It’s funny how kids sometimes just “know.” Neither Daniel nor I have said anything about the significance of today’s date to either of our kids. Today marks the fourth year that has passed since you left us. It’s been an eternity, and yet it’s hard to believe…. four years already.
Alice doesn’t speak of you as much as she once did. So it caught me off guard when she asked me this morning during breakfast, “Do you remember how Aunt Alicia used to smack her lips like this when she took a drink?” Alice then proceeded to take a drink and smack her lips in perfect Alicia-style.
“Yes, I remember,” I replied. How could I forget? Apparently Alice couldn’t either. You left such an impression on my little four year old girl; that’s the kind of person you were. What else would you have taught Alice had you stayed longer?
Alice and Ian have changed so much since you last saw them, and I wish you were here to see those changes. There’s so much about Alice that reminds me of you. I’ve often thought that (and have been glad that) we named her appropriately. (Although to be 100% honest, I never even thought about how closely related your names were until after you pointed it out to me.)
Even while I miss you today… and tomorrow… and forever, I’m comforted that Alice still remembers and reminds me of the little things.
Maybe it’s from the sugar crash after two bowls of chocolate ice cream, the final result of a rainy day stuck inside with two kids, hours of school work, and no exercise… for me or them.
Maybe it’s from getting stuck one too many times today in that claustrophobic space between the kitchen counter and the table – the space where the bar stool and the chair are always a couple inches too close to each other and I just want to throw them both out the window so I can gracefully walk through without tripping over one or the other.
Or maybe it’s from the 2,003 questions I answered today…
“No, I don’t know where your book is.” (You just had it 2 minutes ago.)
“No, I don’t know which red lego piece you mean.” (There’s only 4,000 red pieces in the lego suitcase.)
“No, you may not have another movie.” (especially after I forgot to cut off your earlier hour long movie after 30 minutes like I said I would)
“Yes, I will write ‘Tractors pull manure spreaders, sprayers, planters, plows, wagons, and balers‘in your homemade tractor coloring book when I finish chopping this onion… Yes, you can wait that long.”
Or maybe it’s because I’ve depleted all my words for the day explaining prepositions and compound verbs, officiating fights, reading books, and directing bed time routine.
I’m exhausted, but not tired. I’m lonely, but don’t want to talk to anyone. My thoughts drift to you… and October 23rd.
I don’t know what to write, but feel I must write something or I may explode. Words fail me, but my heart still aches even though it’s a different ache now.
I miss you. I love you. I wish things were different.
I wore a piece of you today, carried you close to my… uummm, feet. (I wanted to be “poetic” and say “heart,” but I wore a pair of shoes you gave to me—not exactly near my heart.) It was the kind of day when I wanted to be close to you, wanted to remember you without everyone knowing what kind of day it was.
Every once in a while you’d bring me clothing from Barely Used, or you’d offer me your own miscellaneous hand-me-downs. I still have most of the items you gave me over the years…. several shirts, a pair of high heels, some flip flops, even a now-very-tattered-sweatshirt you gave me one Christmas Eve years ago.
Most people don’t know which items were yours, not even Daniel much less other family members. The items are worn without any fanfare on my end; but somehow they help me feel closer to you.
In my senior year of high school into my college years, I had a sweatshirt you absolutely loved. You would rub the lining of that sweatshirt with your hands and rave about how soft it was. That’s just the kind of person you were… happiness from a sweatshirt lining. When the lining from that sweatshirt began to wear off (maybe from incessant rubbing), you gifted me with another sweatshirt on Christmas Eve. We had a sweatshirt affair.
Recently, I almost demoted your gifted sweatshirt to painting-attire; but in the end, I couldn’t, even though the cuffs are threadbare and it’s stretched out of shape from many washings. No longer fit to wear in public, I still put it on to work around the house and think of you. It will remain part of my working-at-home-attire until one day it will simply fall to pieces.
A couple years ago, you commented that you couldn’t believe I still had it. Well I still have it. In its own way, it’s a piece of you; and when I put it on, I feel closer.
