Some nights I go out searching
When the darkness of my soul matches the black of the Minnesota sky
I go out looking for you
In the moments when your absence suppresses my every breath
I wander in the night
Until I find myself at your grave
One mile through the aphotic zone
From where you once lived, full of life and spunk
To where you lie, still and alone
I search in the darkness
Silent and solitary I make my vigil
Where we laid your body
But you are gone
The sun will ascend tomorrow
Rays of joy will awaken
But at night I go out searching
In our culture of efficiency and utility, we tend to instrumentalize human beings. We value people because of their function and contribution to society. Worth is assigned to the capable and successful, and when a person loses his function, he is cast aside. Treating persons as mere instruments is a great evil. People are ends, not means. Each person has inherent worth, an immortal soul, and infinite value regardless of his or her usefulness. We should never demean those who bear the image of God by objectifying them, by using them; by treating them as a means rather than ends.
There are two well-meaning things that people say about Maria that confuses ends and means. The first is when someone says something like, “There is some bigger purpose in this,” or “God is going to use Maria’s death. He has a plan.” I try not to be offended by these kinds of statements. Most people mean well. It’s just their attempt to make sense of our tragedy and to somehow try to encourage us. But, such statements aren’t encouraging. While at one level these statements promote faith and trust in God, they also speak of our beloved daughter as if her life were only a means to some other end. Not only is this not helpful to me; I completely reject it. While I have no doubt that God can and will use horrific circumstances for some greater purpose, I cannot diminish Maria’s life by boiling it down to mere means to some other good. Can some good things come from her death? Sure. But that does not make her death good. Will I become a better man because of Maria’s death? Maybe. But was that the whole purpose of her life, to make me a better man? God forbid that I explain away my child’s life and death as some sort of catalyst for my personal or spiritual development. She is not a lesson to be learned. She is not piece to some bigger puzzle. She is an infinitely valuable daughter created in the image of her Creator. Whatever contribution her death may end up making in this world does not bring comfort or clarity. She is an end, an infinitely valuable person.
There is another way the people confuse means and ends in regard to Maria. People say things like, “Someday you’ll see her again. Then you will all be happy. One day there will be a grand reunion, and then your heart will be healed.” These kinds of statements do not treat Maria as a means. They treat her as if she is THE end. It is easy, perhaps even natural to idealize a child who has died. We miss Maria so much. Grief can be so overwhelming, and it is natural to think that if we only had her back with us we would be completely happy. There is nothing we desire more. But, if I’m being honest, I know we weren’t perfectly happy when she was here. Maria is an end. Every person is an end. But only God is the end. To think that any human relationship would quench the deepest thirst of my soul is deception. As much as I long to hold my little girl again, to be reunited with her would not bring ultimate joy or fulfillment because ultimate joy and fulfillment are grounded only in the Triune God, the source of all that is true and good and beautiful. Maria’s goodness and beauty were merely derived from her Creator. Her goodness was just an image of His goodness; her beauty a shadow of His beauty. So, it cannot be Maria whom I seek with all of my heart, for were that reunion to take place, my heart would still not be satisfied. She is not the end. She is not the goal. He has to be; in all of His fierce and mysterious love and terrifyingly joyous beauty, it is He whom I must pursue if I am to find hope and rest and joy. He is the only end. No other end will suffice.
Six years ago Jill and I bought our first house. It’s in town on a moderate sized lot on a great little street. It’s nothing fancy, but we’re not fancy. It’s become home, and it suits us. We moved in with a toddler and a baby. We’ve brought three more babies into our home since then. We added a bedroom when Jill was pregnant with Lucy. The house was starting to feel a little crowded. It now feels too empty.
Owning more wouldn’t make us happy. A bigger place wouldn’t fulfill the deepest desires of our hearts. Stuff doesn’t really matter. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world…” or “what would a man give in exchange for his soul”….or his child?
I bought a second plot of land last year. Our home rests on our first. Our daughter is buried on the second. And there is an empty spot next to her awaiting Jill and me. On that day wealth and possessions will mean nothing.
We aren’t owners. All of us are stewards and sojourners; laborers and temporary residents for the days we are given.
“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread; till thou return unto the ground; for out of it was thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
I am now a guy who says really awkward things. It’s embarrassing, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.
I was watching the four girls at the little play area at the mall while Jill did some shopping. A young father with his wife and two-year-old daughter were just leaving when we arrived. He gave me a friendly smile and said, “Wow! Four daughters! I’m not sure whether to applaud you or feel sorry for you.”
I smiled and responded, “Yeah, I know. Four girls seems like a lot to most people. We actually had five daughters but we lost our middle girl. So, yeah, four seems like a lot, but it feels like it’s not enough for us.”
Awkward pause. Then he said, “I’m so sorry, man.”
Yeah, I’m sorry, too, for dropping that bomb on you, random stranger. It’s hard not to be awkward some days.
