"I love to tell the story..." I am paid to tell the story of NASA Science, but I feel most fully alive when I tell God's story. I believe that "threads of glory" from that larger Story weave their way through all the other stories we tell. My writing is a quest to discover those threads and expose them. I live in Waldorf, MD, with my wife Laurie (a United Methodist pastor), son Brady (10) and daughter Becca (8).
Something happened this weekend that doesn’t happen to me
all that often—I cried. I guess I’ve
learned that since tears are more of rarity for me, I should pay attention when
they do come.
We went to Hope’s grave yesterday. As anyone who has lived through the loss of a
child can attest, it’s not something you ever want to do… Even after five
years, it seems cosmically unfair that we have to do this, but alas, we do. How you handle grief is very personal—and
unique. There is no “right” way… you
have to figure out what works for you—and let others deal with it. As for me
and my house, we have chosen to try and focus on living. We do not to visit
the cemetery often—but we do go on special occasions to honor our daughter’s
memory, and, sometimes, we take our children along. (It probably helps that she is buried at a
cemetery about 45 minutes away from where we live.) We don’t want to deny the reality of what
happened. Hope is part of our story, and
we want our children to know.
This past Saturday marked five years since Hope died, so it
seemed appropriate for us all to go and visit the cemetery. We got a pretty floral cross to put at the
grave.Laurie had a Conference meeting during
the day Saturday, Brady had baseball, and Becca went to an event at church, so
we didn’t go up to Huntingtown until late afternoon. We decided we would drive up to the cemetery
first, and then grab a bite to eat afterwards.
It was a beautiful day—albeit slightly cool for May—with bright sunshine
splashing down through the trees that stand near where her earthly remains
reside. We said some prayers and I sang
a chorus to a song or two. I am not
really good with feelings, and I’m not really a musician, but sometimes the
words someone else writes “speak “to me on a soul level.
Visiting Hope’s grave is always interesting for me. Overall, I’m not an emotional type. Oy! Is
that an understatement?! (Ask any who
know me well.) When I look at that
tombstone, with my daughter’s name on it, I have to admit that it can be hard for
me to connect. All my life I’ve learned
to avoid dealing with life’s pain and unpleasantness. For various reasons, I think I had to bury my
emotions to survive my childhood. I’m
all grown up now and in a different place, but, sadly, old habits die-hard. It’s hard
to trust that feelings are “safe”.
Brady & Becca at Hope's grave May 4, 2013
So, when I go to the cemetery, I usually just stare at that
stone and have this sort of empty feeling
within me. I’m pretty sure that pang in
the pit of my stomach is how I experience grief and anger over the whole
situation. I hold it inside me—until I
can’t anymore. From the very beginning
what has bothered me most about our loss was the feeling of being out of control—I’ve always hated feeling
out of control.
Hope died, and there
wasn’t a thing that I, her dad, or anyone else could do. Not only that, but she was robbed of her
chance to experience life, and not only was she robbed, but so was the rest of
our family—and even the world.
No one gets to know who Hope Marie would have been. Laurie and I were her parents, and we lose
out on having another daughter to love this side of eternity; we lose out on
getting to experience what it is like to have identical twins—after having
worked so hard to prepare for them.
Brady loses out on having a sister.
And maybe the
“biggest loser” in this tragedy is Becca May, whose sister—and identical twin—was
taken from her. She instinctively “knows” something—someone—is
missing from her life. I suspect even if
we had not said a word, Becca would still know.
Yesterday was certainly not the first time we thought about
this, but it seemed like it hit everyone in a new way. In
particular, it seemed like Becca really connected to her loss in a way she
hadn’t before. As we were getting
ready to leave after our visit, she sat there and lay on the gravestone and
said, “Mommy, I don’t want to leave Hope
here.” Then, after we got back in
the car, she started to cry— a very deep guttural cry. It was hard to console her and hard for her
to express what she was feeling, but on the other hand, it probably doesn’t
take a psychiatrist to figure it out.
She was sad about her sister.
Simply put, Becca
misses Hope and wishes her sister was here to play with her.
Becca cried… Laurie cried… but
stoic Alan still held it all in—that is, until we got to the restaurant parking
lot. Laurie and I were trying to console
Becca, and I played a song on my i-Phone called Safe in My Arms—by Plumb. I have sung this song to Becca
many times the past five years. She
calls it “baby blues”—from the first line in the song. Its haunting lyrics began to play:
Your baby blues… so full of
Your curly Q’s… your
And as I watch you start to
All I can do is hold you
At that point I reached out for my daughter and took her in my
arms. And then came the chorus—and my
When the clouds will rage.
And storms will race in.
Still, you will be.
in my arms.
Rains will pour down.
Waves will crash all around.
But you will be.
Safe, in my arms.
As I have so many times these past five years, I tried to
reassure her—and, I think, reassure me—that whatever she (we) felt about Hope
was okay, that it was okay to be sad and upset.
But I also wanted her to know, she would be okay—she was safe in dad’s arms… and ultimately, we would both be safe
in God’s arms.
Castles they might crumble.
Dreams may not come true.
But you are NEVER all alone.
I will always… always love
Our family has gone on living and
loving her and her brother, however imperfectly, and trying to launch them into
this life. We will focus on living and
honoring Hope’s memory with the life our family builds together.
This was not the first time Becca connected to the fact she
had a sister who died, but it was certainly the most emotional response I’ve
seen to date. And I think seeing my
daughter react helped me connect what is buried in me—that which I manage to keep just
under the surface most days. Since I don’t cry often, I feel a bit strange when
I do—like I need to apologize for tears.
I try to be the strong presence for my family. But I didn’t apologize yesterday—and I don’t
think anyone expected me to. No, I think
I needed my tears on Saturday just as much as Becca needed hers. I think they are an important part of my
continuing to grieve—and heal.
The other scene that struck me yesterday was that as we were
standing at Hope’s grave, there were kids playing nearby. Her grave sits on the edge of the cemetery,
near a fence, and on the other side of the fence is a house where children live
and play every day. Somehow that image
comforted me. Hope’s earthly remains lie
near a place where children play. While
I know her spirit is not confined to that place in the Earth, there was some
sense that it was fitting that her resting place is so near where other
children are growing up. Surprise! Again, a song lyric came to