It is a sleepy, snowy day here in Michigan. The sun took its time rising real slowly this morning. The criticism of snow around here could drown you, but I can’t complain too much. Sure, cleaning off the car and braving the roads and having 60 layers on is annoying, but that snow falling in slow motion is so beautiful it almost wipes the complaints away. It just reminds me of being pregnant with Nash and waiting and waiting for him to come. My peaceful winter baby. Speaking of baby, my Sister in law, as I’m writing this, is in labor with her 3rd! We are so excited for this new little life to join our crew. We already know it’s a girl, and I can’t wait to hold her and see Nash’s reaction to a tiny new baby (my ovaries are over here screaming, lol). I think that our family needed this positive addition as well. It has been a very tough, trying summer and our hearts are weighing heavy over a loss most people will thankfully never experience. I just wanted to touch on the subject a little, as I might have referenced it in a past blog post and I finally figured out a good way of sharing some of the story.
In June we lost our lively, bright, vivacious and spunky little niece, B, in a tragic accident on her beloved farm. She was 4 years old.
I want to begin by saying that I do not refer to her much in past tense, because I still feel her here with us. I don’t believe she is completely gone, in fact I think she surrounds us and is more present than before. Everyone handles grief differently. I always knew this but I was hard and cold. The grief and mourning used to make me so uncomfortable. If I went to a funeral it was like I absorbed all the awkward energy in the room and it bubbled up inside me so that it forced me to cease and exit immediately. Someone would pass and I’d say, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” and then I was like, “Okay, let’s move on, its done, its over, move on,” in my head. I never realized how harsh and unloving I was about things. I don’t think that attitude was outwardly expressed, but I felt it on the inside. The stubborn indifference in me was numbing me to things I just didn’t want to feel or deal with. But there is no compassion in indifference. Healthy, honest relationships aren’t built on indifference either.
I regret being distanced and removed from the losses in peoples’ lives. They spoke to me about their grief and I deflected and did not react with compassion, though I may have responded with a pat on the back and an “I’m sorry.” I didn’t know grief until we lost B. In our new apartment I have hung her pictures up and see her sweet face almost in every room. At first we weren’t capable of having them out. The pain and disbelief was unreal. I remember the long drive back home from the farm the night it happened. The sky was absolutely brilliant. It looked like the purple-blue sky had been painted by a 4 year old with bright pink paint. And I’m sure it was. I cried and sobbed, I threw up I was so sick over the gaping hole I saw in everyone’s hearts around me. It hurt so much to see Matthew’s family so devastated and weak. My Matthew, he never cries. Not ever. But his eyes were red and burning with tears just like everyone else’s…I feel the emotions like knives in my chest even now, months later. To see him like that was like tearing open my chest and throwing my heart on the ground. I can not fathom the pain my sister and brother in law feel. They have been so strong and brave in all of this. Not without struggles, I’m absolutely sure, but this family has resilience that can only be God given.
Digging up these emotions is sickening, it’s like standing on the edge of a cliff and teetering on the peak, waiting for the wind to sweep me over and overcome me with the fall. I have waited to speak openly with anyone about her passing because I want to protect the rest of the family that is hurting. I feel like God gave me a go ahead because He also gave me a message with it, so here I am now.
On the radio this morning I heard the guy asking listeners to call in and say why they were more thankful this thanksgiving than last year. My first thought was, more than last year? Not only have I lost B, but an old friend from high school I was very close to lost her younger sister to a car accident just weeks after that. A friend of hers was driving the car that blew a stop sign and killed her. He also killed himself in that crash. As if that wasn’t a bad enough twist, that boy was the son of Matthew’s friend and co-worker. I had to go to the funeral of the boy who hit and killed my friend’s young sister (she had just graduated, and not only that but her dad baptized the boy that killed her) and deal again with grief. Shortly after that, my best friend’s cousin was killed in an accident leaving behind his young wife and children. And then, just 3 weeks ago, my best friend lost her older brother in another accident on a quad. He had 3 young kids. Two of them still toddlers. These were people I spent time with, have memories with, cared about. Time distanced us and I wasn’t the immediate family directly impacted, but it felt as if I was. So I thought to myself, how could I be more thankful this year?
