“The reality of death has come upon us and a consciousness of the power of God has broken our complacency like a bullet in the side. A sense of the dramatic, of the tragic, of the infinite, has descended upon us, filling us with grief, but even above grief, wonder.” Flannery O’Connor
When I wake up this morning, I read a message from a friend of yours who tells me for him it’s like the 6th will never happen. He’ll be in the air in a plane crossing a dateline. He left on the 5th—he’ll arrive on the 7th. He says he prefers celebrating your birthday, and he never understood why people honor the day someone dies. But then he adds that he knows now it’s a day he cannot forget.
I think of you every single day. I agree with your friend. I prefer to honor your life, not your death. But this day, for me also, is a day I cannot forget.
It is the day that ended or drastically changed many things—my youth, faith, innocence, my dreams of a future family, my marital status, social status, financial status, and parenting status. It is the day that created before and after, the day that added a new sorrow stitch that would thread along with my life. Mostly though, it is the day that broke my heart.
My brother in law tells me yesterday, that in contrast to a health scare I am going through now- your death meant the worst had already happened, whereas in this situation, the future is unknown. I agree, but later I realize there was still so much ahead that was unchartered territory then too. While so much of it wasn’t uncertain- it was certain that you’d miss every event in Audrey’s life, and most of her life, certain that I’d never see your face again, or laugh with you again, or tease you, or hug you, or even argue with you, I still had to walk through those certainties and learn how to navigate them. It wasn’t the uncertainty, but the “neverness” of it all, as Wolterstorff wrote.
The spiritual writer, Henri Nowen, writes that “the great challenge is living your wounds through instead of thinking them through. It is better to cry rather than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them, better to let them enter into your silence than to talk about them. The choice you face constantly is whether you are taking your wounds to your head or your heart. In your head you can analyze them, find their causes and consequences, and coin words to speak and write about them. But no final healing is likely to come from that source. You need to let your wounds go down to your heart. Then you can live through them and discover that they will not destroy you.”
I’ve done a wealth of processing this day in the last eight years. I’ve written hundreds of pages, read dozens of books, spoken to multiple therapists, sketched pictures, made albums, and every kind of memorial, and yet this wound has very much stayed in my head because that is mostly where I myself like to hide out.
Almost a month ago, I decided to finally go through almost ten years worth of videos clips of Audrey’s life on various computers and hard drives and put them into some semblance of order so that we might actually be able to watch them in sequential order.
In the box where I keep all my hard drives, I found one that I’d never opened. It was a video of your wake taken by a friend. I had wanted everything recorded then so if it was ever important to Audrey when she was grown, she’d be able to see it. I had never had any desire to watch it myself. But then I found myself putting it in, and starting to watch it. A few minutes in, I thought it was a bad idea. I was trembling. But my computer wouldn’t pause the video. I thought maybe it was important, so I kept watching.
I saw myself in black, singing hymns, while the camera panned around and everyone there looked nervously towards me. I watched myself stand by the coffin and hug every person in a receiving line of hundreds of people, wearing the scarf you’d brought me back from Japan just a month earlier. I listened to the benediction by the same pastor who married us.
I cried seeing it, this time not from my own eyes of shock and sorrow, but from these eyes, eight years later. These tears were cathartic. My wounds had gone down to my heart. They did not destroy me. I slept well. I told no one, and yet I felt somehow changed.
Audrey and I spent today simply. We watched both World Cup games that were on. “Appa would love that we’re watching these,” I tell her. We treated ourselves to drinks at Starbucks we never get, went grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, and picked up an extra bouquet of flowers for an older widow that often sits on her porch when we take our nightly strolls down our block in summer. Tonight’s clouds were like sunlit gossamer.
Nowen’s words have meant so much to me in the past six months, that I’d like to offer them here to my readers as well. Perhaps there are wounds that need to go down to your heart. All the way down. I’m not sure what that will look like for you. Maybe you will have to be present on a day you’d rather cross the date line and skip. Maybe you have to walk through uncertainties relinquishing any control that you thought you had, whispering the serenity prayer when your feet hit the floor in the morning. Maybe you will have to take a deep look at yourself from another perspective, and not look away. Maybe it’s a photo, or someone else’s convicting words, or just your own reflection staring back at you. What will you say? I hope you will show her compassion. I hope you too will walk under gossamer clouds, live through your wounds, and discover that they will not destroy you.