Three years ago yesterday, I was in the hospital room with my pregnant daughter April when she was told that her baby, Stephanie Grace, was dead. Last night, I stood in a kitchen while someone I loved talked about the baby’s death with the indifference of a stranger discussing football. I didn’t say a word. There was no chastising, no defending or explaining. I just sat and listened and thought about how much we say and how much we shouldn’t.
A year ago, I couldn’t have done that.
The past year, which was defined by Greg’s third cancer, has been a year of ceasing to strive. I no longer try to do more than live in the day. It’s not some noble carpe diem sort of thing, either. It’s the simple fact that I don’t have anything inside of me–there are no reserves left.
Prior to Greg’s first cancer, my Christianity was hopeful but passive–it’s hard to explain, but I spent a lot of time striving to follow the kind heart of the Holy Spirit, trying to listen and hear and then do. (Like I was a much-loved pull-toy.) Just before Greg’s leukemia diagnosis, I started to realize how much a life of faith was also a choice–I will always be grateful to Pastor Herb Flanders and Jasper UMC for helping me to see that–and I started being more intentional about my faith. Striving to choose and to do.
I’d say there were twenty-five years that involved some sort of striving–then, there were two that were spent crying and wandering.
And then there’s this year–a year when I have just sat.
I don’t think I have been still and known. I picture being still and knowing as someone kneeling under a tree (or perhaps beside a river), as someone being holy and still.
I’ve been more resigned and still.
But stillness implies total lack of movement–I haven’t been going forward or backward. There’s been neither improvement nor further destruction, so, logically, I recognize this: I survived.
And, since it is true that I survived, there must also be this truth: I am no longer broken.
This realization did not come in a warm and fuzzy “Mold Me and Make Me” moment, but rather in the bittersweet recognition that the life I had is totally over, the life I hoped for is not to be, and–to top it all off–I am someone else entirely.
I am far away from the person I once was. She was destroyed–both her positives and her negatives. I miss her joy in her humor and her effervescence and her energy because I no longer possess much of that. It is so hard to get excited about things, too hard to hope long for much.
That was once me–hoping for the future, making naive plans, relying on people wholeheartedly.
But I have watched things crash and shatter, and the more that things broke, the less sense it made to put them on the high shelf.
So, I keep the things that I treasure both simple and close.
I treasure the trees–I come home from work and go into the front yard, dragging my younger daughter’s orange quilt behind me. I settle in, lie down, and look up. The arcing brown webs of branches up against the green of the leaves and the blue sky behind them comfort me, as do the warm sun and my three cats.
I treasure friendship–when a friend brings me a little gift or sends me a YouTube video, I recognize the gestures for their true affection. When I laugh with a co-worker between classes and feel that momentary happiness, I relish it.
I treasure my family. We are all still, most of the time, at arm’s length–I think we all recognize this and are sad about it, but we at least know we are now all on the same shore–so, when the girls FaceTime us, when we see April’s rabbit or Abby’s new manicure, and we can oooh and aah, I am grateful to do so. When Greg and I share a joke, when he teases me, I see the glimmer in that split-second gift.
This is nothing inspirational–I don’t have three simple steps people can follow to survive trauma. I can’t even offer any hope of lasting joy. But I can say that beyond the shattering destruction, there is a far-off stillness, and there are sometimes moments of happiness, seconds of joy.
Three years ago today, I held my granddaughter, sweet, precious Stephanie Grace.