It was like I turned to God and said, “What have I gained? Are you kidding me?? Look at my losses! Look at the disaster that this summer and fall have been! Look at my heart and my family still broken over all that we have lost! How can I possibly be MORE thankful this year?” I want you to understand that I talk to God as if He is right here. No one understands or knows me better than Him, and from time to time, I get angry at Him. I yell at God and complain to Him. The most beautiful thing is that while I act like my toddler, crying and yelling and throwing my fit, He smiles at me and patiently listens until I’m done, then wraps me in His arms and understanding. I finished my “How could I possibly forget about all the things I’ve lost this year?!” rant and my phone buzzed. My new little niece is on her way into the world today.
With her impending arrival I am reminded that after every cold, dark winter there is a bright, warm spring ahead. I am reminded that this morning when I woke up, I was able to get up, I was able to cook a good breakfast, I had a sweet (and super hunky) man start my truck for me, I got to pick up and hold my wonderful, intelligent, vibrant, smart little boy and kiss his head goodbye just before I went to work at my job that I enjoy. And I find myself asking God to forgive me for forgetting every little blessing that pulled me through this hard season. I look back over the summer with a stinging in my heart, but an understanding that at every point I thought I couldn’t bear it anymore, God swiftly placed another foothold in my path that I could use to steady myself.
Those who hit rock bottom can look up and see an ocean of directions and possibilities they couldn’t see in the midst of the decent. When you are at your lowest, that is when God is at his strongest, when you have an opportunity to be nothing and let Him take over and be everything. You can rely on His strength and it won’t be so hard anymore.
I have a constant void in my heart for beautiful B, but just the other day I was busy doing dishes when I looked up and realized what my son was doing. B’s picture was on the coffee table in our living room and he was driving his little tractors in circles over and around it. “Hi B! Hi BB! Tractor B, tractor!” My son stood there, with absolutely no prompting from me whatsoever, talking and playing with B like she was right there next to him. Again, later, he was playing independently in his room right off the kitchen where I was. I peeked in to check on him and he is sitting on his knees with his pile of cars and tractors, talking to B. Laughing with her. Telling her, “Tractors! Trailer!” and pointing to each one. Some people might say that’s creepy, or whatever. But I won’t let those opinions twist something I see as beautiful and special. We look at pictures of everyone in our family with Nash, and he names them off, so he knows who he’s talking about when he says B’s name. I believe without a doubt she was playing there with him, and that he’s young enough that he can still see angels and even B without that ‘magic’ being revealed to the rest of us. I think God allows kids to be visited by our loved ones like this, and that we as adults chalk it up to their imaginations, maybe by a default to keep God’s mysteries..mysteries.
Why are you more thankful this year than last year? Tragedy might strike, depression can try to overtake us, but no matter what rock bottom you smash into you can always look up to new possibilities and a Savior who has been patiently waiting for you. I am thankful that despite the death that seemed at one point to surround me, that God brought me through it, and now, I can truly have compassion for those who have lost someone. I can share in their grief and genuinely reach out to comfort them. I’m not scared away or running for the hills when faced with loss. I can stand strong for those close to me and hopefully make their struggle a little easier to weather.
I am noticing so many parallels in life situations with events in the Bible…this one reminds me of the death and resurrection of Jesus. He died a sickening, terrible, bloody death. The Earth trembled and cracked and even God the Father had to turn His back on it all. They buried Jesus and people were stricken with grief. But you probably know the story doesn’t end there! Jesus was dead for 3 days, but the 3rd day, the tomb where they laid his body was empty. There is a dark season, but joy comes in the morning! Jesus later then reappeared to some of the disciples and both His Mother Mary Magdalene and friend Mary who saw Him first. B died. Her body was cremated and we won’t get to hold her again until she meets us with her wild smile and full-force hugs in Heaven. But I think she visits her cousins, probably her younger brother too. Every day since her passing, we all have seen probably hundreds of butterflies too..more than any other year. I see one and I smile, thinking of the butterflies they released on her farm on the day of her Celebration of Life. I can’t see the wind, but I can feel it and see what it moves. She is the same way. Her own kind of wind, and I hold onto that. She moves us and surrounds us and I thank God that He gives us these graces and mercies to get us through.
There is much to be thankful for, friend. If nothing else, 365 more days are a blessing. Don’t let grief turn into depression that buries you until you suffocate; there is a bright new start ahead of you if you just look up.