Painful Anniversaries Part 4: Funerals

chris-graveIt was the coldest, greyest day I’ve ever experienced. Maybe because my heart felt like a stone. In one of the most beautiful settings in the country, a rustic chapel nestled in the lush mountains, an event so sorrowful occurred. Like an oxymoron. While it might be easier at this point to call it a celebration of life, when the life was taken at such a young age, in the moment, it didn’t feel like celebration. At all.

My cousin’s beautiful bass voice rang out in a touching song. My strong, but tender-hearted uncle choked back emotion to speak about my brother and offer words of comfort for our family. If I remember correctly, he said that God wanted Chris with Him because He saw  how special he was. He quoted Isaiah 6:1,”In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.” I’m not sure I understood how he was relating it to the situation at the time. Now it makes more sense.

Sleep overtook me on the 2-hour ride to the cemetery. It was the next hill over from our home and could be seen from our dining room window. Probably not the best choice, but no one plans ahead for the burial of a 20-year-old. It was a 15-minute walk and ended up being a place of solace for me through the years, but that day it was agonizing.

Much of the day, again, is a silent video playing in my head. A few details still comfort me:

  • I walked out of the chapel alone after saying my goodbyes and leaving my parents and sister-in-love to say theirs. I walked down the steps wondering if I could even survive the day, much less a lifetime without Chris. Just a few feet away stood my oldest cousin and his wife with open arms that grabbed and held me tightly under their umbrella, shielding me from the rain. Great love can be shown and felt during great trauma.
  • I don’t ever remember seeing so many flowers at a funeral, sent by people whose lives had been touched by my family. They also expressed their sympathy in writing, evidenced by the stack of cards for my parents. I received two that were just for me: one from my English teacher and the other signed by each of my classmates. Somehow they got misplaced over the years, but I wish I still had them. I don’t know if they knew exactly how special those cards were.
  • I was recently reminded that some of my schoolmates made a point to attend the funeral that day. I wish I could say that I had remembered that over the years, but I didn’t until prompted. I guess my grief clouded a few details, but I hope they know how much it means to know they were there even now.

It seemed like the longest day of my life. Had my circumstances been different, I could have easily been the high school dropout, or turned to any of a variety of behaviors to fill the void. Just days later, I told one of Chris’ friends that I didn’t want to live. And I didn’t. But God. The first time I heard Britt Nicole sing this song, I sobbed like that 14-year-old girl who just lost her only sibling, but I was also reminded of Who has been beside me all this time.

“I remember the moment
I remember the pain
I was only a girl
But I grew up that day
Tears were falling
I know You saw me

Hiding there in my bedroom
So alone
I was doing my best
Trying to be strong
No one to turn to
That’s when I met You

All this time
From the first tear cry
To today’s sunrise
And every single moment between
You were there
You were always there
It was You and I
You’ve been walking with me all this time

Ever since that day
it’s been clear to me
That no matter what comes
You will never leave
I know You’re for me
And You’re restoring

Every heartache and failure
Every broken dream
You’re the God who sees
The God who rescued me
This is my story
This is my story

I hear these people asking me
How do I know what I believe?
Well I’m not the same me
And I saw the proof I need
I felt Love I felt Your grace
You stole my heart that day

You’ve been walkin’ with me all this time

All this time
From the first tear cry
To today’s sunrise
And every single moment between
You were there
You were always there
It was You and I
You’ve been walking with me all this time”1

I want to live every day to honor Chris’ memory, to make sure his death is not in vain. A friend told me this week that I am a survivor. And I am. But I don’t want to only survive. I want to thrive. Allowing myself to be vulnerable and write is the best way I’ve found to do that. Because others have been vulnerable before me and helped me grow.

1 Written by David Arthur Garcia, Benjamin Glover, Brittany Waddell • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group
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Loyalty: Still a Fan

IMG_1651A year ago, I published this post regarding my reasons for being a University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball fan. With a nearly perfect record, last season was awesome. My stance on that subject has not changed. At all.

