Past Cannot Be Recalled

They often say that time heals, pain passes with time. Not quite right. My pain isn’t over, it has changed, as if it sank deep inside. With the lapse of time you begin to take the death of your only child as a tragedy, you understand that a part of you has also died. This part that broke away from you hurts like an amputated arm or leg, though you know that your child’s soul is alive, that it cannot die. But still we miss our son so much. We have no other child to console us, to give our love to.
Elena Merkulova | 17 July 2008
Priest Alexander Shestak, head of the Interior Ministry and Educational Institutions of the Synodal Department for Relations with the Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies, retired police colonel, and holder of the candidate degree in juridical sciences.

God is Love, which embraces every one of us. But everybody apprehends this love in his own way. For some, God is a strange as well as unacceptable myth. But everyone who discovers God for himself undergoes a unique, much-suffered way.

Before becoming orthodox I worked in the police for a long time. During my first 12 years of service I belonged to task forces. In those years I had to go on night watches and stay on at work for hours. Quite often I had no opportunity to warn my wife when we urgently had to go to the site of a violent crime. There’s simply no time to make a call. And sometimes I didn’t tell her intentionally, in order not to disturb her. Almost every day we arrested criminals and detained troublemakers, so we always carried arms. Sometimes we received threats that we were going to die if we didn’t release this or that criminal, that they would have revenge on us. Thank God, I was lucky that I never got anything worse than bruises. God has been merciful to me, though not all my former colleague had such luck…

My family was pushed to the background, and that is wrong. Although my wife Lyubushka always worried about me, waited, supported me times of trouble and brought up our son, I didn’t feel due responsibility.

Indeed, my wife worried about me. But a driver, a builder, a sailor – anyone can get in trouble. A rescuer may risk his life a thousand times and yet stay alive. We cannot tell our future, it is clear to the Lord alone. But that is what I know today, while until 1996 I was not church-going. I searched for words to console my wife. I chose this job myself, and there is no other way than to do it right, even if it is dangerous. We used to plan that next weekend our whole family should go to the countryside, for example. And while I was at work, waiting for that weekend made the life of my Lyubushka. Though when it came I might as well be called back to service, and for my wife it was a blow. It was a kick back to hope and waiting. And not knowing when I was to be back and whether I was to be back at all.

Now, as the years passed, I see that I could afford to spend more time with my wife and son, but I had a false feeling that crimes, danger, wounds and murders are inherent only to my work, and that nothing bad can happen to my relatives. I was wrong. In 1996 our only son died, he was killed by an electric train. He was only 23. This accident overthrew all our life.

My wife and I supported each other silently, without words—in that situation words were unnecessary. A parent’s death is experienced in quite another way than children’s death. I remember I certainly took it hard when my father passed away, but it didn’t compare to what my wife and I went through when our only child died. Moreover, he left no posterity, didn’t continue himself in kids, our grandchildren, though he was married. Such things make you think. Why? Why do children sometimes die before parents? And then the Lord began to open my eyes, little by little, on the fact that our world is more then three-dimensional, that there is a spiritual world as well, and, what was most important to me, that a man doesn’t die, his essence, his soul stays alive even after physical death.

They often say that time heals, pain passes with time. Not quite right. My pain isn’t over, it has changed, as if it sank deep inside. With the lapse of time you begin to take the death of your only child as a tragedy, you understand that a part of you has also died. This part that broke away from you hurts like an amputated arm or leg, though you know that your child’s soul is alive, that it cannot die. But still we miss our son so much. We have no other child to console us, to give our love to.

The only salvation is faith and trust into God. Without them I and my wife couldn’t have stood it. Of course, our relatives and close friends helped us greatly. They brought us to church, to Danilov monastery. There archimandrite Daniel had a long talk with me, until he saw me calmed. My way to Church started there. My wife Lyubov came to Church sooner than me. A woman’s heart is probably keener in turning to God than a man’s.

Step-by-step my wife and I began to go to church and pray. For a long time the Lord’s Prayer was our only prayer. The Lord, literally, led us by the hand out of despair. Only after a long time the Divine Providence became clear to me and at that time church was the only place where my soul revived and found some purport it never knew before. But I lacked knowledge about Orthodoxy, about the liturgy. So I had to learn again, theological sciences now. And more than that, my wife and I were married in church feeling it must help our son, though we didn’t understand the full meaning of the Sacrament at that time.

When I became a priest my wife long waited and hoped for me to come home and our worries to be over. It didn’t come true. We the priests also spend all the time away from home. We get up to early service, go to services of need and so on. Even now my wife is looking forward for the days, the hours we can spend together. But now I treat her with much more attention then before, when our son was near. I care about her not staying alone, not worrying about me, always knowing that I never forget about her and love her. Fortunately, our parish helps a lot. We are all like one great family here.

Now I’ve changed my attitude to those who lost their children – I understand them. And when those who confess to me say: “Father, I don’t want to live. I lost my daughter”, I tell them about the sense of living, that there is God to whom the child was gone, that he didn’t die, that the soul is immortal, it stays alive. “No, father, you don’t understand, you never felt it!” I can’t but tell them – and a man changes in front of me, because he sees that you’ve been through the same grief as he, but you live on and don’t turn away from God. Quite the contrary. The man understands that there is a way out, and his sorrow is relieved. Many people take this chance to begin going to church, reconcile with their spouses, though they might be about to divorce, because in grief they used to accuse one another instead of giving support. Unfortunately, sometimes it is vice versa, people become embittered further, begin to drink, so to say, plunge into dissipation, do not seek God’s help, but turn away from Him. It’s a moment of making one’s choice, man’s moral choice.

At burial services I also try to speak about faith, the meaning of life, because people in woe often need to hear a word of consolation and support. Of course, the Lord mourned for Lazarus, too, and we cry for our dead. But sorrow must not be inconsolable. Man can find the purpose of life even through death of those he loves, even via such terrible path. It may seem unbelievable, indeed. After a child’s death the parent’s life loses its meaning. But in fact it is vice versa. Sometimes a man begins to understand what he lives for only having encountered with death of someone dear. He realizes that if it is God who breathed life into his child, then it is His dispensation that lets one go through ordeals. A common situation goes something like “we want to give birth to a child, but for some reason we can’t”. That is, life is not given by a man and a woman, above all – it is given by God. And He takes it away in a moment known to Him, the Omniscient, alone. We are not able to foresee our children’s fate. We can only try to choose a direction for their way from our own standpoint. Parents who understand that stop blaming the Lord. They begin to ponder over their lives instead of trying to judge God’s will. When Natalia Sokolova’s son priest Theodore Sokolov died in a car accident, she said: “My boy has already come there…” Her faith helped her to withstand and assist his large family.

I would like to tell those families where husbands devote much time to work that it is very important how a man spends his time at home. He may give all his love and attention to his wife and children in spite of how tired he is. Or, on the contrary, he may concentrate on other problems and treat his family as though he is alone. But family is of no less importance than work. Misfortune may come without warning, as it happened to our family. And after it all your life you regret that you lost the precious moments to be spent hear your beloved ones. But the past cannot be recalled…

Translated from the Russian by Ekaterina Baburina

Edited by Maureen E.

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