Thursday, May 25, 2006

Balm in Gilead

Dear Rachel,

Poe’s raven was wrong, I think. There really is balm in Gilead.

It’s now been almost exactly one year since you were killed. It’s been a long, dark, painful year; I doubt that any of us will ever be the same. We all spent numbed weeks in shock, followed by long months during which we cried almost constantly. (There was a time when I was so used to crying that crying felt normal; not crying brought with it an odd, almost discomfiting, feeling. As if my mind and body had settled into a comfortably acceptable routine of weeping.) I wondered (as I know Lesley did), “Will I ever again not feel sad?”

Those months were followed by months of anger. I raged (and still rage) against the man who did this to you, to us; and against a providence that would allow him to.

But I have found myself feeling happy on occasion. I have laughed. I have joked. I have found (much to my surprise, and with more than a bit of guilt) ways to enjoy my life.

Some of this is, I know, due simply to the passage of time. We are wired to move past our grief; it would be biologically counterproductive not to do so. One is, and must be, predisposed to find ways to move on because not to do so is to enter the realm of madness. (And not everyone makes it: Some are unable to cope. They dive into a bottle or move to a hermitage or end their own lives. Their grief has done more than injure them, it has driven them mad.) Most of us manage to escape that fate, though. Our grief hurts us, even maims us; but it doesn't cripple us, not permanently.

More helpful than the passage of time, though, have been the gentle ministrations of friends and family. I wouldn’t presume to list them all here, but many, many friends and relatives came forward to help when it must have very difficult to do so. We couldn’t have been very good company, especially in the early months. And yet, friends, neighbors, and relatives came through for us. They dropped by. They sent letters and emails. They brought food and flowers and beer. (Early on they even mowed our lawn, picked up our mail, returned library books, and more.) They asked us how we were doing and they really wanted to know; they didn’t turn away when we gave them the real answer, painful as it must have been for them to hear it.

We received—and continue to receive—so many things from so many people. I think it’s because of that, and because of the relationship that Lesley and I have, that we’ve made it this far. It’s hurt a great deal, and it continues to hurt, of course. (This is a club that you cannot un-join. Once you sign on, you’re a member for life.) But things are not as dark as they were.

There is some balm in Gilead, then. Not enough, not by a long shot. But some. More than I would have thought, anyway.



Monday, May 22, 2006

Mothers' Day

Dear Rachel,

Apparently I’m not as smart as I thought I was. (And nowhere near as smart as you thought I was. But I guess daughters always give their daddies more credit than they deserve.)

I somehow never saw Mother’s Day sneaking up on me. I knew it was coming, of course, and I knew it would be tough for all the mommies: Debbie, Lesley, Andi (grandmommies, after all, are simply mommies-once-removed), etc. But I figured that it wouldn’t affect me much. After all, I am neither a mom nor a daughter, and my own mother passed away almost 10 years ago.

I was pretty safe, I thought.

But no, I had a tough time on Mother’s Day. I kept thinking about what a great mother you were to Shaylyn. (Lesley and I were amazed at your maturity and your patience. Where did that come from, we both wondered?) I thought about my mother, your “Grams,” and how much I miss her.

And I worried about “the mommies” in our family. And about all the other mommies for whom Mother’s Day was not a day of joyful celebration, but of loss and pain. I remembered Elizabeth Stone’s comment that becoming a parent was “…to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” So many, many mothers’ hearts have been broken while walking around outside of their bodies.

Ironic, isn’t it? Mother’s Day is so…Hallmarkian. It’s an artificial holiday, really. Well-deserved, of course, but pushed largely by the greeting card companies, the flower vendors, the candy manufacturers, restaurants. It’s driven mainly by commerce, at least these days.

How could something so artificial be so painful?

And now, another date to dread: This weekend is the anniversary of your death. On the 28th of this month it will have been exactly one year since you were murdered. A full year of numbness, then pain, then more numbness, then still more pain. A full year of trying to figure out why this happened, and of wondering if there were anything any of us could have done to stop it. A full year of hell.



Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Lucky Guy

Dear Rachel,

I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty lucky person. I’ve almost always gotten the things I really needed or wanted: good job, nice home, wonderful wife. And much of that, I think, was really just luck. Yeah, I worked for it, but other people worked just as hard (or harder), were just as smart (or smarter), and not all of them have had good lives. Some of them have suffered horribly; some have had their lives brutally cut short.

But not me. I’ve never really suffered. And until now, there just hasn’t been that much that I’ve wanted that I couldn’t have.

Now I have to come to grips with the knowledge that—in spite of the fact that I still have a good life—not much of what I’ve accomplished in terms of material success really means much. Who cares if I can drive a nice car? Go to the movies when I want? Live in a nice house? It’s not that this stuff isn’t meaningful, it is; but its importance pales beside the things that really matter. I would give it all up in a heartbeat—and so would Lesley, Debbie, Amy, and others—if I could have you back.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, I now discover that the one thing I want most in the world turns out to be the one thing that I cannot have.