This year has been a more difficult year for the team. New players. Hurt players. Miscommunication. Lack of cohesion. Some painful, last minute losses. And haters.

There are some things I’ve learned through this season and as the team was eliminated from the championship in the Round of 32 to long-time rivals, Indiana. Am I disappointed? Absolutely! Any fan would be. Is it the end of the world? NO!

While I always want Kentucky to win, I’ve realized that life is so much like the life that March Madness takes on each year. I will always cheer for Kentucky. I will always cheer for the teams who play against teams that have taken down Kentucky in last-minute-unbelievable wins in the past. But I do not hate them. I do not wish for bad things to happen to their team or their players. In a recent game, when a talented opposing player went down on the court in obviously excruciating pain, for two seconds I thought, That’s a win for us. Yeah! But winning because their best player is hurt is not an honest, do-it-or-die win. It’s hollow and cheap. I would rather see Kentucky lose a game than win like that. There will be other games. Other seasons.

I’ve also seen comments on social media harshly judging players when they have a bad day or Coach Cal for the way he runs his program. These are kids, folks. Yes, they are adults according to society’s evaluation of their age in years. But they are kids. They are young. And green. And they have to work hard to not only perfect improve their skill, but to work as a team, supporting each other. I know people far older who struggle with team-building skills at their jobs. Just because these young men are in the limelight doesn’t mean we have the right to demean them. Everyone has bad days. That’s how we appreciate the good ones. And I have to give kudos to Coach Cal for taking a group of young boys and teaching them how to play together for the good of the team. He’s doing an awesome job, and even when he is tough on them, calling out their inconsistencies, he remembers that they are just kids and need to know they are valued for whatever they contribute.

Let’s face it, folks. As another Kentucky fan reminded me recently, we are spoiled. We have gotten used to wins. We enjoy them. We count on them. We expect them. We have 8, count them, 8, E-I-G-H-T, national championships. That’s more than any other school except for UCLA. Add to that numerous conference championship titles. And Kentucky is the number 1 school represented in the NBA. That, my friends, is not shabby. And that is why other school’s fans hate feel intimidated because of us. Recent losses can only make future wins sweeter.

Loyalty is what it’s all about. We can’t hold down our sofas or scream from the stands about what should or shouldn’t be done. At college games or in life. Cheer on the players when it’s their turn to play. Remind them they can try harder the next time. Ask them what they think can improve their game. And when it’s your turn (or mine) to get on the court, DO THE BEST YOU CAN DO AT THE MOMENT. That is loyalty. In your family. At your job. Or for the stranger who needs help opening a door because their hands are full. Life is a game. Some days we win. Others we lose and need to support others who are winning. No matter what, quitting is not an option.

 

These are a few of my favorite things …

Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote here about accepting the discrepancy between my reality and my expectations of end-of-the-year holidays. As it turned out, Thanksgiving and Christmas this year were nothing spectacular. However, there were some events and realizations that moved and inspired me, helping me value what is. Here are a few of my favorite things over the last couple of weeks:

1. A giving daughter. I believe it is in my child’s nature to give. But I also know that I nurtured those characteristics in her from the beginning. I love watching her get excited about the gifts she has carefully and thoughtfully chosen for friends and family members, knowing what each will love. And she glows with delight when they do.

2. A grateful daughter.  No matter the monetary value of a gift, new or repurposed, she receives, she is grateful for the thought, time, and effort put in to presenting it to her. I never need to ask or remind her to offer a word of thanks. I know it’s already done.

The Nutcracker

3. Enjoying the ballet with my daughter. My favorite gift, from said daughter, was attending The Nutcracker. I was raised in a music family by a musician father who made sure that I learned to appreciate classical music, so I’ve heard the musical score all my life. Sitting next to my daughter, engaged in the elegant strains from the symphony, watching the talent of ballet dancers, and feeling my toes automatically tapping to the rhythm inside my shoes filled me with joy and peace, and made me feel like my father was right beside me.

