My house remodeling took exactly 7.5 weeks from demo to completion. Three years ago on December 4 my life got remodeled as Eric breathed his last. No one showed up at my door with plans or contracts for approval. It just happened.
When friends walk into my newly remodeled space the first thing they usually say is "It looks entirely different. It's like you moved into a new house." And they're right. I feel it every morning when I leave the comfort of my familiar bedroom. You go into construction projects wondering what the plans in your mind will look like when they become plans you can touch and walk through. What it will fee like when they become your reality. In all honesty, I was ready and eager for the change.
I used to think in my head about what it would look like to be a widow. I could lay out the scenarios and plans in my head. It's a thing you do, or at least a thing I did, when you live with someone who has a heart in less than perfect condition. I thought about what our space would feel like without Eric in it. I was right about some things, I was wrong about most. It was like planning for remodeling. Some things turned out the way I expected them to and some things couldn't be imagined until we were actually forced to be there.
As sad as another death anniversary is, this is a place that I longed to be. When it had been one month, 6 months, 1 year or even 2, I longingly looked ahead. I wanted to be here. I wanted to be further down the grief road. I wanted the sting to be less. The ache is never really any less, but the acceptance of it continues to grow. For a long time it was an unwelcome guest that we hoped would pack up and leave. Now we've added on a bedroom for it and stock the fridge with its favorite foods. We've set a place at the table. It's just how it works. Those of you who have made space in your own homes are nodding in agreement.
For the most part we are good. Really quite good. Yesterday I cried in church as I sang words that echoed my heart. I do that lots of Sundays. The kids and I planned a day surrounded by friends and activity. My sweet sister, kept me in good company all weekend as we looked onto the day. I received lots of sweet messages and emails. Many prayers were said for me, for my kids and for our families and dear friends who received sad news three years ago. We are not alone in this walk. We are blessed with an amazing support system. Where we are all at emotionally, as we cross this mile-marker, has so much to do with that support. God is good and so very much of his goodness comes to us by way of the people who fill your lives.
Our loss that day was greater than anything we've ever experienced. But we continually find comfort in the fact that Eric's gain that day was greater than anything we could even imagine.
Some quick updates on life--consider this our Christmas letter. About a month ago we wrapped up a major remodel of our living room and kitchen. It's something that Eric and I dreamed about for years. We had always loved entertaining in our home and now it got a little easier. Henry has headed off to college and is doing wonderfully. He's a rock star--literally and figuratively. Check him out on itunes and Spotify (The Aircraft EP). Beatrice is a sophomore at Eagle Ridge Academy and is my onsite therapist. She is wise beyond her years. Simon makes us laugh and that is good medicine for all. He's in 8th grade also at Eagle Ridge. My children keep me going, keep me laughing and remind me that the hard work of moving on and finding joy in every day is worth the effort. I've recently changed jobs and am working for a much smaller company, but still as an executive assistant--I love it. As for cancer, I see my oncologist every 6 months and take a pill every day to keep things in check. I feel great and am grateful to have that behind me. We are looking forward to all being together for the holidays in our new space.
