“Ok…. I’m doing it today,” I tell myself. I have avoided the luggage haunting my living room corner for almost 2 weeks. Mondays are one of my few mornings without commitments, so I decide to tackle the dreaded task.
Today I unpacked the bags that my parents took on that fateful trip that took their lives, as well as the life of their beloved friend Ryan Hrubes… his wife Emily being the only survivor.
It hit me so strongly as I sat cross-legged on the floor, and it seems so obvious, but they had no plans to die. Each neatly folded clothing article stands testament to the future they planned to live. This trip was but one pit stop on the journey of their mapped-out future.
The realization that they didn’t plan to die was quickly replaced by the smothering sensation that I- no, WE weren’t prepared for them to die. There is no way to fully articulate how much we have relied on my parents’ counsel, friendship, and guidance even as adult children. We each talked to them every single day. So what do you do when the bottom of your world drops out? I’m figuring that out. Unfortunately, I am an involuntary participant in my worst nightmare. The best way I can describe it is: someone learning to function that has lost an appendage. You never realize how much you use your hand, foot, leg, or arm until it’s gone (I imagine). We (my siblings and I) are learning to live without a piece of our lives that is as engrafted as using our own arms and legs. Let me just tell you: it’s not fun.
“I know how important it is to hope,” I told my cousins this morning… “But I’m not even sure what to hope for. I feel lost.” Darkness clawed at my heart. I called my husband. I wept into the phone. I tried to wipe the tears off my face fast enough that my 2 and 3 year old didn’t see me crying as they came down the stairs. “Mom, you miss Nonnie and Tyty?” My perceptive 3 year old’s question ripped at my heart… I don’t want him to grow up with memories of a momma who is always sad. I’m careful to not be too sad in front of him.
Sweet baby. Yes, I miss them. I’m glad they are in heaven, but you have no idea what you will be missing out on your whole life. That’s why I cry. I cry for all the times I will miss them to come. I cry because this pit of grief feels too deep and dark and long.
“Theo, I do miss Nonnie and Tyty, but I’m happy they are with Jesus…” is my 3-year-old appropriate answer… “It’s ok to cry because we love someone.”
A tiny sliver of light breaks off some of the heaviness I’m carrying when my cousin Joy sends me a link to Ann Voskamp’s blog. It’s about hoping when you just feel like giving up. I read it quickly, devouring the idea that I can feel even the slightest hope today… on a hard day.
Joy texts me back. Her instructions for what to hope for read: “hope that it will get better, hope that Jesus will be enough, hope that you can really live fully again, hope that you are and will be a powerhouse for the Lord, hope that the heaviness and sadness will go away… because of Jesus we have hope…”
It sounds like a pretty comprehensive list to me. I’m too tired to hope on my own so I simply allow myself to use her text as a guide. I remind myself that the very darkest night of the soul in the Christian faith was when Jesus died. He stared death in the face. And beat it once and for all. This is truly the cornerstone of what I believe, what my parents believed: because He died, we don’t have to be afraid of death- it’s power is broken. Death isn’t the final destination. I feel a little better.
The sting of finality is a bit lessened, but the waiting still unfolds before me. Life feels long, and I feel young to carry what I carry. I wonder to myself what life event will cause my pain to lessen. Will counseling and care help to temper the ache? Perhaps holding my newborn baby in a few months and the gift of new life will cause my heart to live again. Maybe, just maybe, after the first full year following Mom and Dad’s death I won’t be agonized by all the special calendar dates…birthdays, anniversaries, holidays… Sigh. Probably not. It takes longer than a year I’m sure.
I flip open a daily devotional: Henri Nouwen’s “The Inner Voice of Love”. My favorite entry is entitled “Love Deeply”…. I read his thoughts, “The more you have loved and allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to let your heart grow wider and deeper. When your love is truly giving and receiving, those whom you love will not leave your heart even when they depart from you… Every time you experience the pain of…death…you can stand straight in your pain and let the soil on which you stand become richer and more able to give life to new seeds… Thus the pain…of death…can become fruitful. Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.”
Got it. Love is the reason for grief, but grief becomes fruitful when new love is born out of it. That’s the only thing I can do. Respond in love. Love my kids, love my husband, love my siblings. I can do that. Even though my heart is breaking, I will learn to love more deeply than I ever have before. This is my lifeblood. I must cope with love.
I put the book aside as two sets of eyes prod me from behind the pages. “Mom, will you snuggle me and hold me like a baby?” Yes, Theo. Yes, Violet. I pull them up on to my lap and stroke their little blonde heads and smell their sweet fragranced hair and my heart is a little bit healed by love.
*Photo by Tori Vandament