* * *
I thought I heard you singing today. While enduring the mind-numbing hours of brush painting a bookcase, one tends to imagine things that aren’t actually happening.
Maybe it is because my memories of you singing are so vivid; but as I was painting, I’m positive I actually heard your voice…
Baby dry your eyes There’s no need to cry Cause I’ll see you again It might be a while Before you understand
[Chorus:] I’m just away down the river A hundred miles or more Crossing over Jordan To the other shore I’ll be standing waiting With all who’ve gone before I’m just away down the river A hundred miles or more
Now the pictures on the wall Will help you to recall They’re not there To make you sad But to remember All the good times we had
When it’s time to leave You’re gonna feel the mountain breeze And the snow will fill the stream And carry you to me
And I saw you in my mind’s eye, walking on the beach, wind blowing through your hair with the most peaceful look on your face.
You looked directly at me with searing eyes and promised me you’re just away down the river, just a hundred miles or more. I felt so close to you; the Jordan River must be down the road and around the bend… so close… if only I could find it.
* * *
Alice and Ian have been talking about heaven recently. As many little kids do, they wonder where heaven is and how we get there. I have no answers for them; but they believe with childlike innocence that you’re waiting for us… and won’t it be fun! to see you.
Their questions have turned my thoughts back to the book “Heaven is for Real,” which I read shortly after you left us… and I remember.
I remember the hope I experienced after I read that book. I remember thinking about things differently afterward. And today I feel it again… indeed I am convinced you are closer than we think. (Aren’t you?)
Last year at this time, I remained somewhat silent. I posted some thoughts; but to be perfectly frank, I did not write the about my deep feelings. I had another post in mind which I put on the back burner, too raw and painful to reveal to the world. This year, I pondered the same predicament… to post or not to post my feelings. I wrote the following piece earlier in April and have gone back and forth on whether to publish it. After much thought, I decided this year I would put it all out there. For better or for worse, these were my thoughts one warm day in April. My hope is that they will help others… somehow.
Today I drove past the funeral home that coordinated your memorial service as I have done many times since April 2011, but today was different. The sun was out, the flowers were blooming, the trees have just started to blossom, a playful wind cooled my body since temperatures were higher than normal. We’ve been dealt a streak of picturesque spring days after a cold, prolonged winter. It can’t be more perfect.
As I drove past the funeral home, I could tell there was a funeral about to occur. I recognized this by the large number of cars in the parking lot, by the men in dark suits milling around outside, by seeing one of the attendants who helped with your service standing at the entrance of the parking lot, by the black hearse which was parked at the nearby church waiting to take the body to its final resting place.
I’ve driven by the home at other times like this since your passing, but the contrast of the perfect spring day with the darkness of those awaiting the service of someone I do not know awakened something inside of me, something that has been numb all winter, the part of me that needed to cry. My eyes have been dry although my sorrow was present and my spirit withered.
I was overwhelmed with emotion and cried… right then and there, big, heavy tears that were quickly brushed aside so that the bank teller I would encounter in less than a minute wouldn’t ask me if I needed help. But I didn’t forget. I didn’t forget that picture; the scene continued to play in the back of mind throughout the morning. I couldn’t forget the overwhelming sadness knowing that you should be here on such a beautiful day…. how you would have feasted on it.
Ian and I went to the grocery store, and when we got home, he was determined to eat lunch outside. In his child-like enthusiasm of our first spring picnic, he took the blue blanket from the living room and spread it on the grass while I gathered the lunch items. While we ate, the breeze tickled our noses and bare toes; it was everything I’ve been waiting for all winter long.
When we finished our lunch, I had a few moments of peace while Ian was occupied exploring the outdoors.
Then it all came flooding back—the scene and the emotions from earlier this morning. I laid down on the blanket and wept quietly so Ian wouldn’t know, soaking the blue blanket with tears.
I thought of you for some time, and then another scene came to mind. One recent evening while driving to our house, a friend of Daniel’s and mine came upon a young man standing on a bridge spanning a busy highway, one leg hanging over the railing of the bridge. Our friend stopped his car and approached the young man who appeared to be thinking about jumping off the bridge, which was confirmed by the conversation that followed.
