Sunday, October 23, 2016

The One in Which a Hurting Mama Tries to Help a Hurting Son

I wanted to get out of bed today. I did. It had been my plan all along. But when the time came, I couldn't lift my head. It was too heavy. Thoughts, maybe, or just the anchor of sorrow. Sometimes that happens... everything will be lovely... and then everything stops for no reason. An anchor dropping, the boat trying to continue just gives up.

Tomorrow will be hard. I planned on that. It will be the 4th year of Avery's death. I took the day off of work. It's hard to sit there and pretend to be normal when you're not. It's hard to commiserate with someone bemoaning the fact they can't remodel their guest house when your thoughts focus on an appropriate headstone. (I just can't seem to let go of her wooden cross. I think after her graduating year. The other moms will be shopping for dorm room decor and I'll pick out a rock with her name etched in it.)

Anyway, I planned for tomorrow to be utterly difficult so today threw me for a loop.

It started last night, really.

Matt had left to watch horror movies with his buddies. I tucked Brody into bed then made myself comfortable on the couch to watch another documentary, a lovely gardenia candle burning and a prayer shawl given to me after Avery passed away on my lap. Thirty minutes into the documentary, Brody stumbles into the room with a look on his face I can't decipher. Earlier in the day he had complained that his stomach hurt, and his tooth. I thought maybe he had gotten ill.

He threw his long lanky body into me, arms trying to get tight around me, and just started sobbing.

"Buddy! Buddy, hey! Hey, what's wrong? Talk to me?"

Tears streamed down his cheeks in spite of the fact his eyes were squeezed shut. He was trying everything in his power to stop them from forming. His shoulders started shaking. There was nothing to do except hold him until he could speak.

"I just want a brother or a sister! I don't know why God gave me a sister and then made it so I can't ever see her."

I am tired.

My soul exhausted.

I do not have the answers for this child.

I do not have the healing balm for his broken heart.

And that breaks mine even more.

He cried and I listened. He spoke and I held his hands. He looked up at me and I placed my hand on his cheek and told him the truth: I wish I knew why it was this way, too. And then we prayed.

We thanked God for the new brother or sister God would bring into Brody's life and we asked for patience while we waited and we prayed for acceptance for what that new brother or sister would look like. Maybe it would be a baby that would be placed in our arms tomorrow - a friend of a friend who knows of someone's neighbor's niece - but maybe it would look much different. A new friend met on the playground in 4th grade that would do life like a brother. Maybe it would be college, we said, or as a grown up dad himself, when he would meet the person who would feel like they were meant to do life together. Please, Lord, we pleaded, help us see joy and feel happiness while we wait, no matter how long it takes. 

And that seemed to help. So we both took deep breaths and decided maybe it was a special night, what with daddy being gone, that we could cuddle up in the big bed and watch a movie together!

That seemed like a lovely idea.

I watched his little boy body with the life-tired eyes scroll through Netflix movies and settle on The Little Prince.

Friends, as a warning, that is such a hard, hard movie for children who know what death tastes like. Who knows the depth of hurt death causes.

The movie was paused and more tears fell and I tried to comfort him but I thought what do I know of comfort? I am so lost myself?

And then his questions came: how did you know Avery died? Where was I? Did you tell me Avery died? Did I cry? Did you cry?

It soon dawned on me.... he was three when Avery died. He spent weeks asking when she was going to come home from gymnastics. He couldn't grasp the concept of death... he couldn't feel the weight of what that meant because he was too young. But he would grow older. Understand things. Understand how life is meant to be and how cruelly it can turn out for some.

He was grieving hard... just like I was four years ago.

It was my time then. It was his time now.

I spent a long time holding him. It was as if he had just been told for the first time that his sister had died.

Eventually, the movie started to play again and we made it through to the end.

"Mom," he asked quietly. "Can we just forget about earlier in the movie? It turned out good in the end. It's still a good movie even though it's really sad in the middle." 

"Yeah," I answered. "We can do that. That's kind of how life is, you know. There are parts in the middle that might really make us sad, but it always ends up turning out good."

"Hey!" I sat up, remembering. "I have that book downstairs!"

We ran through the house and down the stairs straight to the never ending titles. "Look for a skinny book!" I told him. "It'll be blue, right?" he asked.

Book after book we went through and I had just about gotten to the point where I was seriously considering how to save this moment when we found it! The Little Prince.

