Here we are, a month out from that fateful day of the horrendous Champlain Towers South condo collapse. While it is true that life goes on, June 24, 2021, is a day that we will never forget. We will never again walk or drive past where Champlain Towers South once stood and not remember the souls who were lost in the collapse.
Like many of you, I have tried to imagine what it was like for the people who were trapped, maybe even some buried alive, in the concrete rubble that was once their home. Then I think that perhaps those who were awake went quickly. And those who slept never knew what hit them. The thought helps me to muddle my way through this disaster.
I thank the Lord for the ones whose lives were spared and I shed tears for the lost ones, and for the ones they left behind to grieve. It has been hard for me to tear myself away from the television news, each day giving us a tally of the lost.
I read the newspaper stories of those who perished, looking at the pictures of smiling faces, and hanging onto each word, thankful that at least now, I can put a face with a name. Then, I think: If I am so affected, how much more are the grieving relatives and friends who knew them?
Because the condo collapse happened suddenly, and took so many lives at once, our community has been left in shock. We wandered around for days, asking questions, seeking answers, while rescuers frantically searched for signs of life. We prayed for miracles and that gave us hope for a while. But the hope of finding someone, anyone, alive dwindled with each passing day.
Yet, through it all, God’s love was present. It showed up through the outpouring of help from people from other nations, and from the many locals, who went out of their way to show love and bring some semblance of comfort to the surviving families.
We all too often go to bed each night with our minds filled with plans — things we want to do the next day. I can imagine that’s how many of the victims felt on the night before, as they snuggled beneath their comforters, ready for a good night’s rest.
But it wasn’t to be. Sometime during the night, just past 1 a.m., most of the 40-year-old Champlain Towers South building crumbled to the ground, taking the lives of loved ones, and leaving scores of relatives and friends asking the ageless question — “Why?”
I can’t tell you why the tower collapsed. But I can tell you this: It taught us to never again take life for granted. And it reminded us of the importance of saying those three little words — “I love you” — to the people we love.
Now, one month later, the pain is still raw. It is yet so very hard for some of us to come to grips with this horrible event. As a woman of faith, even I struggle for words to say to those who lost everything. How can mere words uttered to a husband… a wife… a child… a grandparent … a friend, ever begin to console them? What can I do or say that will give even a tiny bit of comfort?
As helpless and empty as I sometimes feel at this time, I know there is somewhere I can go. Now is the time that I must lean on my faith. Yet, I know that in the aftermath of this mammoth catastrophe, the faith of many has grown weak, leaving them to ask, “Why, Lord? Why would a loving God allow such a thing to happen to His people?”
As a believer, one would think that I have the answer. I don’t. But I can tell you this: The condo catastrophe has nothing to do with God not loving us. God IS love. I believe with all my heart that it pains Him too, when He has to watch our pain and agony over the loss of loved ones. He knows our grief and His love comforts us even when we don’t understand.
Recently I spoke to a couple of friends who are ministers on how they help people get through such tragedies.
The Rev. Dr. Walter T. Richardson, who was at the condo collapse site for two weeks, offering prayer and comfort to surviving families said, “The one thing that has sustained the people is for them to rely on their faith, whatever their faith is. Faith is something they can’t see and it doesn’t appeal to the senses. But it is something that is real. So I encourage people to hold on to their faith. There are questions that will never be answered.
“But it is all right to raise the question of ‘Why’ to the God of your faith. While it [the answer] might not be clear now, one day it will make more sense.”
I thought about what Richardson said. I thought of the pain of losing my son Rick nearly eight years ago. It just didn’t make sense to me that I should bury my child. He was supposed to bury me. But I leaned heavily on my faith during the months, and even years, following his death. And while I will forever love and miss him, it comforts me when I think that I was blessed to have him for a son. That thought, alone, gives me so much comfort.
Another minister friend of mine reminded me that, “God knows our pain. He experienced our grief when He gave His only Son. The Book of Isaiah, Chapter 53, tells us the Lord has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” said the Rev. Dr. Edward Rhodes. “So, God knows what it is to experience grief at the level that the surviving families from the condo are experiencing.”
As my friends spoke to me, reminding me of God’s love and the fact that none of us has to go through the pain of loss alone, I found myself being comforted. And as I write this column, my prayer is that some survivor, someone who lost a loved one, will read it and will find some solace and comfort in these humble words.