Thankfully our friend was able to talk with the young man until the police arrived and successfully removed the intended-jumper from the bridge. Daniel asked me later, “Would you have stopped for that guy?” Sadly, I had to really question myself, would I have stopped?, and if not, why?.
It wouldn’t be because I don’t care about him—I think each person is extremely valuable. It wouldn’t be because I was in too much of a hurry to stop—if time was what it took, I’d stand there for hours. It wouldn’t be because I didn’t want to be involved with “messy” people—I think we’re all pretty messy, some hide it better than others.
So why would I drive by? Other than the fact that I most likely wouldn’t realize what that young man was intending to do because I don’t think in those terms too often, it would be fear. Fear would keep me from stopping… fear of the unknown, fear for myself and fear for my children if they were with me.
Today, as we’re approaching 2 years’ time of you leaving us, I considered the question again—Would I have the courage to stop?
I now have an answer. I can only pray that I would quickly comprehend the situation and stop immediately. I would stop whatever I was doing so that another family doesn’t have to miss someone the way we miss you, Alicia… so that the sight of daffodils and calla lilies remains beautiful and flawless, not tinged with sadness and longing… so that driving by a funeral home doesn’t inflict waves of pain upon another. I will stop… and wait for hours… and get messy… because each person is valuable.
What my heart longs to tell you, Alicia, is that just as I fear I might miss the person intending to jump off a bridge simply because I’m naive, I didn’t realize you were there. I didn’t know. I would have stopped for you… and waited as long as you needed… and gotten messy. Please, forgive me.
This entry was written almost 2 weeks ago as I was getting ready for the scrap booking retreat I went on last weekend.
Yes, I admit it. I’m part of the popular cult of mostly women who keep AC Moore and Michaels in business by buying scrap booking supplies. I’m very “old school” in my scrapping techniques, using stamps and ink pads to “make my own” even though it’s A LOT more convenient to buy the same (nicer) item for half a dollar more than the one I’m fumbling to make.
Scrap booking is a love-hate relationship for me. I love the pictures, the supplies, a chance to use my hands and be creative. I love sitting with my high school and church girlfriends each month as we talk, laugh, and sometimes cry while we intermittently manage to adhere pictures on a page over the course of several hours. I love thinking about the memories the pictures stir up, remembering my kids petting the sheep at the fair or eating their first bite of ice cream. I guess I like to live in the past, probably a bit more than I should.
However, my “do it yourself” scrap booking puts me far behind where I’d like to be. I like to think if I bought all of the stickers, embellishments, (a Cricut) etc, that I’d be a lot closer to having current scrap books for my kids, instead of being almost 2 years behind. So the “hate” part of scrapping is feeling like I’m never finished, never can say “I don’t have to think about that for another month or two.”
But my love of scrap booking supercedes any dislike, and so I press on while giving myself permission to be eternally behind, as most scrappers are. To try to catch up this winter I used my Christmas/birthday money to buy myself a table (and a room) at a scrap booking retreat. Fifty kid-free, husband-less, chore-less hours dedicated to scrap booking and just enough sleep to keep me awake for the drive home on Sunday.
I was excited at the prospect of all that time to spend scrapping, but possibly more excited to leave my own four walls for two whole days as I have been struggling with a lot of self-induced stress. However, even in the weeks before the retreat, I found it hard to make time to sift through the hundreds of pictures on our computer so that I could order the pictures I needed for the retreat. I even found myself thinking if I didn’t order pictures in time, I could easily spend the time making cards, writing, reading, running,… Oh, and did I mention eating?
It was down to the wire—time to order pictures or time to plan alternative ways to spend my weekend. As I pulled out my scrap books to figure out where I left off scrapping, I realized I had barely done any scrapping since January of 2012. Then I remembered the time or two I did scrap this past year I came away feeling overly burdened and uncreative. Instead, I began taking non-scrap booking projects to the monthly get-togethers. I had chalked it up to lack of new ideas, a scrapper’s block.