And next to it was another book - one about dragons, actually, but it had both Jadrian and Avery's name written in their childish script on the inside cover. "Mom? Can I have this one? Just for me? And do you think I could have a pen and write my name next to my sisters?"

Absolutely, buddy. You can have the world if I can get it for you.

We climbed the stairs which felt like mountains. My legs heavy, my soul parched.

It is so hard to do this sometimes; be the Mama to the child in heaven while also being the Mama to child who is living.

We crawled into bed together, this lanky 1st grader and his Mama who aged overnight and never was able to get back to where she once was, turning through the pages of a book that reminded him of loved ones dying.

"Mom?" he whispered. "Can we do a celebration for Avery on the day she died? I want to give her flowers and a scarf."

“What makes the desert beautiful,' said the little prince, 
'is that somewhere it hides a well...” 
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

I meant to get out of bed this morning. I had every intention. But I couldn't. My head was so heavy. I don't know if I'm answering the hard questions correctly. I don't know if I'm doing the right thing or doing the wrong thing.

Matt believes that one ought to simply focus on the positive and stop dwelling on the negative. If something causes you pain or discomfort, simply avoid it.

But tomorrow, after school, right or wrong, I'll pick Brody up and we'll buy flowers and a scarf for his sister and we'll have a celebration.

Because maybe the positive is a brother being able to at least leave a gift for his sister at her grave... and maybe the negative is pretending there is no reason to hurt.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Taking Out the Rocks

When I was young, I remember hearing about this guy who lived every day of his life with a small pebble purposely put in his shoe. I remember thinking that was a pretty idiotic thing to do because everyone else on the planet who ended up with a pebble in their shoe stopped and took it out. No one I knew would want to walk around with a rock pressing uncomfortably into the bottom of their foot with each step. At least, not intentionally.

But this guy went on to say it was to remind him about how Jesus died for our sins. He didn't want to forget the pain and suffering that Jesus went through to forgive him for his sins; the anguish that was leveraged for eternal salvation. The least he could do was be mildly uncomfortable. As if taking on pain could somehow make the pain Jesus endured dying slowly on a cross make sense.

I understood why this guy wanted to remember such a tragic event, but why remember, with each passing step of the life we are given, only pain and anguish?

Why remember, all day every day, the despair, the fear, the torture and how there was nothing, absolutely nothing, anyone could do to stop the inevitable?

Why move through life focused solely on the single incident that took someone so beautiful, so perfect, so inspiring, away?

If I am to believe the words written in the Bible (which I personally do), Jesus was a man of great love, great compassion, great happiness, even. Jesus opened his arms and welcomed people in. He spread a message of hope and love. He encouraged people to give up the selfishness of their ways and focus instead on helping others. He taught us that love was everything.

He wanted his life to live on much longer than the day he died. He wanted his life to serve as an example to others... he wanted us to be influenced by him and choose live in the way he did. He wanted us to teach others what we had been taught.

I'm not so totally convinced that Jesus wanted us to spend every day on earth mourning his death, but rather he wanted us to spread joy and love and live with this awesome expectation that one day we'll be living eternally in heaven with him.

I don't mean to minimize the crucifixion. (If you know me at all, when Easter comes around, I spend a lot of days solemn, thinking about what it really would have been like to live during that time, to see the awfulness, to feel the devastation and despair of that fateful day when the world turned dark.) What I mean to say is, I think not only are we to remember and deeply respect Jesus dying - but in addition to honoring his death - we are to honor his life by living in a way that would make God proud.

Which gets me back to the rock in the shoe guy. What part about bruising the bottom of your foot honors the life lived?


October is a hard month for me. It's a hard month for a lot of people.

It was one of Avery's favorite times of year. She loved dressing up in costumes and she loved sharing candy. She was not having any part of the blood and gore and horror - rather she had this exceptional way of taking the good out of any situation, focusing on it and magnifying it. Living, instead, in a land of make believe and laughter.

She loved fall, the changing colors of the leaves, riding bikes, pulling out the blankets and cuddling on the couch. And she especially loved her birthday. Bringing in treats for friends and, even though the day was supposed to be about her, it was always more about the people she loved.

October is so beautiful with its hues of golds and reds; the way the sun wraps its arms tight right before the evening sky erupts in brilliant shades of pinks and purples, oranges and yellows like you've never seen.

Then comes the reminder of the day my world turned dark: October 24th.

