Since my parents have been serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Florida, my dad has been publishing a weekly blog post to keep us all updated on what they do each week. I feel like I’m beginning to know all the regular players in their weekly routines and appreciate Dad’s efforts to make us feel included in their adventure. It also makes me feel a little guilty that my posting schedule has become so erratic. I have good intentions, but then I feel like I don’t have anything new to say, so I don’t write … and then I really don’t have anything to say because the less I write the less I want to write. It’s a vicious circle.
I’ve been avoiding writing anything this weekend because it is the anniversary of Tom’s death. I have mostly kept the anniversary of his death low key – honestly it’s not a memory I look back on with fondness (that’s the understatement of the year!). But events have conspired against me this year. A few weeks ago Haley attended Camp Erin which is a free camp for children who have lost someone close to them to death. It is a place for peer support – making connections with other kids who share similar experiences. I think overall it was a positive experience. Haley has good things to say about the weekend. But she came home with all those grief emotions stirred up. It is normal for kids to go through regular cycles of emotions as they grow up and reprocess their experiences in a new stage of development. I’ve seen that already with my kids in relationship to their experiences being adopted. But knowing and actually experiencing this reprocessing was challenging this year. Haley was so sad and upset about losing Tom – and feeling guilty for somehow not saving him. These are conversations we have had before but I was reminded again of how necessary it is to keep having them because our brains are funny creatures and can get all confused when we do a lot of thinking and not enough sharing. Anyway, Haley made some good choices in dealing with all these churned up emotions among which was going back to see her therapist. I’m so happy for her that as she is growing up she is learning how to take care of herself in healthy ways. Despite her difficult feelings she is still doing her school work and showing up to work and reaching out to others. This is what I love abut seeing about my kids growing up – they can be responsible for themselves and can work through the hard stuff without running away.
Another thing that has come home to me this year is that four years is actually a long time. There are so many big things that have happened since Tom died. Spencer got married and finished college and got a job in his career field and has moved as a grownup. All of those things are huge – and they all happened without Tom’s physical presence in our lives. Andrew spent two years at boarding school and has reestablished contact with his birth parents and has turned 18 and is living out in the world. It’s hard to believe how quickly he went from being a kid to becoming a newly fledged adult. Haley has changed so much – when Tom died she didn’t even wear makeup and was still in Jr. High. Now she’s a senior in high school with a job and a love for changing her hair (I think she is channeling her Aunt Erin!) and a new sense of assertiveness and a soft heart that she guards carefully. I’m on my fourth year of teaching early morning seminary (something I started almost a year after Tom’s death) and I’m one of the old-timers in my pottery class. I’ve been to Mexico twice on vacation. I’ve tiled a fireplace surround and a bathroom shower on my own as well as replacing baseboards in my home – two things that definitely would have been joint projects if Tom were still alive.
It’s weird to think that some of these things feel like they happened awhile ago – because that means Tom’s death happened a really long time ago. Despite that, he still feels like a current part of our family. I was talking to my mom the other day and she shared something my aunt commented on. She was part of a conversation where they were discussing siblings who had died at a young age and how the speaker didn’t feel a connection to that sibling. My aunt had a different experience. My grandparents had two boys who both died within a few days of birth. For my aunt and my mother, their brothers were part of the family. My grandparents talked about them and anticipated with joy the day when they would be reunited with them. Even I have fond feelings towards my two “baby uncles” and am illogically pleased that Tom was buried next to them in Monroe. My point is, death hasn’t erased the place Tom has in our family and in my memories and the person I have become. So it always feels odd to realize that so much of the life I have right now is full of things and experiences I haven’t shared with him.
The last thing I have been thinking about in connection with this anniversary is the idea of being lonely. I can only speak to losing a spouse – I don’t know the emotions that come with losing a child or a parent. Losing a spouse feels like a unique loss. Of all the people I have relationships with, the relationship I have with Tom is unique. He was the only one to know many of the parts of myself that I keep private from the rest of the world. I told him things that no one else knows. I know things about him that no one else knows. Ours is a relationship that was chosen (unlike most family relationships that we are born into). Tom was the person I went to when the very worst things happened – except when the very worst thing happened, I couldn’t go to him. Having had this relationship, the absence is very lonely. And it isn’t a kind of loneliness that can be fixed with other relationships. I have great friends, wonderful children, supportive parents and siblings. Really, I have been extraordinarily lucky that in the aftermath of Tom’s death, I was surrounded with love and company and inclusion. I have not lacked for people to spend time with. And none of it replaces the marriage relationship.
Now, before we all start planning the pity party, let me hasten to add that there has been one compensatory relationship that has grown and improved over the last four years. I may have been dragged, metaphorically kicking and screaming, to this conclusion. I didn’t like to think that it would take such a drastic change to accomplish such a task. And maybe I would have come here eventually anyway. But losing Tom made me turn to God in a way I hadn’t before. As honest and open as I was with Tom, Heavenly Father knows me even more intimately. I can tell him things I couldn’t even tell Tom. And He has been there during those moments when no one could help me, when I couldn’t turn to anyone else. Even when He couldn’t tell me all the answers to all the questions I have had about my circumstances, He could tell me it would be OK and I could trust Him. He has carried my burdens in ways I couldn’t even imagine when I tried to figure out how I would get through something. I’m grateful that in all the overwhelming waves of grief I held on to the lifeline of faith and trusted in Him. My loneliness is tempered with a more meaningful relationship with God and Jesus Christ. That is a pretty wonderful thing to have as I navigate my life on my own.
I have no idea where the next four years will take me. I’m definitely on the brink of more big changes – the empty nest approaches! But I’m hopeful … the last four have been good ones on the whole. I’m excited for the future.