But as I looked through pictures on the computer, I came across one of my brother-in-law, Alicia’s husband, and I tried to decipher if the picture was taken before or after Alicia’s death. That’s when it clicked. My lack of scrap booking enthusiasm this past year was not about being bored by the same old layouts or supplies. The last scrap booking marathon I had was last January when I spent one day at the scrap booking retreat, scrapping Ian from February 2011 through August 2011—the hardest time of my life between Becky’s diagnosis and Alicia’s death.
Looking back, I distinctly remember the two weeks following the retreat as being one of my lowest times since Alicia’s death, and I wonder if the day at the retreat was partially to blame for this. And so, I had sub-consciously stopped scrapping, way too painful, similar to that time in my life when I no longer wanted to scrap book my wedding— too painful to think of all that day had promised in relation to where my marriage was at that point in time.
Today, however, I took a deep breath and scrolled through picture after picture of my Alice-girl in 2011—her smile, laughter and light-heartedness told the story that we still go on, that in-between our tears our laughter remains and we continue making good memories. So I ordered my pictures in time for them to arrive for the retreat. Whether or not I will spend my weekend working on them remains to be seen, but at least I’ve taken the first step. And maybe just as I now want to scrap book my wedding day because of the healing that has occurred in my marriage, maybe someday I will be able to scrap book Alice’s happenings in 2011-2012.
* * * Afterthoughts * * *
As you know from two posts ago, the retreat has come and gone. I was able to scrap December of 2010 through January of 2012 for Alice over the weekend. It was harder than I expected it to be. I must admit I was glad my girlfriends had not yet arrived at the retreat as I scrapped the last picture I took of Alicia from Christmas of 2010. I sat “alone” with my thoughts, my anger and my sorrow, and that was just what I needed for the time being.
My friends arrived shortly afterward, and I was glad for the distraction as I continued working through the year—trying not to dwell on the emotions that weren’t pictured, but which permeated every single event. I remembered why we celebrated Easter late that year, why we went to Longwood Gardens in June, and of course Alicia’s face was missing from the vacation pictures as well as Christmas of 2011.
I’ve wondered if this might be the end of my scrap booking for a while again. I’ve struggled with more emotions this week—maybe because of the memories the weekend produced or maybe because it’s the middle of winter, a very hard time for myself (and many people) longing for more sun and warmer weather.
While those hard memories of 2011 into 2012 still linger near the surface of my mind, I am trying to dwell on the happy times too by remembering my Alice-girl, snuggled in her Daddy’s arms and splashing through the fountains…holding on tightly to the few peaceful memories of 2011 in hopes of continuing the healing in 2013.
I wrote the post below in early April and decided it wasn’t the correct time to publish it. Our recent family vacation to the beach brought me back to it as I was continually struck during the week by how much my kids would have loved having Alicia on vacation with us. Missed her so much!
With the “anniversary” of you death quickly approaching, people have been asking me what they can do to help us through the next few weeks. (I hate the word “anniversary” in this case – anniversaries have always been happy occasions until this event.) I know that people honestly care and want to feel they can somehow ease the pain April brings with it. We’ve had offers of childcare, meals, hanging out with friends; and while I cannot tell you how much we appreciate these sentiments and how they do really make a difference just knowing that others realize we’re still missing you severely (not sure when or if that will ever end), what I’ve really wanted to say is “Can you help my children remember their aunt? She was an extraordinary woman, and my kids will never know her.”
Over the past year, Alice has said relatively little about your death and your absence, much to my surprise. We told her you went to stay with Jesus and that He would take care of you until we got to be with you again. She readily accepted that that was ok– that is until about 1 month ago when it seems almost everyday she talks about death and/or you in heaven. Maybe it’s because of Easter and talking about Jesus dying that has her little brain turning equations she can’t quite put together. Maybe she’s realizing more and more the finality of you being with Jesus since she’s also been concerned about others dying too. But whatever it is, I’m sure it’s a good thing she’s processing some of these feelings.
