It is May 2023. The sixth anniversary of my family’s tragedy. On May 11, 2017, a semi truck landed on top of my parents’ car. The story of the collision and the facts involved have never been very clear to me. I didn’t want them to be. Early on I learned the most important part: my parents were killed along with my three-year-old niece. I made a choice to not ask anything more because knowing all the other details would not change the tragic outcome. Every year I dread the arrival of May 11, and can feel a knot in my stomach as it gets closer and closer. Ironically, the actual day of the anniversary is not as bad as the dread of it. As the years pass and anniversaries come and go, I have come to realize that my self talk contributes greatly to my ability to cope. Let’s be honest, we all send messages to ourselves. My self-talk in particular runs along the lines of self criticism. I battle the idea that I am not doing well, that I am failing. For instance, I should be further along in my healing process and completely “over” my grief. The notion of being stuck occurs to me from time to time. Unfortunately, the messages of failing seep through into the other parts of my life too; Mom, wife, homesteader, and employee. Like in all battles, sometimes I win and sometimes I lose. When I lose it’s painful but the end result means I have to put my two feet back on the ground and keep walking. Honestly, my ability to keep walking comes only from the strength that my faith provides me. In other words, God holds me up and places my steps. Combating negative internal messages is a personal choice. I can reinforce God’s truth over my life or stoke the fears that Satan is fueling.The truth is that God will never leave me, whether I fail or not.
It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.
Recently it occurred to me that my grief is fluid. So even when I experience moments of sorrow and sadness, it is moving. In the early stages of grief and shock, I had a raw conversation with a friend that I will not forget. The dust had settled from the funeral and the heaviness of grief had settled on my life. A sweet friend approached me and wasn’t afraid to have a difficult conversation. She wasn’t concerned about giving me the right words of advice, and she didn’t seem to be worried about my level of vulnerability. I can remember her leaning in and asking me, “How are you?”. There was a depth of sincerity that I was not expecting, and I began to cry. In one of the sweetest acts of compassion she could give, she allowed me to weep. Weeping is a needed release of pain. So often we avoid it and say things to ourselves like,“If I start crying, I might not stop” or “If I cry it will show all my weakness”. In reality the thing we need to do is cry. In my vulnerability my friend decided to confide in me, she told me of her deepest fear: losing her parents. Very gingerly, my friend asked what it was like to survive such a tragedy of losing both parents suddenly. I was in a stage of trying to survive the outcomes of the accident, so my answers were very revealing about where I was in the process. I can remember telling her that grieving was like trying to survive a tsunami. At that point in time, that was an accurate description of where I was in my grieving. I was treading water, not knowing when the next wave would hit and send me into the depths, water rushing over my head again. Sinking, struggling to breathe, and feeling like I was closer to the bottom than the top.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
Thankfully, I was never alone. God was always with me, especially when I was sinking to the bottom and the waves were crashing above my head. I can remember falling asleep crying and waking myself up because my body was shaking in my sleep – I was even weeping in my dreams.During that time of overwhelming heaviness I could feel God’s presence with me. He was comforting me, holding me, and sustaining me. He sent scriptures, songs, beloved friends, and of course my little family to help me along the way. Enduring was difficult. There were lots of times I really just wanted to quit, and then I would realize I had no other option but to put in the hard work of telling my parents goodbye. The heaviness of the grief followed me everywhere, even in moments of joy, because I would suddenly feel the absence of my parents, and then the guilt of feeling joy in the face of such sorrow would hit me. Kind people would tell me, “It gets better” and I would think, “What does?” I couldn’t imagine a place in time when I didn’t miss my mom and dad and long to see them again. Life without grief seemed like an impossibility. The thought of not grieving actually made me feel guilty. Would that mean I didn’t love them anymore, or miss them? If you have suffered the loss of a person close to you, these thoughts are probably very familiar.
As the days passed and the world went on, I found that my life was changing too. Seasons were passing and my boys were continuing to grow up. Everything was continuing to change around me and slowly, so was I. It wasn’t a sudden change but similar to that of physical training, one day you just notice you are in better shape. My head was above water and sometimes my feet were even on solid ground. Recently, I came to realize my tsunami is now a river. There has yet to be a day that I have not thought of my parents. There are days and times that are more difficult than others. There are times when I can tell a story or recall a sweet memory and smile. Maybe the difference is that I know the tide will change and the waters will go down. The river keeps running and moving. It is not that the grief disappears and all things are perfect in my life, but it is an acknowledgement of progress. Life progresses and moves even when we want time to stop.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness.
God is faithful for every morning and in every part of my mourning, his mercies are made new for me and never ending. All parts of my life are affected by the river but it doesn’t overwhelm me. If the river gets high and the waters get out of control, I can make it though because it is moving and the water will go back down just as quickly as it rises. Some days I dread and I am angry and sad but the grief is moving. It will subside. There are moments I wish my parents didn’t miss, like graduations, sports games, awards, birthdays, and so much more. But my grief is in motion and there is joy still to be found in God’s never ending mercies. There is no changing their absence and the pain of missing their presence but even so there are good things in my life. So instead of treading water, where my feet feel like they will never touch solid ground again, I am rolling up my pants and wading through the river. My feet are once again on solid ground, as I walk through the waters I am not alone and through God’s great mercy I take the ultimate comfort in knowing that one day there will be no more pain.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
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