4. The lights of a Christmas tree softly illuminating a dark room. There is just something relaxing about sitting and allowing the warm light to calm the busyness of the season.

5. Encouraging words of colleagues and friends. When doubts try to hinder the progress of doing something I feel passionate about, hearing that someone relates to my challenges fuels continued motivation to pursue a dream.

6. Word that clients are doing well. I don’t take any credit for the hard work they put in to make changes in their lives, but hearing of their success is equal to a Christmas bonus. I appreciate the opportunity to have been a small piece of their puzzle picture.

7. Good health. I don’t feel fabulous every single minute of the day, but I can’t take good health for granted. Having sick time available to use if I need it and paid vacation days for “preventative” health . . . that is a huge blessing.

8. Granddogs who are always excited to see me. No matter if I’ve been gone five days or five minutes, Maxine and Russell have butt and tail wags, respectively, and slobbery kisses to welcome me home.

I’m sure if I spent a few more hours, I could name many more things that fill my life with joy. I’ll stop here for now, because sleep is a favorite thing, as well. How many favorite things can you name to remind yourself that your dreams and passions are worthy of every effort you can give them?

The Beauty of Age

GraceNotes Then

GraceNotes Then

Recently, a group of people with whom I used to sing reunited for a memorial service for one of our beloved members. (Hence the arrow pointed at the missing member, upper left.) GraceNotes has been a source of joy for me, and it was great to see each one of them, despite the great sadness we all felt at the loss of a man God used to bring outsiders into His fold. We reminisced about some hilarious times together through the years, as well as the uniqueness of the entire group. The years have crept in and we are scattered here and there. But coming together to join our voices brought back so many raw emotions that it was beautiful and overwhelming to experience. Some members I see on a regular basis; others just occasionally. For still others, it had been years since I had a chance to catch up on what their lives are about these days. Still more members communicated with us from afar.

Two things have been on my mind since, and I’ve been chastising myself for not getting them written down sooner. The first was the ease at which we gathered, hugged, and talked together, like it was just yesterday since we had sung together. There is something about the bond that happens when we share our lives with others in such a tightknit group, particularly as we lifted our voices in harmony together. I was reminded of how much I had wanted to be a part of a small choir while in college many years ago. I was incredibly disappointed that I was not chosen, especially due to the reason. How joyful it was to be asked into GraceNotes years later, and have the pleasure of continuing my favorite pastime of singing with such a talented and spiritual group of people. Being a part of this “family” helped me through some very dark times, and I will always be grateful for the privilege.

The second thing I noticed was the beauty I saw in each of these group members. I never viewed them as any less, but there was something about the beauty of age. Maybe it is the softening of age – not in a weak sense, but in the maturity, a strength, if you will, that calls for less judging of self and more loving of others. Maybe it is the trials that each has been through and not only survived, but thrived in the face of pain or stress or loss. Maybe it is just the beauty of Jesus shining through because we’ve discovered it is ALL about Him. Maybe it was just me – seeing each one in a different light – seeing a beauty that is beyond the surface, that shines through in love, in acceptance, in true empathy. We’ve always heard that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I can tell you. I beheld beauty in each one. A beauty that surpasses any pageant or performance. Beauty that, in the face of sorrow, appreciates the loss because it says we experienced great love.

GraceNotes Now

GraceNotes Now

Reunions are not always pleasant events, much less happy ones. Joining together to say, “So long,” to a friend and loved one is especially difficult. When you’re able to see the beauty of family and friendship, your heart swells up and leaks from your eyes. There is grief for what is no more. There is joy for what was. And there is hope for what will be someday – our all-inclusive reunion with Jesus and all the other beautiful people who have touched and inspired me. I want to make sure they know how beautiful they are to me, and how grateful I am to be part of this family.