “The younger generation is setting the stage for a new model of grieving,” which includes, among other things an archive of ones life that remains long after the funeral. According to a column in the New York Times, Facebook already hosts thousands of memorialized accounts of deceased users so their friends and family can continue to post photos and comments.

This is no shrine. It’s an ongoing conversation. Someone quoted the last thing he said on Facebook. But someone also reposted a poem from a note Daniel wrote four years ago:

How long must I be on this earth
to serve mankind?
to bear the pain of life?
to bear the pain of others?

Give me Your love strongly enough
to love the world with Your love;
Lord, please let me love others enough
to live for them.

Oh, that I can feel Your hand even now,
while in betrothal,
before You complete Your vows.

Friends search this archive of his life, searching for hidden meaning that seems almost prescient. They quote the Scriptures he liked and remember the songs he sang.

They are not looking for the hidden meaning of his life, however, but of their own.

It will take more than seven days.

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About wally metts

Wally Metts is the daysman. He is director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University and is a pastor at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI. The father of four adult children, he and his wife Katie raise barn cats and Christmas trees in Michigan. His grandchildren call him Santa.

8 Responses to “a web of grief”

  1. Add to that one network…friends of mine on Ravelry, the yarn crafter’s network, were praying through the weekend as well.

    My heart goes out to his family and the greater CBC family. He will be missed.

  2. Being so far away, the internet provided the updates, through facebook mostly but also through phone calls via Vonage. I think Dr. Horsley has it completely right.

    I think you’re absolutely right too. It will take longer than seven days.

  3. The internet now provides another way to work out grief. This year I followed a couple blogs: one a husband walking through the valley; another a father whose 19 year-old son died in his sleep–http://dosserknight.wordpress.com/–an ongoing journey.

  4. Pastor James Dinnan Reply July 14, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    I met Daniel at the T4G conference in Louisville in mid April. I learned our churches were only a couple hours away from each other. I remember after Piper spoke, that Daniel and I engaged in a very thought provoking conversation. We exchanged emails and were going to continue our conversation. I knew him so very very briefly but I saw a young man with great sincerity and a willingness to think and reflect. I am sorry I didn’t get to know him better and I pray for comfort during this painful loss to his family.

    • Dear Pastor Dinnan,

      I’m glad you had the opportunity to meet Daniel! I am his Mom. We are still feeling the pain of the loss, but are seeking to serve God as he would have us do now, as we continue our lives here on earth.

      I continue to receive strength and comfort from the things Daniel said and from what others learned through him.

      Do you remember anything from that conversation you had with Daniel that day? If so, I would really enjoy hearing about it. Daniel was a very deep thinker, but could bring things back to a level where most anyone could understand. That always amazed me and I sometimes wonder why God didn’t leave him here because he was such a great teacher.

      Thanks for sharing your original post and thank you so much for your prayers. I will look forward to more if you have any more to share.

      Pam 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. the hands and feet of Jesus « the daysman - May 25, 2010

    […] was an earnest, thoughtful young man, with many gifts. And as it turned out, many friends. Although our rural church runs about 250, easily a thousand people showed up for the visitation, […]

  2. something to say: a retrospective | the daysman - September 30, 2010

    […] the exception of my bio, my most read post was a web of grief, an essay about the role social media played in how people managed their grief when Daniel Parker, […]

  3. auld lang syne | the daysman - December 31, 2010

    […] friend Daniel too. It was May then. And our grief, and his family’s grief, and his friends’ grief was very great, as it should be and still is. I remember the hands and the feet of the church, coming together in […]

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