One day we were in the car with her cousin and my mom, and Alice said, “Aunt Alicia is in heaven. I can’t wait to go to heaven and see her. It will be great.” I was so thankful Mom was driving as the tears welled up in my eyes and the lump formed in my throat, and Mom replied for me that “Yes – yes, it will be great.” Also, Alice recently talked about going to your house when you babysat her and the fun she had with you and Cody. This past Sunday she drew a picture of you and Jesus in heaven and our family living in our house – more tears from mom.
It’s been “little” things like that almost nonstop that have my heart breaking again and again at the fact that she won’t ever get the chance to really know you – and with time, even most of the memories she has of you will most likely fade because she is so young… just like they have for Ian.
Because he was such a young 2 year old when you died, I had little hope of him remembering you when he was older. However, I am surprised how quickly it all seems to have faded for him. He no longer recognizes you in pictures, usually calling you “Aunt Laura,” and it’s all I can do not to sit and weep when he does it. “No!” I want to shout “That’s Aunt Alicia – don’t you remember how much she loved you?” But of course he doesn’t, and it certainly would be unfair for me to expect that of him considering his age and understanding of the past year.
I don’t know how to explain this hole in my heart for my kids. They will never really understand the loss of the relationship that should have been, and yet I feel it acutely for them. There’s no one who can replace you – that goes for anyone who knew you. I just wish that last April, somehow we could have helped you to remember/believe that too, to the very core of your being – no one can replace you. I guess I like to believe that maybe it would have changed the outcome. And so I will take it upon myself to remind my kids as much as I can that there’s no one who can replace them. They are unique and needed, loved no matter what; just like I know you would have told them if you were still here.
I thought of you today (again) when Alice got off the bus. She was so excited to show me her “human body” that she couldn’t contain herself. “Let’s go home, Mom!” she begged me instead of wanting to play with her neighbor bus-mate like she usually wants to do each day. In the end, I’m usually the one dragging her away when it’s time to say good bye.
“I want to show you my body!!” she told me again and again at the bus stop interrupting my brief conversation with my fellow bus stop mom. Alice has been learning about the human body at school, complete with having her own body traced on paper and glueing a paper brain, stomach, lungs, ribcage, etc onto the traced body. She’s been telling me about each part they talk about and has been so excited to bring her paper body home.
I said good bye to my neighbor and told Alice we could leave. She ran ahead of me, and I do mean “ran,” very uncharacteristic of her. What a picture she made – her loose hair flying in the wind, unzipped sweatshirt tails flapping, her backpack that is too big for her 33lb real body bouncing wildly from side to side, and of course the icing on the cake were the white tights tucked inside the green rain boots that Daniel and I thought were too cute not to buy even though they weren’t 100% practical. (Alicia, you would like them. I think they might have been something you would have bought for her.) My heart filled with so much love, so much pride, so much hope for her future that I thought I was going to cry right in the middle of the street. I wanted to remember that moment for the rest of my life – so innocent and carefree. When we got to the house, I even asked Alice if I could go inside and get the camera to take a picture of her running, but she didn’t want to – had to show me that paper body pronto.
But in the instant that I thought I was about to explode with love for my daughter, I also had the realization, no… the intense terror, that she could be taken from me. How could I—if I ever had to—go on without this living, breathing part of me that I call my daughter, flesh of my flesh? And in the next instant, I pictured your own mom savoring similar moments from your life. There are quite a few pivotal as well as “mundane” moments I was privileged to share during 12 years of knowing you; however what about the memories Grace has of you running around in your “green rain boots,” the day-to-day moments of pure, innocent sweetness from your childhood that conjure up an enormity of feelings?
As April 28th draws closer, I had written 2 pieces recently about you and how this past year has changed so many lives forever, but I haven’t been at peace with them, haven’t wanted to publish them – not now anyway. My words on paper felt like useless drivel, unable to portray the weight of this past year, and many times sounding selfish. As I have been saying since last April to persons who feel like they need to say something to help me get through this, there really are no words. No words to adequately portray a mother’s anguish, a father’s grief, a husband’s sorrow, a sister’s heartache, a brother’s pain.