After Eric died, my living room was where people gathered. They filled the couch, sat on the hearth, pulled out the piano bench. Some of them had texted "I'm on my way" and some just showed up after they heard the news. A handful had been at the receiving end of a living room of people when loss happened at their home. They had sad and unwanted experience in the area of grief. They offered wise and tender counsel as I navigated the shock of our reality. I had been in their living rooms and now they were in mine. Others lacked experience at this grief game, but loved our family enough to sit with us as we stepped into our new normal. In those moments, with our living room filled to capacity, we started our feeble attempts to move on. To continue this thing of living. Recently I sat on the couch of one of my dearest friends. She wasn't in my living room that first night. She found out about Eric's passing through a mutual friend who forwarded the email that was sent out at my work. Today, I can't imagine that she wouldn't have been one of the first people I had texted or even called when the unthinkable happened. She became part of my living room as she delivered junk food breakfasts to my chemo sessions and helped me enjoy fabulous dinners when my taste buds recovered. She lovingly encourages and boldly challenges me to continue the task of living. Another friend was a new an acquaintance at that time--a mom of one of Henry's friends. She lovingly taught 15-year-old boys how to be a living room for their friend who really didn't want to even acknowledge his need for a living room those first days or the days to come. They learned how to show up. They learned that showing up and acting normal goes a long way in the healing process. That friend, along with other moms, filled my son's living room and put words of comfort into their boys' ears so that they had something to say when words were hard. She came into my living room through an unexpected door and continues to show up in loving and creative ways that bring warmth to my heart and a smile to my face. There are people who I thought would be part of my living room, but they never showed up. When I'm weary of needing a living room, I think about those people and wonder what kept them away. Occasionally I find myself even looking past all the people who sit around me only to think about the ones who didn't join us on the couch. What I've found is that bitterness and pity are easy emotions to latch onto but they erase so much gratitude. The reality is that God's goodness and creative provision are so much bigger than my expectations. For every person that by my plans should have been in my living room, he has given me new, unexpected and lovingly supportive people instead. He has filled my room and heart to overflowing time and time again. I trust that he knows who should be there. Without the love and encouragement from my living room of people, who obediently answered a nudge to put themselves in that position, my life would look very different. These people, time and time again, set me back on the path of living. They encourage me to live deliberately. To live hopefully. To simply live more. Who fills your living room? Whose living room are you part of? Whose living room should you be part of? People need living rooms for a multitude of reasons which all boil down to the brokenness of this world. I think we're often hesitant to knock on the door and invite ourselves in to that hard place. We know it will take our precious time. It will take emotional energy. It will take wisdom and prayers. It will be messy and inconvenient. And for all our desire to encourage, we might even get asked to leave occasionally. Always leave room in your life to be in someone's living room. Living is not always easy and showing up at the door of someone's living room might make all the difference in the world.
Every weekday morning at my house, Henry counts down departure time for school. Let's go! Ten minutes! Five minutes til we leave! Simon, get your socks on and head down to the car! Although he comes off as a drill sergeant, I'm grateful to not be the only one in the house that's trying to herd kids in a certain direction under some kind of deadline. Slowly, but surely, they tumble into the car with backpacks and lunches and off they go.
Lately, when the mornings are mild, I make my way to my front steps as the kids drive off. I wave. And I pray. Keep them safe, Lord. Everything I love is driving away from me. Away from my protection. Away from my input and guidance. Away from my feeble attempts to keep them from harm. I watch from the steps until they've safely pulled onto the highway. They blend into the morning traffic and they're gone.
On mornings when I'm busy getting myself ready or have to be at the office early, they sneak away without my watchful eye. My insides worry that I didn't say my safety prayer to get them through their commute to school. It seemed easier when I pray over them as they slept in my arms or as I peeled them off my leg and transferred them to their teacher. Now it's a hurried plea as they throw their car into drive and turn on the radio. It's completely cliche, but we've moved through those transitions at lightning speed.
We are just on the brink of another transition. In just months and minutes, one of these babies won't be snuggling in the safety of our home or coming home after a day at school or be the daily driver of my precious cargo. In a blink Henry will be off to his next adventure.
Our days right now are filled with lots of lasts. Hear me when I say that I am completely grateful for the knowledge and savoring of these lasts--his last prom, last research paper, last juggling show, last day he drives away as a high school senior. These lasts are easier than the lasts that happened while we were living without a thought that there wouldn't be another.
I get asked often how I feel about Henry leaving next fall. I'll be honest, I also ask myself that all the time. How will I feel when he's gone? In some quiet ways, I feel like he's partway gone already and that's okay. This is a process and there's no need to have it happen all at once. Ultimately, it's my job to make him not need me. I'm not afraid to say goodbye as he drives away. I've survived a goodbye that meant no more phone calls, no more text messages or no more coming through the front door and announcing that he's home. Yes, Henry will leave us, but his leaving is the end of a chapter, not the end of the book.
