By Norris Burkes Jan 31, 2029

If you watched the presidential impeachment trial last week, it may have seemed as if you’d tuned in to a virtual Tower of Babel with multiple dialects of political-ese. 

Frankly, I don’t understand polispeak, but when the news cycle was abruptly interrupted with the crash of Kobe Bryant’s helicopter, everyone was suddenly speaking a language commonly understood – that of grief and tears. 

When it comes to understanding grief, I can tell you from my years as a hospital chaplain, that there are no political, ethnic or cultural barriers. Everyone understands loss. Most profoundly, I remember this lesson from an encounter several years ago in our emergency-room lobby.

An ER nurse asked me to be on the lookout for a family of Indian decent. Our patient was currently under CPR and not expected to live.

As I stood in the ER lobby searching for dark-skinned people, I felt like I was participating in racial profiling for the most tragic reason. Nevertheless, within a few minutes, two young men fitting that description entered, but it wasn’t their skin color or clothing or hair that made them obvious to me.

I recognized something I often see in the eyes of families in the ER, no matter what their culture.

As quickly as I told them I was the chaplain, they asked, “Do you have our mother?”

I nodded.

“Can we see her?” they pressed.

I ushered them into a small family room where the doctor joined us. The sons peppered her with questions, but they didn’t have to wait for answers. They could read them in her eyes.

Tears welled. Their noses reddened. The doctor confirmed their worst fears with a nod and a conclusive sentence: Their mother was dead.

The sons asked if they could see her, so I took them into the trauma room where she laid under a sheet. A nurse gently pulled the sheet back to reveal the mother’s face. I glanced at the battle-hardened ER nurse and saw glistening eyes betraying her emotional involvement.

The sons focused on their mom. They could no longer enjoy her protective watch. It had been replaced by a vacant stare. Disbelief erupted from their hearts and vocal cords.

Just then, a security guard appeared at the door with an expression intended to query my need for help. I nodded negatively. These days, emotional gatherings can be subject to suspicion.

The guard left, but quickly returned escorting the patient’s sisters and daughters. They exchanged knowing stares with their brothers and soon the women began caressing every part of their mother’s body. 

They adjusted her mouth as if to hush its pain, brushed her hair as if adjusting her crown, but most frequently, they stroked her eyelids to redirect her glance to another world.

The family was inconsolable, filling the room with a cacophony of dialect tangled with heartache. As foreign as it was to me, I was astonished to feel like I understood every word.

Soon, like an outgoing tide, the tears receded. As acceptance gained a brief toehold, talk shifted to finding the best funeral homes 

I left the ER that day with a new appreciation for grief as the great equalizer between language, culture and religion. 

And while it may be difficult to understand the political speech of our current environment, the loss of Kobe Bryant and his passengers reminds us that we all share the common frailty of life and the language of grief that follows its loss.

If we will see the eyes of those who grieve, I think we come closer to uniting our world under the watchful, anguished, and often grieving eyes of God.

UPDATE: The group I’m taking to establish libraries in Honduras next month is full. However, we have added another trip, March 29 – April 5. For details see, Contact me at or 10566 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.