So, to fill in the blanks, the anniversary of Eddie's death (my first husband) was January 23rd (1986), his burial in Illinois on the 27th, and the demise of the Challenger on the 28th. To add to my awareness of the calendar dates, Jack and I stayed with friends in Orlando who knew Eddie very well. John, Cheryl and I realized that twenty-seven years before, to the day, we had been together in Eddie's hospital room, expressing gratitude for our friendship and praying. Saying our good-byes. John even preached Eddie's funeral service.
On the long drive home from Florida, Jack and I crossed a handful of our major rivers--the Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri--powerful parallels for me of relationship, change, and the strength of connection over many years of time. Rivers that evoke story, the Mark Twain kind as well as our own. I love the way they meander across the landscape, carving deep channels and pools, cutting through rock and soil, sources of beauty and life. They remind me of both constancy and change. And the constancy of change. Like grief, and like relationships, they move and flow, sometimes change direction, and double back on themselves. There's a poignancy about them.
Also, we were making our way to Illinois to see my "first" mother-in-law and my two sisters-in-law, whom I rarely see. We only stopped for a couple of hours, but it was a heart-warming visit, filled mostly with memories and lots of love, still intact. Yet, I was aware of the date--sitting there on the 26th of January. I made a mental note of the difference in the weather. This past Saturday was a cool, dry, sunshiny day; great weather for the drive. Twenty-seven years ago, we had struggled to hold a brief graveside service on the 27th in sub-zero wind chills and blowing snow. The following day, the space shuttle Challenger went down, while we all watched.
So this journey became a kind of pilgrimage.
Connected to all of this is the anniversary of Dana's death (my second husband, the one from whom I was divorced) on the 27th, and our dear friends' son's death on the 29th. (See what I mean about January?)These are not tangled in my heart and mind. They are layered. As so much of life is.
I texted my younger daughter, Sarah, yesterday--on the anniversary of Dana's death--to remind her that I was thinking of her and the loss that she still feels so deeply these six years later. She's feeling it more intensely these days, since the birth of her young son, Grady. She is so aware of what her dad is missing. And her mother, Kathy, too, who died when Sarah was only four. Whew. . .and Sarah wrote back, "It's lonely not having your mom and dad any more. . .I am always grateful for having you!" And she is. I get that, but I also know I can never make up the difference. Sarah is the one who a few years back made this haunting statement when we were talking about loss: I've lived with grief all my life. It's true. She has. Yet, she remains one of the most resilient, engaging young women I've ever had the privilege of knowing (and being mother to).
[And, Grieving is like peeling an onion. There is hope in that it seems each layer takes less time to move through, and there's usually some reprieve between layers. But there's always a next layer. And you never know which layer is going to sting, and bring tears to your eyes.]
Throughout this past week, living closer to these memories, what has touched me most deeply and stayed with me is the time spent with friends and family, holding together what we've been given--and what we have in each other. The changes are evident in our wrinkled smiles, our graying hair, our shed tears, our laughter. There are well-worn channels of loss and of memory (and of memory loss!) and of caring. There are pools of joy, shared experience, fulfillment. All of these things, like a river, remain constant, even as we move through the changes, separately and together. It's all gift.
There is something precious in being with others who share our grief, who understand and feel it, too. It's a tie that binds. And that is something truly to be grateful for.