So now I'm the one counting down the departure. I stand by the door and yell--three months, two months and lots more orders that probably go in one ear and out the other. In my heart, I know he'll be fine. He'll stumble. He'll make mistakes that he shares with me and ones that he doesn't. When he succeeds he'll be able to claim it as his own. He'll appreciate all of us more after he's gone, but it will take time before he admits it. I'll continue my feeble attempts to keep him safe from afar and he'll continue to humor me in my attempts.
I've looked at this blog for several days now, trying to come up with a nice way to wrap it all up, find a nice moral to leave you with. But this isn't that kind of post. This story continues and will hold lots more lessons for me and Henry in the months and years to come and I'll likely share those with you, as well. Soon enough, I'll be standing by the door counting down the months and days for Bea. The stretching and learning has just begun for each of us. Instead, I'll leave you with the song that has been the background music in my head while I've pounded away at my computer the last couple of days. There's a good deal of wisdom in the words about letting go. Enjoy.
"You'll Find Your Way" by Andrew Peterson When I look at you, boy I can see the road that lies ahead I can see the love and the sorrow
Bright fields of joy Dark nights awake in a stormy bed I want to go with you, but I can’t follow
So keep to the old roads Keep to the old roads And you’ll find your way
Your first kiss, your first crush The first time you know you’re not enough The first time there’s no one there to hold you
The first time you pack it all up And drive alone across America Please remember the words that I told you
Keep to the old roads Keep to the old roads And you’ll find your way You’ll find your way
If love is what you’re looking for The old roads lead to an open door And you’ll find your way You’ll find your way Back home
And I know you'll be scared when you take up that cross And I know it'll hurt, 'cause I know what it costs And I love you so much and it's so hard to watch But you're gonna grow up and you're gonna get lost Just go back, go back
Go back, go back to the ancient paths Lash your heart to the ancient mast And hold on, boy, whatever you do To the hope that's taken hold of you And you'll find your way You'll find your way If love is what you’re looking for The old roads lead to an open door And you’ll find your way You’ll find your way Back home
A dear friend of mine said goodbye to her mother a couple of weeks ago. From the other side of the country we exchanged a few supportive emails. "Thought of you often in these days that are hard and holy." Her words were short, but so true: hard and holy days.
After Eric died, he still felt so very close. It was like we were two people living on either side of a curtain that divided our realities--one side hard and the other holy. I slept by the curtain, I woke up by the curtain. As I began to work my way back into life, I always kept my grief curtain in sight. On day four after each chemo, I would make my sick self comfortable right up next to that curtain and would let the dark heaviness cover me like a familiar blanket. Some days my time at the curtain was planned and other times I was thrown there unexpectedly by a song, a smell, something said.
In those days when grief was so heavy I thought that if I could press my hand up against my imaginary curtain, it would be met with the pressure of his warm and loving hand from the other side. Standing in this grief, gave me security that he wasn't completely gone from my life, from our family's life. On the flip side, I felt like my faithfulness at the grief curtain showed him that he wasn't forgotten. That his loss mattered to us. That he was worthy of us taking the time to be in this hard and holy place.
I found comfort at the curtain. It was where I could take a break from the noise of life and I could more easily remember his voice, his laughter, the sound of him coming through the front door. I could remember his solid confident words about how I would beat my cancer. At the curtain, the noise of the world quieted enough for me to imagine him saying, "You've got this, Dawn. The hard times will pale in comparison to the holy that is to come"
The seasons changed and although I hated to leave the last winter that Eric had experienced with us, the business of life crept in and the curtain of grief quieted and my time there lessened. It became the backdrop of our lives instead of the focus.
The truth is, he doesn't feel as close as he used to. It no longer feels like he's right there waiting for me to press my hand into the curtain that divides us. I have to work harder for the memory of his words, his laugh, his presence--and that's mostly okay. If the intense grief of those first days and months continued it would rob me of the life that I am meant to live. The life he would want me to live. The life that God has prepared for me to live.
I don't foresee that the curtain will ever completely leave, nor do I want it to. It will quietly hang as a divider between the now and the not yet. A reminder of everything on the other side--every one on the other side. Some day that curtain will raise and it will be time for me to say goodbye to this world and the hard and happy things it has held. Until then I will rest in the hope of Him who holds the curtain and comforts those who find themselves in that hard and holy place.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that