It was a year ago. Give or take a few days.
I probably started the week after we lost who would have been number seven. It took me eleven months to even utter that event to a few of our six. Sometimes it just takes time.
Yes, I think it must have been right about this time. I started that list. You know the one.
The list that spells out all the things you will do better next year. All the areas that need improvement. You know the ones.
Be a more understanding wife. Be a better mom. Be a fun mom. Be a better friend – the kind that stays in touch… regularly. Be more giving. Be more loving. Be a more organized house keeper. Be more patient. Yes, that one. Be more patient. Be a better teacher. Be slower to spend and quicker to save. Be light-hearted. Be a P90X queen. Be in the moment – while looking carefully to the future. Be grateful… more grateful. Be sure to call Mom and Dad regularly. Yea, all those things. Just be… better.
I carefully penned the list. On paper. It was a first. You know when we write down our goals we are 40% more likely to accomplish them. And goals are good.
We rolled into the new year and, well, it takes about a week to get into the flow of that new list. The good-goal-be-better list.
Then, January. It started. Slowly at first. One swipe from the side. One unexpected change. We have to support the ones we love. Even when we don’t like the change. Sometimes we just aren’t ready. Sometimes it just takes time.
And, February. It’s funny, but we think we outgrow the pain of friendship’s betrayal when we are young. But, not so funny, we don’t. That sucker punch on the jaw can come no matter how far we’ve gone down this road. One more for the list. Tell the kids to pick good ones. Good friends.
By the time March and April rolled around, the list was buried under ER bills, grocery lists, credit card statements, and various other items determined to crush the good-goal-be-better plan.
We plan and dream and hope and wonder, but one day the last call comes. I remember the last day she called. It was my warrior’s 50th birthday. Not a birthday went by without the sweet song laced in her German tongue. I didn’t stay on long, after all she was calling to sing. We don’t like to mess with routine and traditions, do we.
The next day, that’s when the blur began. A laundry list of a different kind. The sequence of events that lead to the end of a life. Flights, visits, suitcases, worries, ticking clocks, nurses, doctors, confusion, and more tears than I dreamed could fall from one soul.
I didn’t know what was heading my direction. I didn’t know what it would be like. I knew grief. Most of us know grief. I didn’t know the marriage of grief and change could pull you under.
I couldn’t have known the ways the waves would toss.
I couldn’t have known I’d kiss her still face one last time – on Mother’s Day.
I couldn’t have known I’d pack his last suitcase and whisk him away from the home he had known for forty-six years.
I couldn’t have known the destruction of a bulldozing claw, and the careless crushing of our childhood home would haunt my thoughts for months upon months.
Grief itself feels much like walking under water. Trudging along against this unseen force, and just when a brief rest during your journey slows your march, the current ruthlessly drags you back.
Back to the dining room chair stored in the garage. That one with the lingering smell of everything you ever knew before you knew grief. It pulls you back through glimpses in the mirror. That reflection once so familiar suddenly takes on lines and forms of another face you knew so well.
It pulls you back through rooms in your memory. Rooms you could walk through blind. The ones that held every memory of every year until you waltzed into adulthood.
The memories take over your dreams and you wonder if you’ll ever find the peace you once took for granted. The simple joys untouched by the scent of what once was.
Just today, the photograph popped into my messages. It took my breath. This message from a lifelong sister. We get to have those sometimes. The ones who remember with us. And they are a gift. Every one of them. The people. No surprise – they are the ones who make a life.
The photo was of a grinning seventeen-year-old girl. I didn’t realize how much her hair looked like that of my little summer warrior. I didn’t realize how youth hangs effortlessly on a soul and when it’s gone, you could kick yourself for ever wishing it away. Time, like that underwater current, has its way with us.
I wanted to look that girl in the face and hold her chin and tell her,
You don’t have to try so hard.
You don’t have to worry so much.
You don’t have to be better.
Oh, please, just breathe and enjoy the ride.
The shoulder she peeked over was that of one of her teenage besties. And I don’t even know where he is anymore. The face behind the camera is a grinning soul, who thankfully is only a text away. It’s no guarantee. These friendships. We don’t know which ones we’ll keep and which ones will drift to grinning memories in a deep fallen snow.
I do know the touch of each passing soul leaves an indelible mark. Some of us are just meant to share a moment and pass on to the next current.
It’s been a full year now, and the underwater walking has me moving more slowly. The aches and creaks in my back remind me that P90X is a worthy pursuit. I’d like to be a better house keeper, but feel most unmotivated in a house that is not our own with furnishings that are foreign to me. I suppose understanding wife receives a check mark. We’ve eaten dinner without him again and I know – he’d rather be here.
I don’t know about the fun mom part. Just last week I laughed from the bottom of my gut, and my pack of six eyed me with a stunned wonder. I could do better. Laughter was once my third language, behind German. Yes, I could do better.
Ah, forget the rest of the list. I can’t recall it and I’m sure it was lost in the move anyway.
My warrior has devised the list for this new year. And maybe this is how we pick each other up out of the current. Maybe the list isn’t the answer at all. Maybe the hands holding the lists are the real goals. Maybe I’ll just let the whole thing go and float with the current.
Just months ago, which now seems like several soul transformations ago, I whispered to my warrior over fresh, raw tears,
All the worrying I did. All the worrying over her. Over him. Over what we would do… over how this whole thing would play out. Over how the end would come. It was all a waste of time. None of it happened like I thought it would. None of it was in my control. None of it was part of the story I wrote in my mind.
But, somehow, it was better. Gut wrenching, ruthless, heartbreaking. And somehow better than I could have written it.
Maybe that’s the list we should write.
The list of every single worry that grabs us by the throat at 3 am. The list of every pain and I-don’t-know-what-to-do. The list of every lingering thought in which we doubt God. That’s the list.
The list of all the things God does not, or will not, or can not control. We laugh at this nonsense, but the laughter subsides when we see the list is actually growing line upon line.
That list would likely be long. Longer than we would like. We hope our gratitude list will be longer, but it probably isn’t.
The illusive wisdom we request without ceasing comes at a price. In the piercing words of Aeschylus,
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.
The awful grace of God.
This grace arrives in the current. The only way to receive it is to allow the current to take us.
The list. This time it will bleed onto paper through the clenched fists holding all the worries that don’t belong to me, or any of us.
This list will spew every last snarling thought of fear that clings to my weary mind. Every last piece standing in the way of peace.
This list. I’ll take every bullet point, one at a time, and tear it from the list. I’ll look at it long and slow. I’ll run my fingers across the familiar letters etched in my worrying mind. I’ll tear those letters while whispering to the part of my soul that longs for control,
This isn’t yours anymore. It never was. You just didn’t know it. That awful grace of God has opened your eyes…
And I’ll throw the list away. Every last scribbled worry.
One line, one lie, at a time.
A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.