Monday, May 6, 2013

More Surprises

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 wonder.
Your curly Q’s… your contagious smile.
And as I watch you start to grow up.
All I can do is hold you tight.
At that point I reached out for my daughter and took her in my arms.  And then came the chorus—and my tears.
When the clouds will rage.
And storms will race in.
Still, you will be.
Safe, 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 You!

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 my mind.

Hope's rest.

What shall we do with life’s surprises?
Like a swing set [near] a graveyard.
Or a bloom in the desert sand.
Look at my tremblin' hands.
Then it hits me like lightning.
That love has got to keep fighting.
And somehow, every time…
Love is gonna’ break through.
Chris Rice, Love is Gonna Break Through

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