Some moments serve as permanent markers in life by which everything else relates in a before-and-after sequence. August 2nd, 2019 is mine.
Some of my daily tasks seem the same, some of our routines are unchanged, you might think nothing much changed. I still have a loving husband, a sweet, growing toddler and the tasks and small joys of life are still piled around us. But if a soul could be seen, you would know that nothing about me was untouched or unchanged since that day. My identity is altered and parts of who I was have been utterly erased from this year and the future. I am not a daughter any longer. I am not a sister to someone with special needs. I am lost to the privileges and responsibilities that those roles held. The cares I carried for them are stripped from me. I am emptied of the potential for what more I could have learned and gained from those relationships. I am separated from the love I felt from them, and the love I still feel for them has no where to land. It flows from my heart through my tears and splashes aimlessly in their absence. Being cut off from their love, their knowledge, care, and support leaves me feeling like so much less of a person. Like I’m playing this game of life with only half the deck. My home is here, but the power line has been cut.
One year has passed in this new void of what once was. I wish I could apply some balm to this pain by saying that I’ve learned so much and I’ve become a better person through all of this trial, that I’m closer than ever to the Lord or that some good has come from their deaths. But none of that would be complete or entirely true. I can’t offer that comfort as this painful marker of time comes around. Maybe someday, but certainly not yet.
I’ve learned things, yes. But things you wish never to know, like how helpless we are and how ineffectual all the wisdom of the world can be. How far from comfort we push each other with empty phrases and ill-timed advice and even with silence. It’s like there’s no right way to respond. I’ve learned how fragile life is and I live with a perpetual expectation of the next tragedy, I’ve almost forgotten how to hope or expect something to go well. I’m too young to think this is the last tragedy that will affect me or my family. Statistics have not worked in my favor so far and the protection of the Lord is by no means a guarantee of safety in this life. This year has been stuffed with so many countless disappointments of all I hoped for to the point that even when something good happens, it’s hard for me to feel anything except a smidge of relief that I don’t have to add another let-down to the list. It’s as if, even if every little thing from this moment on went perfectly in my life, there would still be a negative balance. The tragedy of the loss on that day has tipped all the scales irrecoverably unjustly. There’s a break in my soul that cannot be made right this side of heaven. I am not in a position to tell the Lord how He ought to govern the world. But my heart has certainly cried out with echos of “How long, O Lord, before anything is made right!?” It’s a struggle to feel like He hasn’t abandoned us.
I don’t think I’ve become a better person from this. Most days, I still can’t think straight and I make the tiny mistakes that just irritate and remind me that my mind isn’t here anymore. My face holds wrinkles that weren’t there a year ago. I feel impatient with everything and everyone like this world could never be good again and that I’d just rather not deal with it. I feel upset by what people have said, or haven’t said. I feel lonely, but hesitant to let anyone enter this space with me, if even anyone was willing. So much of the life I wanted for myself and my family has been taken from me and now I’m left to try to find contentment in this watered-down version. Maybe if I didn’t know better, the good things left for me would feel like enough, but it was supposed to be so much better. Much has happened in the world since that day that would merit my sympathy, compassion, and effort but I have none to give. I feel depleted in a way that only the comfort of knowing this life is temporary soothes. I understand my grief doesn’t excuse my own sinful heart. I’m working through these things but if I’m honest, those are some of my thoughts.
I don’t see any great good that has come from this. In sincerity, I don’t think any good would be good enough so I’m not really looking anymore. One way my parents would have wanted to help others through their deaths was made impossible due to some specifics. This too was a disappointment for me.
I’m aware of how privileged I was.
I had two incredibly involved parents who loved and cared for me consistently for as long as they lived. Of course we had disagreements, but these were good parents. I never knew life without their attention and presence and desire to be a part of my world. Both of them, in different ways worked tirelessly to make sure their children were provided for and trained and raised as God would have them be. They gave unlimited time and effort to make our lives better. Not everyone has this backstory. My childhood was blessed by them. Countless people have experienced intense pain that should never come from one’s own parents. I was spared from that and received only good intentions and love from them.
Landyn was an exceptional human. No one in my experience compares to her in pure inhibition. Disney gave her friends as the world looked on with strange glances. Her autism is not something I would have wished for her or on anyone else. In spite of her oddities and the frustrations of her life because of them, she brought so much joy to us as a family. She made us closer to one another, she made us depend on one another, and care for each other in a way that is truly unique. She made me more responsible, more sensitive to the unspoken needs of those around me, more compassionate to people whose struggles have no solution and no end in sight. I was blessed to have her in my life and she brought a richness and depth to our family that I can’t imagine life without.
Uncle Kent was extravagant in his displays of affection. He was lavish in his attentions and pride in his family and that extended to us. Not one memory of him stands out in my mind when he was anything less than a driving force of joy and an enthusiastic leader in our family get-togethers. He brought a vibrancy to life around him. Even in our family, he was unique in this. Maybe it would have been overwhelming if everyone were like him. But it was just him. It was a joy to grow up with his jolly self as a highlight of our years.