And I can go through the steps of that day in powerful detail ---

--- waking up, getting ready for school. The shirt she chose (a light sweater of Jadrian's), the way she asked me to comb her hair. Looking at her reflection in the mirror, the way the brush slipped through her light brown hair. I swear I could see exactly what she would look like as a teenager. It was a quick glimpse but it was there.

I hear the music turned loud in the car as we belted out Jamie Grace's God Girl on the radio. The way she smiled as she sang - like she couldn't fit more happiness inside her if she tried! She was so beautiful.... she looked like an angel.

I can see the spot in the curb where I pulled over to drop her off at school.

I watch her hand as she opened the passenger door, her lankiness as she grabbed her back pack, and started toward the school.

How she turned back and looked at me, really, really looked at me... and said, "you know, Mom, I really am a God Girl."

The way she smiled through to my soul. I could feel her smile kiss my soul.

And then she turned and skipped into school - yes, skipped! So light and full of life! And I smiled, watching her until she disappeared through the school doors, so oblivious that I would never, ever cast my eyes upon her again.


On my drive into work that morning I continued to let the Jamie Grace CD play. Just as I was pulling into the parking lot the CD started over. At its very start there is a sixty second, barely there, haunting prelude: there's a feather in my hair and a wing around my neck, I'm ready to fly away.

I remember thinking, these are the words of a child going home to Jesus; these are the words of a baby dying.  The thought so heavy on my heart I had to shake it away.

That song was played at Avery's funeral. Right before the men in dark suits wheeled my daughter in her casket away.


There are 19 days on the calendar that sit between the date of her birth and the date of her death. Nineteen days that must pass... building in sorrow until the night when I fall apart. And I always do. The clock taunting me the entire day....

8:17am.... you just dropped her off.

It's 3:40pm now... school would have been over.... she'd be in the car to Whitewater... 

She's on the mats now, laughing and talking during gymnastics.... 

6pm.... gymnastics is over.... 

6:08pm... she died. 

But you don't know that yet. 

6:20pm - where are they?

6:30pm - maybe she was dropped off at youth group....

6:40pm - all your calls have gone unanswered... drive to church and check for yourself....

She isn't there. 

She will never be there again.

But you still don't know that yet either....

... and you won't know that for more than another hour....  

The worry and rising panic of those hours intensifies today the exact same way it did on October 24, 2012. Branded and seared into my soul against my will. And I know that each year it will always hold me captive. I think, in a way, it's supposed to. Not everyday --- but just on this one day of each year. This day of bittersweet remembrance.

So, what do you do when you know you're about to walk into something overflowing with sorrow?

What do you do with the nineteen days that sit between the celebration of one of the greatest days of your life and the absolute worst?


There is a painful beauty when recalling my daughter's death. The worry, the fear, the pacing, standing face to face with that uniformed police officer.... my soul shattering into a million shards...but it's the life that came before, the love she shared that makes her death a tragedy, that makes remembering beautiful. Without the faith she exuded, the love she poured out, the compassion she gave, the service she felt called to --- her life would have amounted to just a few lines in an old newspaper, folded and soon forgotten, regardless of her years lived on earth.

The way she lived her life, the examples she gave, the God she talked so passionately about - these are what I crave to remember. These I desire to hold at the very front of my memory.

What good would it be for me to walk around with a pebble in my shoe? Remembering with each step I take only the dark? Using my time gifted on this earth to remember the awful moments of the most horrible day - the ring of the doorbell, the hand on my shoulder, the feeling that I was surely about to suffocate under the weight of my own heart... as if some continual daily hurt I could feel would somehow justify her sudden and tragic death? 

Maybe that's why I needed to take the hard month back. Make October about Avery's life instead of just her death.


We started The 19 Days for the kids. That first year, I just couldn't imagine their grief stricken faces. They were too young. Too innocent. I didn't want them hurting any more than they had to.

Each day for nineteen days, I said, do something nice for someone else. Take your mind off things. Focus on the good in our world. Spread kindness. Create happiness. Be the joy that comes each morning. Then, after The 19 Days, sure we'll remember that darkness but we'll also know that the darkness doesn't stay. We'll remember that the light does pierce through. We'll have proof. We will be the proof.

But, maybe these daily acts of kindnesses are more for me now.  Because every day I look online and see another post using the hashtag #the19days -- every time someone sends me a text, every time I'm invited in to witness another act of kindness I am able to bend over and take a pebble out of my shoe.

And a person walks lighter without rocks in their shoes. It almost makes you want to skip.

The last photo Avery took on her iPod. 

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