What I have felt at peace about sharing with you is the song that I have been singing—needed to sing—for the past few weeks. You’ll know it, I’m sure. And while not every line fits, I feel like it says more than I could ever say at this point in time. My prayer has been that the family you left behind could all find some comfort In The Arms Of an Angel, whoever that may be for each of us, as I hope you have too.
It’s another Thursday; I’m back from choir – yay! for adult interaction and using my brain. I’ve decided there’s a reason why Ralph picked Handel’s “Solomon” to sing this spring (and Vivaldi’s “Gloria” this past Christmas). He’s been telling everyone it’s to please Marian since it’s her favorite piece (yup, she’s still playing the piano/organ), but I know better. Ralph has never told me this, but I’m pretty sure we’re singing a piece I really have no interest in and no liking for because otherwise he knew I would be bawling my way through every practice (same with Vivaldi). Embarrassing myself every Thursday evening until Ralph (or whomever Ralph would appoint) would finally ask me to move to the back where I wouldn’t be a disruption.
But maybe he knew he couldn’t ask me to move to the back because I would only be a sorrier mess there – I’m certain of it. I tried sitting in the back once or twice during the fall practices – that was not a good idea. It brought back so many memories of you; I couldn’t concentrate at all. I’m not even sure I actually sang during those practices. We used to sit in the back row – the 2 of us, and as “quietly” as we could (ok, so maybe we got a few “shushes” from an unnamed bass) laugh our heads off the entire time. This fall, there was no one to talk about the week with, no one to laugh with, no one to make sarcastic remarks with, no one to say “Word” with – our favorite saying. So I’ve permanently placed myself in the front, where it’s easier to sing the songs that haven’t touched my soul yet. But that doesn’t mean I don’t look at the back row longingly.
While making Christmas cookies this past December I listened to Rutter’s “Mass of the Children” and nearly had a break down in the middle of the kitchen. (Yes, those chocolate covered peanut butter ritz were extra salty this year.) Rutter’s mass moves me like almost no other piece (Faure’s Requiem is a close second) so beautiful – just like you and your voice that I miss. You loved this piece when we sang it together as part of the children’s choir – your clear, lovely voice rang out just as sweet as those dear children. (Was that the Christmas concert when we sat behind the bass soloist and practically swooned from his heavenly cologne?) Your favorite part of the work was the middle section of Agnus Dei when we sang…
“Little lamb, who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life and bid thee feed,
By the stream and o’er the mead.
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly bright,
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice:
Little lamb, who made thee?
Doest thou know who made thee?”
As I think about it again “Gave thee such a tender voice, making all the vales rejoice,” we were singing about you, such a sweet little lamb. I just didn’t know it at the time.
Singing comes hard for me now – not just at choir, but at home, in the car, at church – those times when a song moves me the “wrong” way and my eyes get that familiar sting in them. If I could sing on autopilot, it would be so much easier. But as Daniel has heard me say since we were dating, music is about words for me in most cases (and a great percussion mix in other cases). The other Sunday we sang a song before I was to play piano for the children’s choir, and the words hit too close to home – I couldn’t sing it. Had I tried, I would have been left with tears streaming down my face and no sound coming from my mouth – all of 2 minutes before I was supposed to play in front of 150+ people (thankfully the people were watching the kids and not the pianist).
Other people who have lost loved ones tell me singing is hard for them too, so I know I’m not alone in this. Sometimes it makes me crazy though – I’d like to be able to sing normally without fighting all the emotion. So glad I’ve had Vivaldi’s “Gloria” and Handel’s “Solomon” to practice that on Thursday nights. If you see tears, it’s for a reason other than emoting from the heart. Hoping by next spring I’ll be ready to sing Faure’s Requeim, which is on the agenda (applause and cheers!); but I have my doubts. Maybe if I stand in the back row and bury my head in my music no one will notice the red-faced, nose-blowing soprano who isn’t singing.
Missing you, Little Lamb. Save me a space in the choir – in the back row. I’m looking forward to it – my tears will be tears of joy.
