I have known Lindsay for over a decade and watching her over the past few years face deep grief has shown Lindsay to be a woman full of depth, insight, compassion and wisdom. Read her story as she describes living with the ‘And’. -Willow
The day after the Fourth of July our next-door neighbor, a forty-plus year resident of our neighborhood, passed away. He was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a loyal supporter of local parks, a neighborhood leader, a Seahawks fan, an avid gardener, a retired engineer, a near-daily disc golf player, and a good buddy to my two incredibly extroverted children, who until he got sick this winter, followed him relentlessly around his yard asking question after question about flowers, trees, and everything else under the sun. We all miss our neighbor very much. His name was Bill.
If you know me, you know, I love our street. Our neighborhood is kind of a relic of days gone by, lined with old Post-WWII homes and if it isn’t raining you’ll find folks chatting over the property lines about their gardens, kids whizzing by on scooters, multi-family water balloon fights, and the occasional ice cream social. Summer is the best and these past few weeks, we’ve not only been pulled into the many joys of the season, but we’ve also
been quietly connected to the grieving of Bill’s wife of fifty-four years and their family. I’ve cried a little with her. And I’ve heard bits of their story. I learned that every morning he ate peanut butter on toast and she gave me one of her many jars because she won’t eat it as quickly now that he’s gone (and as she suspected, it’s a staple for our family). I’ve squeezed her hand and hugged her. But amidst the tears, as I’ve interacted with Bill’s family, and heard their life carrying on over the fence that divides our backyards I have also caught moments of laughter and seen glimmers of a smile. Yes, there have been condolences, meetings with ministers, and a memorial, but there’s also been normalcy – laundry, dishes, lawn mowing, pruning,
Grieving and laughing.
Sorrow and stories.
Pause and normalcy.
Tears and joy.
Anger and hope.
Death and life.
In all of this I am caught by the ‘and’.
For me, Bill’s passing has been a reminder that life is not all good or all bad. Our experiences, emotions, and relationships are more often than not, mixed together in a beautiful mess of glory and wreckage – a theme that has been front and center in my own life. Just over two years ago, on May 28, 2011 I got the phone call that changed everything. We all know those phone calls. The ones that come at odd hours to turn your world upside down. This call was from my mom to tell me the previous night, my aunt, her baby sister, Amy, was shot and killed by her estranged husband, who then took his own life. They left behind two thriving kids and a slew of family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. And we, the ones they left,
Marked by sadness.
Marked by confusion.
Marked by anger.
Marked by regret.
Marked by bitterness.
Marked by emptiness.
But we are also marked by the ‘and’. Because life goes on for us on just like it is for my neighbor’s family.
The day of that phone call I was getting ready to play wedding coordinator for two dear friends. It might have been in part due to utter shock and paralysis, but somehow I took a shower, got dressed, and went to the church as planned. On that day I desperately wanted to cling to any sliver of hope that, amidst my uncle’s unthinkable, tragic action, life and love prevails.
I needed the ‘and’.
So, I went to help my friends ring in their new life. I lit the candles. I kept the wedding party hydrated and stocked with Kleenex. I cued the musicians and sent everyone down the aisle.All, so that I could taste a little bit of the resurrection.
In the days, weeks, and months following Amy’s death I prayed that God would raise her from the dead
like he did Lazarus and Jesus. I was drawn to The Road to Emmaus narrative in the Gospel of Luke. In this story the newly resurrected Christ approaches two of his followers traveling in their grief and confusion, but they don’t recognize him at first. After Amy died, I had an all-too-real sense of what it must have felt like for these two men when they realized that this oddly familiar stranger was in fact their teacher and friend, Jesus, brought back to life. Even now I will catch my breath when I see a forty-something woman of medium build and big golden curls, as I imagine for a second, that it is my aunt. Sometimes, out of the corner of my eye I get a glimmer of the resurrection.
In one of his letters to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul wrote:
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5).
The people who originally heard this letter, like me, were living with the ‘and’. Two thousand years ago in Corinth and today in the little town of Bellingham, we experience glimmers of glory here in our earthly tent, but there is also immense wreckage, reminding us that we are made for more.
Every year on the anniversary of this tragedy a contingent of family and friends hike to the top of Mount Peak in Enumclaw, WA. It is a 1,000-foot
elevation gain over the course of a single mile and many locals take on the trail daily, including Amy up until the day she died. This spring as we
gathered to mark the passing of year two, the rain fell hard and the weight of reality was burdensome. It was muddy and slippery. The second anniversary stood to remind us that every minute we tick away is one minute further from May 26, 2011 when everything was still okay. While the first anniversary felt victorious (we survived!), the second anniversary was a hard dose of reality.
As my smartphone and the Holy Spirit would have it, I happened to read the following passage a friend shared via Facebook from his seminary studies just before we got out of our car at the trailhead. It’s about the co-mingling of two sides of the same coin:
“As death and life are thought to be in complex relationship to each other, the depiction of redemption begins to shift. By linking redemption so closely to one event or the other, we run the risk of elevating suffering or of negating it. But what if we began to see the work of witnessing, the work of the Spirit between death and life, as redemptive?” (Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma).
In other words, we are living with the ‘and’ and not the ‘or’. For me, the last two years have been a beautiful mess and there was no more fitting way to remember and look forward than on a steep, muddy, wet, dreary, breathtaking hike, all giving voice to God’s Spirit at work in us and through us, pointing us to the hope of what is to come while sitting with in the middle of our ever-present grief. Words truly cannot describe
how hard the last two years have been. We all have these hard stories to bear and if you are fresh in your grieving, pain, or dark place, I am so sorry.
Please reach out if you need to talk. You are not alone. And if someone reaches out to you, helping is far simpler that you might realize.
Personally, I am learning to embrace the ‘and’. I am trying to be okay with the ups and downs (which often happen simultaneously). I am still immensely sad, but I also, because of my new found state of vulnerability, am more open to joy. I am finding out what it means to truly allow God to extend love, care, comfort, and grace to me – to accept what I have needed all along from him and others with open arms. I am also discovering that I will be angry and confused for a long time – probably forever and that this is not only okay, it is healthy because I do not follow an apathetic God, but one who, so moved by our suffering came down in the most unexpected of ways. Now, more than ever, I am aware at how much this world
needs his redemptive action.
Life and death are tangled up, working redemption inside of me and inside of you.
By God’s mercy I am learning to live with this ‘and’. – Lindsay Anderson