Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Premature


On the eve of my seventeenth birthday, I received a frantic call from a close friend: her sister had been killed in a car crash. In reality, both of her precious siblings had been in the car that day, but one had been spared with a short hospitalization and released with her jaw wired shut while the other had been declared dead shortly after impact. At sixteen it is hard to comprehend the death of those only a few years older--they had so much life left to live. We had so much life left to live. 

A week later the service was held to celebrate a life cut short by a drunk driver on I-5. I was scheduled to run in a race during the service, but opted for an early morning race at the same invitational, and hopped in the car with one of my coaches for a frantic two-and-a-half hour drive back into the city. The comparison was not lost on me as we weaved in and out of traffic on one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in the state--anything can happen, any time. We are not owed another day.

I stood in the back of the church since our late arrival afforded us few seating options. I watched as the surviving sister stood beside a friend who offered to read her eulogy. She could not read it herself due to her injuries. I watched as sister who had passed was grieved by her fiancee who strummed his guitar and sang to his lost love. I watched as the slideshow played the countless memories of her twenty-some years of life--endless reminders of how much was lost by her family. This was a precious member who would never be replaced, never be forgotten, never be fully grieved.

A year and a few months later, I lost my father. When the news came, I was speechless, even though I knew his health was failing, even though I knew this was realistic possibility, even though I'd been hanging on reports of his health for seven weeks. In the days that followed I struggled to interact with my friends, who walked on egg shells around me unsure of what to say. In the months that followed I resented those around me that failed to remember my grief, to acknowledge that my loss still burned within me. In the years that followed, I learned the cradle the ache I felt with the loss of my dad every time it came to the surface--sometimes at expected times, sometimes catching me with total surprise.

This week marked thirteen years since my dad's death, thirteen years of wondering what might have been different. In October we travelled to a farm belonging to one of my dad's closest friends from high school. Originally a dairy farmer, his friend had remastered his land into the quintessential elementary school field trip--corn maze, pumpkin patch, hay rides all included. The pig show delighted my two year old daughter, and someday my son will cherish the hay maze and slide housed in the old barn. After years of struggling to make it, this family has developed a business that rewards their hard work. My dad would have been so proud of his friend, and happy for his success--and he has missed it all. My dad would have loved ride behind the tractor pulling a trailer stacked with hay, carrying his grandchildren, and he will never know them. 

Today a friend I have known since junior high found out her sister died. She was traveling the world, relishing her freedom as a single twenty-something with no mortgage and few responsibilities. She died hiking a trail with a few well-known treacherous points, and lived her last moments doing what she loved--traversing the wilderness. She wasn't yet 25. 

I found myself shedding tears on multiple occasions this afternoon after hearing the news of her death. While she and I were not close, her sister and brother are people I have been close to for years, and her family is precious to me. I grieve for the loss of everything that might-have-been: her nieces and nephews that will never know her, her parents who are left without one of their children, her siblings who have lost a part of their shared history--and shared future. 

Most people don't lose an immediate family member in their teens, but now that I am in my thirties I see more and more of my peers joining the ranks as those who grieve. Billy Graham once commented that "old age can be a lonely time," and I imagine that is very true. When a loved one dies, you move on, but you don't forget. The absence remains weeks and months and years later. As we get older and lose more and more of those close to us due to death--both foreseen and unexpected--we become less attached to our lives on earth and more intent in our pursuit of heaven. 

As a pregnant woman readies for labor, so uncomfortable with the child she would prefer the pain of delivery over the continued confinement, so we grow weary of this broken world. We desire more and more earnestly the promise of heaven. Until then, until we meet our end, we grieve. We ache for lives ended too soon; we long for what might have been. We press on.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Matching


"Sit still," he repeats for the umpteenth time. He focuses, and attempts, and adjusts his method, and focuses and adjusts and asks for further clarification. "Like this?" he questions me, as I watch from a couple feet away, smiling at his insistence he learn how to accomplish this--by himself.

My husband is fixing my daughter's hair before church, and I love it. The most problematic step in the whole ordeal was creating a center part--no small feat on the head of an active two year old turning her head this way and that as she unknowingly makes my husband's job more and more difficult. He wields the pale yellow comb we received the day she was born, the same we used to comb her hair after her first bath. With the attempted precision his job often requires, he focuses on the top of her head--and her demeanor almost mocks his efforts. She has no understanding of complete stillness at age 2 and 3/4. It is a foreign concept.

I help him secure the part, fix one half of her head, and watch as he attempts to match it on the other half, securing the ponytail at a similar height and then wrapping the hair around to create a tight bun. She calls this do "bear ears," a family name given to my younger sister when she frequently sported the look herself. 

I treasure my husband's efforts to participate in all of the child-rearing efforts: the cooking, the cleaning, the diaper changing, and even the hair-fixing. When our children receive new hand-me-downs from friends, he often asks for a tutorial of the "outfits"--developing a working knowledge of what pairings he should keep in mind when dressing them. I appreciate that when track season rolls around in three short months, and traveling follows soon after, he will require little preparation for weekends they weather without me. He knows our routine, the rhythms we follow on a daily basis. He can dress them and bathe them and fill their days with meaningful play. And even in this, he always welcomes me back with open arms (and occasionally a flower or two) when he experiences the exhaustion of my daily rituals, and all that our two precious babes require. That pat on the back, especially from someone who knows the routine, is pretty great as well.

For the rest of the day he compares the right side of her head with her left, examining how his work fares compares to mine. They are nearly identical, in my opinion, but when the right side begins to unravel, he questions (again) his technique. "You'll get better at it," I assure him, reminding him I've had three decades of practice on both myself and my sisters. He will probably never french braid her hair or create elaborate new looks, but the desire he has to master basic hair wrangling technique makes me happy. He wants to be a part of all of their care, and I am thankful.