We've known for more than a year that he was probably going to lose his battle with nature; he was diagnosed with an advanced and has been at the palliative stage for many months. Without being close friends to the family - in my case not really knowing them at all - we have reached out (mostly through my wife, who is by nature a very caring and generous person) to offer resources and time and whatever else we could to try to ease the crushing burden of impending catastrophe. Nothing, of course, can truly ease the emotional load that these unfortunate folks have been carrying for what seems like an age. Nothing can erase the approaching finality, the fear, the sadness and the longing for it not to be true. Alan (not his real name) wasn't ready to accept what was likely to happen - perhaps, then, it was fortuitous that he died suddenly and unexpectedly. Fortuitous for him, but for nobody else.
My wife is stronger than me. She has the ability to be alongside people in such circumstances and remain resourceful and useful. I, on the other hand tend these days to be almost overwhelmed by the sadness of such a such a situation. It's hard to step outside of the bitterness and crushing sadness I feel when I hear about what these people have faced and are now enduring. It's hard not to step into the shoes of the dying man and imagine my own feelings if I were on a similar road; it is my very worst nightmare. The frightening thing about this reality is that it is an everyday occurrence around the world. people die all the time. People die tragically, undeservingly all the time. People and their relatives suffer horrendous fear, pain and grief...all the time. The universe is a cold, uncaring machine. It has no thoughts. It simply runs its billions or trillions of programs without consciousness, and completely randomly. Tragedy, as I have learned throughout my adult life, can and will strike anywhere. Yesterday it randomly struck a woman making a life in a foreign land, and two small children who will struggle to fully comprehend why daddy will never come home again.
An old, cold, heartless universe simply doing its thing; no malice, no mercy, no feeling of any kind; in fact no more feeling than the keyboard I'm using at this moment. No more consciousness than the screen or the desk or my long-suffering office chair. UNLESS, of course, you hide in the shelter of Abrahamic religion, which extols the theory of one almighty being watching over and controlling us and our world. God's reasoning rises above human understanding, works in mysterious ways and Allah's will is simply to be obeyed and accepted unconditionally. I can see how such thinking provides a crumb of comfort, disguised as it so often is with the promise of everlasting life (code for: it'll all turn out alright in the end). I can see that believing in a benevolent God is comforting, reassuring and calming - but only if we switch off our powers of reason.
If you wish to do so, then please; knock yourself out. I mean it: knock yourself out, because if you believe that this is a benevolent God's will, you're not using your brain anyway.
To question a benevolent god's motives is surely safe - if the god is genuinely benevolent. What harm can a little thought really do? A benevolent, merciful god won't mind at all.
First, does this benevolent god require of its followers/worshippers to adopt the same mentality towards death as those people who historically practised the ritual of human sacrifice? This is what the notion of 'Oh - it's all God's will.' actually boils down to - that we are expected to accept the death of our loved ones as something that the divine deity wants to happen. That's the merest shimmy (not even half a step) from proactively murdering people (including children) in order to keep a mystical being happy. It's a line of reasoning that defines a death cult - God wants us dead, so don't argue about it. Accept it, because allegedly holy people say we should. Allow it to happen, or else. That's a new and interesting definition of benevolence that I'm not familiar with.
Second: God's reasoning is beyond our understanding (which always sounds like a warning not to try). Really? So why then, does this divine being communicate (allegedly) with us at all? Why not just move us around like chess pieces? Would not a benevolent god give its creations (which it - strangely enough - is going to demand worship from) the faculties to understand it? Of course it would - this line of so-called reasoning about questioning god is a shallow, transparent cop-out of titanic proportions, which allows religious manipulators to continue their trade in controlling the unthinking masses.
Third: benevolent or omnipotent? Neither. I'm heavily - and poorly - paraphrasing the late great Christopher Hitchens when I say that in order for him/her/it to allow a child to experience the horrific blow of - in this case - losing a parent, that allegedly merciful and caring god either doesn't care or can't stop it. If it doesn't care, it's most definitely not a benevolent being by any human measure (the only standard we have), and if it can't prevent it from happening, it's not omnipotent. The same argument can be applied for any suffering, anywhere, anytime - and we know that the world is replete with suffering.
Alan's death is very, very sad. I didn't know him but his death is so unfair, so unjust for everyone in his life. There's no escaping the fundamental truth that for the overwhelming majority of us, death sucks. And that's OK - it's how it should be - we've evolved consciousness, and fear of death is part of the payoff for that. Being sad or frightened is completely understandable, but the suspension of reason in order to comfort ourselves is a troublesome road, one that our species has travelled for millenia. I happen to think that we're ready to share and face our fears, and in doing so face reality - the reality that the rest of the universe must. Life begins, and life ends, whether we think it's right or fair, or not.
Alan lived a truncated life by most standards. Millions more live even more shortened lifetimes, and millions die in horrible circumstances. Focusing on that truth leads to fear, superstition and the false hope that arises from them. What a change it might be if we could instead celebrate lives instead of focusing on the loss of them. We can recognise sadness while celebrating the memories that our loved ones leave behind them - memories which are after all the true legacy of a life.