I wanted to stay in bed all day, or crawl into a hole.
The pull to stay so busy to not have to think or feel today is real. But instead, as I pulled my bones upright it felt more like climbing up the ladder to the high dive. With each rung the air gets thinner and harder to breathe as the knowledge that I’ll soon have to jump sinks in. And even though I’ve made this jump several times before so I know what to expect, it doesn’t get easier. Grief doesn’t get easier, it only gets different. Today marks 13 years since the accident took AJ’s life and left Eli with lasting injuries. 13 years and it still feels like yesterday. I’m beginning to accept that it always will. These wounds will always be fresh. This is grief. So instead of running around today avoiding the weight on my heart. I’m sitting with coffee, a left over gluten free cupcake, my journal and you. Inviting you into the process of grief in case my opening of this window can help shed light into your own story and pain you carry tucked away. Grief is never convenient. Neither is death.
I think asking questions is really important, but we can’t get stuck there. Often asking the question ‘why’ becomes a trap that paralyzes us, the answer (even if we found it) wouldn’t free us. Knowing why AJ died wouldn’t bring him back or change reality. A better question is, ‘What now?’. Figuring out ‘what now’ illuminates the way forward and gives a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I should have died that day too - all science and physical explanations would say it’s impossible that Eli and I lived through the wreck. It was that bad. The other lady who hit us was decapitated. Yes. That. Bad. (Side note - ALWAYS WEAR YOUR SEATBELT!!!)
So my first response to the question ‘what now?’ in those early days after the accident looked like a feisty determination. Death had already robbed us of AJ and I wasn’t going to let it rob us of Eli or me, of our hearts and our chance to live. We’re told we don’t get 2nd chances, but I feel like we’ve been given one. So step one has looked like choosing life in the face of death. How do we choose life? For me it has been a deep intentionality to grieve in a healthy way. What is grieving in a healthy way? I believe it’s being present and fully embracing and feeling each emotion. Making no emotion off limits and refusing to feel guilty. It’s keeping our hearts engaged with reality and reality engaged with our hearts. This takes work and effort and surrender. Removing the rules others and culture would impose whether perceived or actual. Grief is individual and quite untamed.
‘What now?’ also looks like letting others in and opening your eyes to see who is around you. Grief touches so many of us. I lost my husband, Eli lost his dad, AJ’s parents lost their son, his siblings lost their brother, his friends lost a friend and the list goes on… there were over 1000 people at his funeral - each one feeling the weight of loss - each one grieving in a unique way. Grief can isolate or if we let it, it can unite us into something beautiful. This is a gift of what God has done through our grief, the grief is not the gift but the deep relationships we share that have been born in and through the grief is a gift. Grief forms a depth of understanding in our hearts and overflows in empathy towards others, if we let it. You don’t have to hide in your grief or feel ashamed. You don’t have to know what to say or have the answers or even ask the questions. Just sit in the emotion, stay present.
Halloween. I am not judging. I just genuinely do not understand a day that our culture has chosen to celebrate death and horror. For us this day brought real death and horror. It is real and I hate it. I hate the scary decorations, the skeletons, the grave stones in people’s yards. It doesn’t make any sense. Death is not a joke. And I hate that we can’t drive anywhere without seeing this grotesque glorification mocking us and our own grief and pain. My children hate it. I long for November when I can finally exhale and the sky seems blue again. Why do we do this as a culture? This is a question I can’t answer so I probably shouldn’t be asking. But this just serves to make today sting all the more for us and our family. So as I climb the ladder to dive into today I take a deep breath and pray and sit quiet refusing to close off my heart. Choosing the more difficult path of feeling the feels. Remembering stings but it is good and is a way of choosing life and refusing to let death win.
So now in remembering, I am sharing one of my favorite pictures of AJ and me with you. This one is hard for me to look at, but I need to see it. This was a good day, life was simple and we were so happy. There were so many times I genuinely wondered if I’d ever be happy again. 13 years later I can confidently say ‘yes’, though how I define happiness has drastically changed. I would say it’s turned more into a sober joy that is wrought with gratitude and appreciation for the gift of each day, the gift of being with people I love - treasuring them and all the moments. I don’t do this perfectly all the time but I’m trying because I know it matters. Life is short. Live it fully. Love richly. Engage your heart. What are you waiting for? Today.