Christmas is officially over in our house… a few months late. After several days of “listening to” the kids begging me to let them take the ornaments off my 12inch forever green (fake) Christmas tree that has graced the top of our refrigerator since mid-December, I finally let them de-ornament the lovely 14 year old tree. Once the tree was away, I couldn’t stop and gleefully collected my sparse winter decorations from the rest of the house, the same decorations that had been so hard for me to put up in December. Fall and winter were hard on me this year, which is not the norm for me but I know others experience this almost every year. January/early February brought about new lows and dark spaces that I had never experienced before and don’t care to go back to either. It is only now as I’m emerging from that darkness that I realize how dark it really was. But I also promised you something in January – that I would publish the piece that I wrote/read at the longest night service in November. I have such a love-hate relationship with this piece that I can hardly stand to read/edit it any more. So as part of my spring cleaning, I’m going to get it out of my mind and off my hard drive. Then maybe I will feel like spring decorating. (Keep in mind this was written in November so the timeline is according to then and also that I was addressing a group of people.)
It stares at me from my closet. Silently it taunts me every time the door is opened, reminding me how quickly life can change. For the past 7 months, I’ve wondered what I should do with it. Today I decided. I remove the offending item and march it down to the basement to the crate of unwanted things. Things that will eventually go to the Re-use it shop. Or maybe Goodwill is a better fit for my closet item since that was where our history together began. Maybe by returning it to the beginning of our journey, I can somehow turn back the hands of time… I would do just about anything if that were an option. As I throw it in the bin alongside the motley assortment of cast off items, I expect to hear a thunderous “BOOM,” as if it landed bearing the weight of the worst day of my life. I pause, waiting for it; but I can barely hear the rustle of the fabric as it slips into the crate. I don’t know why, but I’m covered with goosebumps as I return upstairs; and I do feel a bit lighter having made this decision.
About 8 months ago I was dress shopping, hoping to change up my summer wardrobe. I bought 3 dresses, one was black and white. I intended that one to be debuted on a random date night with Daniel – that was not to be. Before there was even a possibility for a date night, just three short weeks after I bought it, I wore it to Alicia’s memorial service. I remember looking into my closet the morning of the service and thinking that I didn’t want to wear all black. Shouldn’t we at least be thankful she’s in heaven with Jesus? Aren’t we supposed to “rejoice” that she is in a better place? White (or any color other than black) is a sign of our belief – a value passed on by my family. Looking back, I almost laugh at my thought process that morning. The shock must have knocked the fashion sense out of my head. How I’ve felt anything and everything but thankful in the wake of Alicia’s absence. Since then I have not been able to put that dress back on and shudder at the thought of doing so. I see it hanging in my closet each Sunday and am reminded of the horrific event that has changed our family’s history. The only place I ever wore it was to the memorial service, and thus all I have to associate with it. Not even my frugal Lancaster county upbringing can convince me that giving away this dress which I only wore once is a poor monetary investment.
If only removing the pain that our family deals with was as easy as discarding that dress. Even now as I write about it, I can’t help but wipe the tears from my eyes. Many of you know this pain well – deep loss – a loved one, a relationship, health, expectations of the future unfulfilled. It threatens to swallow us up, that we may never come back to the surface again. Many days we wonder how we can go on, how we will bear this burden. Where will the energy come from to walk this road without that which we hoped for the most? We flounder and sink. But after a while, we begin to take steps – learning to be patient with ourselves… and others. Learning to let ourselves grieve as we need to. Learning that the energy required to walk will come, but there might not be any left for other things. And after a long time of walking through the abyss, we do begin to surface. In our surfacing, we begin to notice others – we especially notice the pain of others because we know it so well ourselves. We’ve been there. We’ve lived there. We’ve walked hand-in-hand with it. We have a new ability to recognize it. We have a new way to relate to those around us who are also hurting deeply. Isn’t that one of the reasons we came tonight – to relate to those around us who are also hurting deeply? They know. They understand when others cannot.
