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It is a numbing feeling of disbelief when you hear about the death of a child. When the news is that several were killed, it is almost unbearable -- even for those not personally affected by the loss.

The deaths of five children on a church trip to Disney World is a tragedy that affected the entire parish. Parents cannot help but wonder “that could have been mine.”

If preliminary news reports are correct and the driver who caused the accident was intoxicated, it just adds more pain to the families’ grief.

The Avoyelles House of Mercy church van was southbound, heading to Disney World. Children were excited. They had worked hard for this trip.

A collision in the northbound lane sent vehicles across the median, striking the van and another vehicle.

It does no good to focus on “what if” or “if only.”

“What if we had taken 10 minutes more at that last rest break. If only we had not taken so long for lunch?”

For whatever reason, the van was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Its driver was in no way responsible for causing what happened and could not have avoided the accident once the fatal chain of events was set in motion.

Five children died, several other church members were injured.

Church member Maxine Doughty was distraught when she spoke to me about the loss of so many young, innocent lives.

She said she had “a bad feeling about them going. I said they shouldn’t go. But the plans had been made and they were going.”

Maxine said one of the victims was a young girl who had just made her profession of faith and been baptized three weeks ago.

How can a close-knit group such as a church -- it’s called a “church family” for a reason -- recover from such an unimaginably horrific event?

There is only one way, but I decided a long time ago not to be a preacher, so I won’t start now.

This fatal accident does make painfully clear that we cannot take life for granted. It can end at any moment in any number of ways.

It would be understandable to shrink back into a secure area, afraid to venture out into a world that appears intent on harming you.

God once told Isaiah, “Fear not, for I am with you.”

Stonewall Jackson said he was never afraid of dying in battle because he was just as likely to die at home in bed. He believed God had already determined the date and manner of his death and there was nothing he could do to change it.

As this community comes to grips with its collective loss, and family and friends overcome their personal loss, we must strive not to let fear take over and deprive us of our hope and joy for the future.

Despite all the kind words, promises of prayer, quotations of hope and consolation -- and all of those are good and appreciated by families in grief -- Maxine’s words still sum it all up:

“Our children are gone.”


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