Requiem for a Son


Paradiso, from Dante’s 'Divine Comedy'
Paradiso, from Dante’s 'Divine Comedy' (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Why? It’s one of the questions peculiar to humanity.

Animals are curious about “where,” “who,” “what” and “when,” but I don’t suspect they puzzle out “Why?” when going about their everyday lives. My dogs, for example, are content with my company, a bowl full of food, periodic walks and the occasional belly rub.

They don’t ask, “Why?” Only humans ask, “Why?”

The car driving Gian Paolo Stagnaro and his three football buddies crashed shortly before 4pm on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, on Schultz Hill Road, approximately a half mile between Route 199 and Johnny Cake Hollow Road. Unsafe speed and reckless driving were contributing factors in the crash. He and his friend Zachary Pruner, 16, of Stanfordville, were pronounced dead at the scene.

All four attended Stissing Mountain High School in Pine Plains, N.Y. Gian was supposed to be a senior this year.

At the death of a child, one’s thoughts immediately go to God. In Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, the author describes God as being in the center of heaven surrounded by a sphere of incredibly beautiful light. As Dante approaches the Creator, he notices that the light isn’t God’s light, but, rather, the reflected light of the countless souls of children delighting in his presence.

According to Dante, everyone’s happy to be in heaven, but God delights in children the most and calls them to be closest to him. The light they carry is but a pale reflection of the joy they feel being with their Heavenly Father.

The death of a loved one is never an easy thing to bear. But if the person in question had lived a full, long and happy life, we’re comforted by the breadth of his accomplishments and the depth of his love. We can look at the individual’s life with a sense of awe and wonder as we regale each other with tales lauding his character and “Remember when …”

If a person, regardless of his age, were to die of a terrible, debilitating disease, we can at least be comforted that his pain has come to an end. We can even be grateful for what St. Francis of Assisi called “Sister Death,” who releases the individual from what might have been interminable suffering.

However, if the deceased is a child, nothing can relieve us from the pain. When a child dies, we’re stuck in endless recriminations and “what ifs”:

What if Gian hadn’t been in the car that day with his friends?

What if an adult had driven Gian and his friends to football practice instead of letting one of them drive?

What if the young driver had been more experienced?

We struggle to remember the good not because the child wasn’t a delight to his family, friends and teachers and coaches, but, rather, because, no matter how much we remember the good, there is the unavoidable, debilitating absence. For those who believe in the immortality of the soul, we’re comforted in the knowledge that a child as good as Gian is a delight to God. But none of this consoles us. Gian was a child. A loved and loving child of a loving family. He was a great athlete, being proficient in both football and soccer. He was an accomplished actor and musician and had a great appreciation of history. I’d like to think he inherited that from me.

He was kind to animals and lovingly respectful to his family. Gian was brave, valiant and courageous. He was caring, kind and generous. There were some rough times, also, but children are easily forgiven for their excesses and innocence.

Children aren’t supposed to die — it’s an aberration of the natural order of things. Older people die, and younger people come into their own. Such is the nature of life. But the death of a child defies logic and defiles the sanctity of life.

The death of a child is an unfathomable disaster. It is an opprobrium — a horror. When a child dies, hope itself dies. To have a child taken from us threatens to destroy the last shred of our humanity. I admit that I’ve thought several times since the tragedy that maybe all of this was a dream. Maybe I’ll wake up with a start and think, “Thank God! None of this actually happened.”

The sane among us ask “Why?” when confronted with the inexplicably tragic, but asking the question doesn’t mean there’s an answer forthcoming. There can never be a simple, acceptable answer for a tragedy like this.

But I do believe, with all my soul, that Gian and Zachary are happy now — they’re in heaven in the loving arms of the Source of Joy, and they understand the true meaning of love, at which this world only hinted.

I believe good will always triumph over evil. Evil doesn’t produce anything — it’s desiccated, hollow and worthless. It’s merely empty, lazy and destructive narcissism.

Good, on the other hand, heals and builds. It inspires and forgives. It’s patient and kind — not rude, selfish or irritable. Love isn’t happy with evil — it loves only truth. Love never gives up and will never fail. Love is eternal. Knowledge will pass, but love endures.

Now, in the face of this inconceivable tragedy, we can only see dim images as if in a mirror. But, soon, we shall see face-to-face. What we know now is only partial. But, soon, it will be complete — as complete as God’s knowledge of us.

Meanwhile, despite this tragedy, and every tragedy in human history and in our individual lives, “these three things remain: faith, hope and love — and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). 

Without love, nothing matters.

There were many things I never told Gian while he was alive, but he now knows about all those unspoken things and about everything else considering his new existential state. What’s the point of death if not having God reveal all secrets to us?

I miss him terribly.

And, by the grace of God, I look forward to seeing him again.

Register correspondent Angelo Stagnaro writes from New York.