When a family member is confronted with the death of a loved one, sometimes, there are no words that’ll lend comfort, no matter who utters them. Donald Trump is far from our most eloquent president, but some of his recent predecessors, Obama and Reagan excepted, also, lacked language skills. George W. Bush was known for verbal gaffes while in office, but no one ever said his heart was as small as his vocabulary.
In some places, the Catholic Church has established a bereavement ministry. Training for this lay position entails not less than thirty-six hours of training, over twelve weeks, before anyone can undertake the sensitive task of working with families suffering from the loss of a loved one. It’s a heartbreaking thing to do.
When a relative died, not long ago, a Methodist minister, who was the hospital chaplain, attended to the immediate family after the deathwatch ended. The minister’s prayers and words of comfort were deeply spiritual, so much so that one could feel God in the room. When some family insisted on a Catholic priest, afterwards, one was hastily summoned. His words were inartful compared to those spoken earlier. Each man acted in good faith but one, surely no less holy, comforted better than the other.
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Every death is intensely personal to each mourner, who will react differently to the loss. Though Sgt. Johnson’s wife didn’t hear the words that would’ve comforted her, this doesn’t mean the President was callous. That he called, at all, something he wasn’t obliged to do, shows he valued Sgt. Johnson’s life and service to the nation.
To try and mitigate reports that Trump had been, intentionally, dismissive, General Kelly took to the microphone and gave a moving talk in which he referred to his son who’d died in Afghanistan. Kelly voiced his own grief during the appearance at which he told reporters that he’d suggested Trump’s comments. He spoke from the heart.
Maybe Trump will be more skillful the next time he calls a widow left behind by a war, but it’s not right that he’s faulted for trying in Johnson’s case. This is a learning lesson, not a political moment to be exploited. The congresswoman involved in the matter, Frederica Wilson, should’ve called the President, directly, before she went public with the widow’s alleged sentiments. This would’ve allowed Trump to call the grieving woman, again, as he surely would’ve done. Turning the issue into one of race, or allegations of hardness of heart, isn’t proper or fitting. The matter should be laid to rest.