Our blog has been on hiatus. Life has been increasingly busy again, and that’s mostly good. I’ve been writing occasionally over the past few months, but I haven’t got around to posting much. I’m a little self-conscious to put much on this blog and don’t want to be misunderstood as always being depressed and bleak. Writing is the one place where we face our heartache, so if you only know us through this blog it isn’t really a full picture of our life. Writing is where we face the darkness and has become a necessary practice for us. On most days we’re surviving OK, loving our living children, and having a fairly normal life (whatever that means). Recently a few people have asked us how we’re doing and if we’re still doing anything on this blog. So, I’ve decided to post some random things we’ve jotted down over the past few months. None of what I will post represents how we think and feel all the time. They are just moments in time as we continue to grieve and miss our Maria.
We sent Jovi to camp for the first time this week. We’re going to pick her up later this morning. I’m sure it’s been a good experience for her. She’s not brave by nature, so we’re hoping that her time at camp will help her gain some courage. She cried a little bit when I dropped her off. She was nervous and didn’t have any friends with her. I sat with her, and then she said, “I’m just thinking about Maria.” Tears came to my eyes. To be honest, I think she was mostly anxious about camp, but Maria’s death changes everything for us. Nerves and stress immediately bring grief to the surface. If we hadn’t lost Maria, I would have said, “Come on, Jovi. You’ll be fine. Face your fears. Camp will be fun. Be brave.” But all I could say was, “I know, sweetie. We all miss her.” And she cried. And I held back tears while carefree families and excited campers scurried around us.
We always notice how differently our family feels when one of our children is away. Jovi is our oldest, so when she is gone, all of the dynamics change. She’s the big sister. She’s responsible and tender-hearted. She looks after all the others. We really notice her absence, but it’s good for her to be away and good for her sisters to have a few days without her. We’ll all appreciate each other a little more when we’re back together in a few hours.
But we won’t all be back together in a few hours. Or in a few days. Or years…
In the middle of our family is the absence of a person who casts a shadow over all of us. We’re all different because of Maria’s death. Tana has seemed a little lost while Jovi is at camp. They are good buddies, and the gap between Tana and Sadie is big enough that they don’t play much. The gap. A person missing. Maria and Tana would have played a lot this week….and fought a lot. I’m not naive.
Sadie is the tag-along these days. Jovi and Tana do most things together. Lucy is still a baby. Sadie is either on her own or making futile attempts to keep up with her big sisters. Maria and Sadie would have been pals.
“Would have…” I hate that I’ve increasingly grown accustom to her absence. I hate that it takes Jovi leaving for a few days to once again make me acutely aware of how different things are without Maria. Our incomplete family has become the norm. I’m forgetting what it was like to have her with us, and it’s only in Jovi going to camp for a few days that I remember how much Maria’s absence affects each of us. What would it be like if she were still here? What would we be like? Only God knows.
It will be good to have Jovi home today. It will be good to be together as a family for those of us who remain. Together but still incomplete.
I wrote the following for our local paper’s Religion page. I’ve intentionally avoided writing much practical advice regarding grief. This blog has been more reflection than pragmatism. But if I were forced to give practical wisdom to those who have suffered loss, it would be this: take frequent walks. Walking has probably helped Jill and me more than any other activity. Anyway, here’s the article:
Everything in our world is moving faster. In a little more than a century we have gone from the horse and buggy to the SUV, from the telegraph to Twitter, from the kerosene lamp to the iPhone 7. We have made amazing advancements in technology, yet the latest phone or gadget is outdated mere months after it is released. It’s hard to keep up. Our families are increasingly busy, but we’re less happy. Our closets and garages are full of more and more stuff, but our lives are empty. Everything in our world is moving faster, yet most of us have never stopped to consider where we are going. We speed ahead, but we’re still lost.
My fast paced life came to a screeching halt last year when our daughter died. Everything stopped. It was hard to imagine how we could continue to live. We couldn’t eat. We couldn’t sleep. The rest of the world kept speeding on around us, but our world seemed to have ended. How do you go on when your child is taken from you? How do you continue to live when nothing else seems to matter? Our first step in trying to answer these impossible questions was to literally take a step. We walked. Lift up a foot. Put it down. Weep. Repeat. I remember wandering aimlessly with Jill those hopeless spring days. We had no destination. We didn’t know how to pray. It was hard to talk. So we walked, slowly and quietly with nothing but the sound of our tears and our weary gait.
We’ve continued to walk as the days turned into months. We’ve logged hundreds of miles this past year. Some friends have joined us on our sorrowful path. We’ve been able to talk more and remember Maria as we meander side-by-side throughout our community. We grieve and share, and keep walking. I sometimes find myself alone walking laps around our local school on dark winter nights while I pray and think. It’s a nice lighted place to walk in the middle of the night, so if you happened to have seen a long-bearded, scary looking man wandering around your child’s school in the dark, don’t worry. It’s just me.
I’m in less of a hurry these days, and I’m hesitant to rejoin the world at its frantic pace. I keep slowly walking while trying to remember the reason I am here. I’m doing my best to follow in the footsteps of a first century Galilean carpenter whom I believe is God in the flesh. He never ventured more than a few hundred miles from his hometown, and he walked everywhere he went. I keep thinking that if he was able to redeem the world at 3.1 miles per hour then it’s OK for me to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.