I am a strong believer in the Holy Spirit; specifically, the strong ability the Holy Spirit has to arrange one's life so a message is given in a way that you would have to be deaf, blind or really, really in denial to NOT get the message. I have gotten many, many messages from God over the years, some quietly, some banged over my head, some big, some small, and I recently got a message that was so carefully constructed, so methodically put together, that I just couldn't miss it.
It's a message about the human spirit and surviving after loss, and though I try not to preach or be too heavy here in my little corner of the Internet, I feel like it is a message worth sharing.
It all started about five or six weeks ago, when I had the worst of all trifectas: three people I knew died in one week- two in one day- all by different journeys. One was sick for years with cancer, a mom of children my age, a woman I had known since I was a teenager, who had celebrated every milestone of my life with me and my family. Her loss was crushing in itself, but there was time to say goodbye and provide comfort, time to plan and talk and grieve the loss that was facing all of us who knew and loved her. She was so ill that there was a sense of relief for her, because her faith was so strong, and she had blessed release from her human body's frailties.
One was killed in a motorcycle accident, senselessly, when a car turned right in front of the motorcycle rider, cutting him off. He died from his injuries soon after. The guy on the motorcycle was the father of a classmate of Michaela's, an only child, from all reports a great guy and devoted father.
One was killed suddenly in a self-inflicted manner. He was married, a father of almost-grown boys, and was the spouse of a person I worked with and loved dearly in a former life.
I came face to face with the surviving families in that one week, some holding it together better than others, all in shock, all devastated with pain and grief and loss. And what can you say except I am so, so sorry? How I wish I could have changed the path they were on, to somehow have the power to heal the broken bodies and broken hearts of these people who died and those who were left behind! Because I felt it so strongly in each of these families: a sense of loss and pain so great that it permeated the hugs I gave them and the tears we all wiped away. It was...staggering. I fumbled through, sent all the cards, said the prayers, attended the wakes, did all the things our society does to form a loving circle around those in mourning.
And then I thought of the next week. And the next week. And the week after that, when the pain and grief are still there, but the other people have started moving on with their lives.
And I went on with my life, but the Holy Spirit wasn't done with me yet.
Then I came across an article written about the absolutely horrific car accident on the Taconic Parkway a year ago, when all three daughters of one family, riding with their aunt in the car, were killed in a head-on crash. The driver- the aunt- was drunk and high. The girls were similar ages to my three kids and all I could think of for weeks afterwards was the loss of being a mom- not just losing one child, or two, but all three and not being a mom anymore, and how quiet that house must be now. I had a hard time for a while letting my kids go anywhere without me, thinking I had some sort of control over things like this occurring.
The article I read was written by the mom of these girls and explains how she has managed to cope for this year, and how she has managed to get out of bed- not every day, but some days- and just breathe every day. It was about survival.
Then, a book was given to me in a chance encounter at the library, a book called Every Last One by Anna Quinlan, in which a busy mom of three teenagers suddenly becomes a widow and the mom of only one child after an intruder comes into their home and kills the husband and two of the children. The third was away on a ski trip which saved his life. The mom was attacked and left for dead. The book really affected me, particularly the chapters after the tragedy, because it gave the same sense of wandering, sense of being lost, that the article had described.
As one grows up and grows older, and experiences more examples of losing loved ones, losing friends, losing acquaintances, I think two things happen: you better understand that these kind of things happen to everyone, and it hurts just as much every time, and you come to understand that the human spirit to survive and go on is stronger than you think. Even when the unthinkable happens, you still go grocery shopping and brush your teeth and pay some bills and talk to a few friends. You watch television. You write an email. You eat. You see a movie.
And while there are bad days, terrible days when all you can do is cry and feel anguish and wail about the unfairness of it all, trying to answer the question of WHY this happened, and feel anger and disappointment and pain and grief and emptiness and rage, there are other days when those feelings are softer, and less sharp.
Many times, in the middle of the night, when I am at my most irrational, I play a mind game- what would I do if Dan suddenly stopped breathing beside me? What if one of my children didn't wake up one morning? What would that be like? And I think it's a self-protecting game, one that I play because I feel like if I think about it, it somehow protects me from having something like this really happen and it protects me from it being such a shock. Which is clearly ridiculous.
And at the same time, I feel an incredible sense of frailty that this family we have made and nurtured, this life I have made for myself is built on this terrible shaky ground, where only by the grace of God does it stay together and safe and whole and healthy. The sovereignty of God, who can decide in an instant to take it all away. But that threat of loss doesn't keep me from loving and caring and emotionally investing fully and completely in my spouse and children. These are the gifts I have been given, and I will revel in them.
The bottom line, for me at least, is this: the Holy Spirit has sent me a message and it tells me that we are stronger than we realize and can take pain and loss. We are made in God's image, after all. We can go on.
And God is with us, to provide the strength and power when we are rendered powerless.