There are many things I’m learning since Alicia’s death. I’m learning to be more thankful, for every day and every moment. I’m learning to celebrate even the mundane things of life. I’m learning to be more intentional in my interactions with others – living like this could be my last time relating to another. But the thing that I value the most by having to work through this is that I’m learning to be more compassionate with others. I’m learning to feel their pain as my own. It is my hope that in the grief and loss that has brought us here tonight, that we do not turn inward. But rather we use some of the things we’ve learned to truly reach out to others in love and understanding… and therein lies the hope and possibility that something good can come from overwhelming loss.
It’s been a while since I’ve written, but you’re never far from my mind. In fact I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately as I decided to celebrate my birthday Alicia-style. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly Alicia-style; it was Natalie-style-heavily-influenced-by-Alicia-spirit. I had planned to celebrate my birthday “big” this year in honor of your own love of celebrating. This idea was confirmed even more as I heard multiple people tell me recently that celebrating brings more to life than we really understand. Also, Daniel and I talked with friends about Jesus’ first miracle – turning water into wine at a party. Wine for those who were already well-sloshed to continue partying when he could have said “You already had so much you don’t even know the stuff I just made is the good stuff. Why bother?”
Maybe, Alicia, you understood more about God’s idea of celebrating life than I do. And as I think about your life now – a perpetual party in the sky (possibly?), I hope you can see some glimpses of heaven here on earth as you watch us from afar. And so I set a date to celebrate – really celebrate – my birthday this year, something I rarely do intentionaly beyond going out to eat with Daniel (although I always enjoy that too!). That date was January 21st.
However, my plans began to fade as I realized I wanted to keep my sister’s kids so she could have some much needed time alone, and January 21st became the date that seemed to work best. How was I going to celebrate while attending to the needs of 5 small children? I pondered this and came up with alternative dates – none of which suited my taste. Alicia, you may be privy to such information already, but Becky will have another appointment with the transplant surgeon the day before my birthday. All the news concerning her health lately has been dismal; while I try to hope this appointment may have a different report, I wanted to be able to celebrate easily and attentively– not in the aftermath of more bad news, trying to hide my tears and quiet my raging thoughts.
And then Alice got sick, a chest cold. Obviously Becky was not going to send her kids to my house with Alice running a fever of 102 and coughing incessantly. So I put my plan back into action, even though it meant mysteriously making Daniel stop at the grocery store on our way to my in-law’s house and throwing together my favorite breakfast at 11:30pm Friday night.
The day did not go as smoothly as I had planned. I had hoped to go running, play games with Alice and spend a large amount of the afternoon scrap booking. It snowed instead- no run. I awoke to a beautiful, pure white blanket covering the ground. I tried to imagine you had ordered it for me – sent down to remind me of beauty. The first real snow of the season is always so breath taking.
Alice was too sick to play games with her temperature at 104. I longed to have my little girl back, to see her smile and hear her breathe easily. We read instead, book after book after book until I thought I would go crazy. I celebrated when she ate a cup of yogurt instead of my birthday cake. My nursing and outloud-reading duties filled the overwhelming majority of the afternoon leaving me less than an hour to pull out my scrap booking. I almost didn’t bother.
A single phone call sent me into another cloud of self-pity. Our family vacation which I had been put in charge of planning and had done so by spending hours researching and agonizing over was changed to a totally different venue by a 20minute conversation. All my hard work gone up in smoke. (I know, I know – no use crying over spilled milk. I am glad the new location will be easier on the pocketbook and offers some amenities my plan did not – very excited about the nearby park.)
The icing on the cake, if you’ll excuse the expression, was an argument between Daniel and I over a movie (of all things) we watched after the kids were in bed. Hollywood – you drive me bananas! and so does the need to analyze every movie we watch because we rarely agree on the analysis.
By the end of the night, I was feeling so sorry for myself, I didn’t even want to eat my birthday cake. Then I stepped outside to put a can in the recycle bin and breathed the clean, crisp air; and it hit me – all the things I have to celebrate, my little bit of heaven right here on earth. And so these are the glimpses of heaven I had today. Maybe you saw them too and hoped I would live my day big, just like you loved doing.
I love you, Alicia. I miss you. But rock on, girl – can’t wait for the ultimate party with you.