I have bit my tongue and kept quiet on this for so long, but it burns in me and this year as we cross the anniversary of AJ‘s death for the 14th time, I feel it’s time to talk about it.
The rebel in me almost didn’t want to write anything today. It seems like every year I feel like I must post some profound blog because perhaps in some way this helps. But I told myself this year I wasn’t going to write anything, not out of obligation at least.
It seems a whole lot easier to just crawl into a hole for the day, to hide and escape feeling the emotion of today. But experience has taught me that it’s healthy to dig in to what I’m feeling because I know the path of healing requires feeling - feeling every and any emotion - being present. And even though being present can be hard; even though being present sometimes stings, I know it is good. I want to continue to heal and be whole. I know every healthy act of grief helps extinguish the sting of grief a little more for next time; for next year. Grief is a journey, and woah, what a journey it is. Thank you for joining me on this journey. Your presence and friendship helps relieve the sting.
So, I’m writing today not out of obligation but rather as a protest of freedom. I’m writing out of resistance to letting grief win over me today. I’m writing out of my declaration of hope - choosing hope and longing to share hope with you. Fear is contagious, but so is hope. So I’m choosing hope today for you, and for me. And as I process today which is infallibly the heaviest day of the year for me - each and every year - here is what’s on my heart…
Here we go again.
I’m trying my best to resist hating today, but the reality is I hate today and there’s something real there in that strong emotion. And perhaps that’s okay. Perhaps this too is a part of grieving in a healthy way. This day isn’t pretty, this emotion isn’t pretty. But grief certainly isn’t pretty either. And that’s okay.
Halloween. Halloween was the day that took my husband’s life. Halloween is a day where so many people dress up, have fun and go trick-or-treating. Our kids will too. And I love their costumes! Eli (no surprise) will be a storm trooper again, except this time he’s a Minecraft storm trooper. Our daughter, definitely a surprise, has chosen to be Marie Curie - the woman who discovered radioactivity. And our youngest son will be a Minecraft kitty. They all look adorable!! Homemade costumes are my fave! And I hope they have fun going trick-or-treating with their cousins tonight, getting lots of candy. I mean who doesn’t like candy?!?
I have learned to reconcile over the years that not all of Halloween is bad. It took me a long time to get to a spot where I could even let our kids go trick-or-treating. But I do think that this fun experience is ok and maybe even good for them and perhaps healing for me.
But where I draw the line is in how Halloween mocks death. I have struggled with this so much over the years: that we in our culture have a holiday - that’s really turned into a month - of celebrating, mocking and making fun of death. I think death is no laughing matter.
Those that know me well know that as soon as the month of October hits, the air seems harder to breathe. The closer we get to the 31st the more it feels like I’m suffocating. I think part of this is the anticipation of the anniversary of the accident but I’m also coming to understand that a large part of this is seeing death mocked all around me. I don’t understand it at all and it bothers me deeply.
Death is not to be mocked. Death is not funny. Death is real. The darkness is real, it’s powerful and evil. Evil is real. I have encountered this reality. I’ve had experiences that I hope most of you reading this never do.
I can only imagine that our neighbors (and there are actually several of them) that have chosen to turn their front yards into graveyards have never known what it’s like to kneel beside a grave and weep. Because if they have, I can’t imagine that they would want to reenact that real horror and real pain in their own front yard.
It bothers me and it pains me to see all of this. So why do we do it? Why has it become normal to put skeletons hanging from trees in our yards and coffins in our grass?
I think it’s good that we question things - things that might seem culturally ordinary. Just because the masses do it, just because everyone does it, does it make it OK? Is it good?
I can only wonder that maybe as a culture, a reason that we choose to mock death instead of take it seriously is that we don’t want to feel pain. Everywhere we look there are ways to numb pain - whether it’s watching TV, scrolling social media, shopping, consuming things, alcohol - the ways to avoid feeling are numerous and pervasive. We don’t want to feel, not the bad things at least.
But I believe in cutting off feeling the depths of our heart, we cut off part of our humanity. We become less alive in the land of the living. It’s like cutting off an arm or a leg. When we avoid feeling it makes us less of who we are and who we’re made to be.
And I can only imagine that a reason we mock death is because deep down we know that the pain of death is truly unbearable for us to handle (on our own apart from God and community - and we don’t want to let others in because they might see the real us that we’ve taken great care to hide, but that’s another blog for a different time). Death scares us, so we must make light of death to lighten the pain that either we’ve already experienced or to lighten the fear and anticipation of the pain that would come when someone we dearly love would pass on.
There is zero shame in my note. I am not pointing a finger. I am not placing blame. I write this covered in love, covered in a deep and pure desire for all to be well, for all of you to be well, to be fully alive to fully experience everything. I want you to know life‘s greatest riches which are found both on the mountain tops and in the valleys.
Go gently today dear ones and know that you are mightily loved. You are loved with a perfect love that casts out all fear. Open your eyes to the realities around you, don’t let life move you, choose to move through your life. You do have a choice and the choices before you are good. Embrace them all. If you’ve followed me over the years you know that I think it’s so important that we grieve in a healthy way. Now I’m not just talking about grieving the big things like the death of a loved one, I’m talking about grieving the million little things too. It’s important to grieve the disappointments and unmet expectations that we encounter in any given day, in any given week.
Grieve it all. Make no emotion off-limits because when we start making emotions off-limits, we start becoming calloused and we stop really living. Be OK with feeling, with feeling it all. This is healthy, vital and good.
I remember in the weeks leading up to the accident that took AJ‘s life, he said over and over again how much he hated Halloween. It struck me as odd. I didn’t know why he was making such a big deal about it. But of course, little did I know, that a few brief days later he be gone. Halloween would be the day he took his last breath. It was almost like somehow he knew. It was like he was more awake and more sensitive to the real heaviness of the day and it got under his skin. It bothered him and he wasn’t OK with it.
I think up until then I really hadn’t thought twice about Halloween. But following his example that something was not right with this day, has made me think immensely over these 14 years. I’ve tried to analyze and understand this incredibly odd holiday our culture seems to have put on a pedestal. This post is my best, though quite feeble, attempt.
I’m not sure how to close but I sure do wish I could jump out and give each and every one of you reading this today a big hug. Partly because I feel such a deep and sincere love for each of you who’s walked with me over the years. And partly because I want for your good with every ounce of my being. I want you to live your best life now.
I am so grateful for your genuine support, care and attentiveness to me over all of these years. And it’s my hope that my words and my music helps spur you on and cheer you on - bringing true hope to your heart and making your life better. This is why I do what I do, it’s an act of love and service for all of you. It’s the best way I can think of paying my gratitude forward to you for all that you’ve given to me. No one can make it through life on their own. And I’m so grateful for the gift of walking with you.
Thank you friends. Know deep down that all shall be well.
We press on. We press on together.