I was blessed by much, and much has been taken from me. It was a privilege to have loved and been loved so deeply.
As Winnie the Pooh so rightly noted, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
But I didn’t get to say goodbye. My soul was jolted in the moment we lost them. This was no natural end, there was no time, no warning. One of my sisters recounted her last interactions with them to me the other day and the most horrific part I felt was how perfectly normal it had been. Life was going on as it should. They were healthy. They had normal struggles but that was a part of life. Death had no business reaching into that day and it gave no foreshadowing. Some man hijacked our normal. So many of my dreams since then have been focused on this aspect of how they’re so alive and yet in the back of my head I know they’ve been taken from me. My dream-logic keeps retorting, “But they look fine!”
There’s the good dreams, where I’m with them and we just enjoy normal life.
I see Dad sleeping on the couch for “just five more minutes.”
I hear Mom in the other room on a video call with her southern grand babies making them laugh and singing songs to them with so much enthusiasm.
Landyn is running up and down the stairs chattering about her most recent goodwill purchases.
It’s just normal.
Then another when I’m sitting with them at Dairy Queen and we’re all talking about nothing in particular. I think of some of my own struggles and want to share them but then my dream-mind stops, “No, don’t burden this moment, let them be.” And Mom and Dad nod off to sleep at the table while I take Landyn for a drive to let them rest.
Then there’s the horror dreams. There’s the accident, over and over again on repeat, in such vivid imaginary details that I wish I had actually witnessed it because I’m sure it couldn’t possibly be as bad as my mind envisions. I won’t describe them more.
There’s the savage attempt to dig them out of the grave with my bare hands because they can’t possibly be dead, only to wake up and find my finger nails bloodied from scratching my own arms instead.
The disillusionment and shock of that moment on such a normal Friday afternoon have trickled into the crevices of every part of life. Sometimes it seeps out in moments of impatient anger, sometimes it detaches me from everyone around me and brings feelings that I too don’t belong in this world. Sometimes, it lurks in breath-stealing moments of panic knowing there’s nothing stopping this shock from happening again. Maybe tomorrow it will be Ovi or Louis that disappears from my reach. Maybe that video chat with one of my siblings will also be my last. Maybe a new devastation is looming right in front of us. Some days, I almost expect it, as if somehow assuming more tragedy will surely come will make it easier to bear when it does.
I can’t escape this pain, I can’t erase it, or imagine it away. It stays with me everyday and everywhere I go. It’s with me when I wake up, making each day seem endless. It stays with me when I sit in a car and know the risk that is. It stings when I grab my phone and am reminded that there will never again be a text from my dad and that I can never again call my mom. It lingers while my mind wanders washing the dishes, my tears mingling with the soapy water below. It dampens the beauty of a mountain sunset. I still sense it in the sea-breeze of vacation days. It dwindles the value of life’s great or funny moments because they were the ones I wanted to tell. As my head rests on my pillow each night, my mind finds no such soft comfort, not in this life at least. Their absence is ever-present.
Ovi commented today, “You’d think a year would’ve done something, but it feels like yesterday.”
This last week, I picked up Les Miserables again and the beginning chapters describe the priest who eventually extends grace to the main character. One of the descriptors of this priest is that he was a great consoler. My attention perked up, knowing now how rare and valuable a find that is. What makes someone good at that? “As he knew the moment for silence, he knew also the moment for speech. Oh admirable consoler! He sought not to efface sorrow by forgetfulness, but to magnify it and dignify it by hope.”
“He sought to counsel and calm… and to transform the grief which gazes upon a grave by showing him the grief which fixes its gaze upon a star.”
So, where is that star? What is the hope that can somehow dignify this massive despondency?
For now, my heart can only skip to the end. Of the end, I’m sure. When I look far ahead, I find confidence and assurance and a fulfilling beauty again. The hurtles and jolts and agonies of this world fall into a valley and I see that somewhere ahead is a mountain top where the view is clear, where the sun shines and lights all the uncertainties. It is there in the final end where my soul will find a haven. Where I will understand, where I will be made whole. It is with God in that end where I will see all the wrongs made right. Where justice will be revealed once and for all, where those who mourn will be comforted. Where my dreadful imaginations will be matched and exceeded by unimaginable rewards and love. Where every tear of mine has been kept and will be wiped away by God himself. Where my sense of sojourning, my desire for a better country, will be justified and relieved in a place where I will finally be home. A place has been prepared for me where this night that now lives in my soul will be no more. A place of unfading beauty and unfailing hope fulfilled. This year has aged my soul into a phase of life that would much more willingly surrender the fleeting joys of this world for the things that endure in the next.
Looking forward to those days, I’ll try everyday, a little more and a little more to work backwards from there till someday, maybe a day on earth will begin with hope too. I long for a day when those far off promises feel sufficient for each days’ tasks. Though my soul has been broken, it will yet be restored. I will hope in God for I shall again praise Him.