Tomorrow Ben would turn three. I've realized for those who have lost loved ones...the pain…
Mommy, mommy!! I want to show you something!!
With a devious smirk, my six-year old glanced quickly at my parents sitting on the couch across the living room, straight faces, belying her intent. Oh boy, I thought, what’s next? Proceed with caution. Her spirit exudes, the energy that has forced me to put one foot in front of the other, since July 7th.
EXTRAORDINARY!!!! She screams, laughing, as she and my parents immediately place their index finger in the air next to their faces. My teacher told us you have to put your finger up when you hear someone say a big word. The word is extraordinary!! And extraordinarILY gets two fingers!!!
Her cackles fill the room, she lies on her back, gangly legs kicking in the air. I laugh. We all laugh.
The journey through grief and beyond, it has to occur. It is dirty and rough. On our darkest days, I have yelled at God that I feel like a prisoner of war. I have stood by Ben’s grave, sobbing just to find air, talking to him, a request that he give me the strength to survive. The incessant waves batter our already-exhausted bodies. One after another, as if a form of water boarding. Breaths are intermittent, shallow.
But, to survive, we know we cannot avoid the waves – we have to meet them at their core, feel them, dive to their depths as they crest. Hold our breath and listen for the sound of their power breaking against the shore in their tumultuous descent. We must gasp and swim, some days sinking a bit lower, others floating on the surface of much calmer waters.
Grief is the journey from brokenness back to life. By surviving another wave, we come closer to finding our “new normal.”
That new life may be imperfect, a jigsaw of shattered pieces. But, we swim. And with each passing wave, we inhale the pain and exhale hope, as a piece falls into place. And, as the days pass, moments of sunlight shimmer on the surface of the water, with ever increasing frequency.
A smile, a laugh, a dance, a joke. A hug.
Those glimmers catch me off-guard. The reality of the loss of Ben is constant, like a separate, parallel consciousness. But, in the moments, we are finding space for the loss AND the hope. I pause and realize the girls and I are singing Colder Weather (Zac Brown Band), loudly, with the windows rolled down, sun blazing, breeze blowing in the crispness of a New England fall. I find us suddenly dancing in the sunroom. Or I feel my heart bursting at the seams with pride during the girls’ soccer games, just existing as a normal “soccer mom” again for a moment. Then there is the instant when I look up from my book at our local coffee shop, and time seems to stop. If only. But, I grab the moment, as it ever too quickly passes, and watch my little mini-me’s engrossed in books of their own, sipping their mango-strawberry smoothies.
And, then there is my husband. We find ourselves holding hands, being silly, even if just for a second. Laughing, enjoying soccer again, walks to nowhere. Like college-age kids, when we first started our journey together, innocent, with the entire world of possibility in front of us. Date nights just talking and thinking. Smiles. Tears. Smiles.
As the glimmers sneak in more often, so does the guilt. I found myself sobbing, texting a friend who lost her daughter a few years ago. Am I allowed to smile? To laugh? What if I’m not miserable all the time or realize I haven’t cried yet today? And, again, she gives me strength to continue riding the waves, replying: When you are not on your knees, broken, it is because Ben lives in you here AND in heaven above. It's nothing we can comprehend! We can only trust. Trust Ben.
People have tearfully told me they worry our family will never feel true joy again. But, that can’t be true. I want to live, to feel joy, even if its different and not quite as pure or constant as before.
Ben’s joy and laughter filled a room. That’s one of the greatest thing I learned from him – love and laughter define us. With those ingredients, a true life ensues. And time is too limited and precious to allow suffering and sadness to win. Life is a gift.
Ben would want us to live, love and laugh. He’s cheering us on, I feel him each day.
So, we fight the waves of trauma and grief. We breathe and live. And through God’s love, I have faith one day we will crawl on our knees, tired and battered, out of the waves, and stand in the sunlight in our “new normal.” Maybe it will be a simple island, but it will be built on the foundation of joy, family, faith and friendship. But, mostly, it will stand strong through love. Ben’s love.
Because ultimately, God (through Ben) is teaching me that life is EXTRAORDINARY, and we need to live it EXTRAORDINARILY.
(I get three finger props for that sentence!)