Still Here and Still His

Of Life, Love and Loss. Of Knowing and Being Known. On Being His.

Month: April, 2013

Leaving Home

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These dates now mark what was to be the beginning of the end. Jeremy was admitted for transplant on Monday, April 23rd, so Sunday, April 22nd was the last night we spent at home together as a family. I thought I’d share a few photos with you from that evening (most of which our friend, Andrea Monseth, captured).

IMG_8384IMG_8379IMG_8421Though we had done some prep for the possibility that Jeremy wouldn’t ever return home, we did more in preparation that he actually would. We set up a separate room for him; we discussed and IMG_8410IMG_8427anticipated what it might be like to do life with three young boys in a small home with a very sick dad; we talked about how I would be able to manage the house and the boys while also being a 24-hour caregiver to Jeremy. We had shifted our mindset (as we had done once before) from planning out weeks and months to taking each day as it came, knowing that nothing – absolutely nothing – would be predictable. We knew that Jeremy would likely return home sick, but we were expecting he’d at least make it home.

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This weekend last year was saturated with God’s grace – there’s no other way to explain it. I’m so grateful for these images, capturing a moment in time and a season in life that is never to be again. And I am freshly aware of how much I need to be saturated in His grace again this year. It is tempting to cave in to the darkness once in a while, but we didn’t let it happen then and I don’t want to let it happen now.

We had been waiting for Jeremy’s admission for almost four months. As the time finally arrived, I was quite adamant (as was Jeremy) that we not add to the already present weight by letting the possibility of his death rob us of the joy and peace that was ours to have. It was hard enough to expect health and healing as an end result, let alone know we had to face terrible days before that health would be ours to claim. Had we allowed ourselves to enter into that weekend as though it was our last, we would not have been able to stand; I knew we couldn’t bear that. So we prayed (and you prayed). And we set our hearts in the best possible position so as to avoid carrying that burden.

We spent time at home with the boys. Playing. Packing. Jeremy spent some final hours in the studio. On Sunday, we took in the morning leisurely. Jeremy led us in family worship (something we had done often since he had been unable to worship in community for several weeks due to the risk of infection). That rare but sometimes present cynicism I have says, why the masks for all those weeks? Why housebound? He was spared from infection then but it did nothing to keep him from infection when it mattered most. But it was the right thing to do then. And luckily, Jeremy didn’t mind the solitude.

IMG_2954-3We had four of our friends spend that afternoon and evening with us. We played with the boys outside (as the grass was green) and hosted a shaving party so the boys could be a part of making Jeremy’s head bare (as opposed to having them face one more facet of Jeremy’s illness while he was in the hospital).

And then our friends, Ben and Andrea, spent that night with us. We knew we may need someone else here in the case that our hearts sank (which, by God’s grace, didn’t). But we also needed space. We needed to not carry anyone else’s fears or anxieties that night. Ben and Dre, though feeling everything deeply, were exactly what we needed. And it just so happened that Dre was nudged to sneak in and take this shot of us tucking in the boys. She told me recently that she had debated coming in, afraid of spoiling a holy moment. But I’m pretty sure she captured it. And I’m forever grateful.

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And after that we said goodnight. Jeremy did some final packing. We went to sleep in peace. We awoke the next morning with grace. There was no dread. There ought to have been, but it was behind us. Instead it felt more like we were heading out on vacation–it was that kind of anticipation–and there is no reason for that except that we were being covered in prayer. Jeremy drove our happy boys to school that morning. We loaded up the car with his many belongings (he was obviously planning to move in there for a while). He wanted to make the hospital feel like home (which it never did). And we drove into Minneapolis that morning with the sun shining.

And then began the worst 49 days of our lives (at least from my perspective). I can count on one hand the good moments. There weren’t enough good moments.

It’s probably worth noting that Jeremy’s death, for me anyway, didn’t happen fully on June 10th. It happened a little bit every day in the weeks leading up to his death. I slowly said goodbye. And it was a hard goodbye–a goodbye that was complicated when, at the core, I was still hoping that life would win out. In this past year of grieving and adjusting to life as it is now, the memories of these seven weeks I rarely care to visit. If I catch myself thinking about the days we shared together in the hospital I quickly try to think of something else. Those memories kind of eat me up–they are heavy and painful.

So I ask for prayer for these coming weeks. I can’t anticipate (and I don’t care to) what this all is supposed to feel like. It will be whatever it needs to be. I have hopes and expectations that it won’t be as dark as last year, but grief is a strange and unpredictable companion. It feels now as though I’m climbing to June 10th, with no particular destination.

But I do know that God is guiding–that He knows where this is all going. He knows what He’s doing with my heart (and what still needs to be done) as well as with my life. And like I’ve said before, I trust Him. And though I know that you–out there–often feel that this grief from time to time must be unmanageable, it only becomes that way when I take my eyes off Him. So my goal in the next seven weeks is to not. To put my heart in that proper position and trust that His grace is just as sufficient for me now as it was a year ago.

And I will cling to the words Jeremy once wrote, I believe, the night before his admission: “I rest in the hands of He who holds the bruised reed and yet breaks it not; who’s held me ever and will forevermore.” (Amen)

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Consoled

One of the commitments that I made to myself last summer after Jeremy’s death was that I would travel with the boys. I may not be able to explain the world to them in the way that he could, but I still want them to see it. I want them to know that creation (and sometimes even community) is often bigger than what we experience in our everyday life (it is that, and so much more). Jeremy and I used to love taking to the road, and though our travels slowed down as Jeremy’s body did (and as our home filled with little boys) I don’t want to forget how much we loved it, or how much I still love it. And maybe the boys will learn to love it too. Maybe one day they’ll be explaining the world to me.

first flight anticipation

first flight anticipation

There is a family in Illinois who held Jeremy very dear to them. Last summer they invited the boys and me to come for a visit. We weren’t able to make the trip then so I planned to do it with the boys over their spring break. This family lives in a small town called Newark. And it just so happens that a church in this area was the first to give Jeremy a paying gig way back in the day, long before I was a part of his life. Because of this, many in this community knew Jeremy. And when I became his side-kick a few years later, I met these families as well (though at the time I wasn’t much more than a shy gal with my arm looped through his). I let him do the talking (and I liked that). So I wondered what it would be like to be there without him, but I knew I ought to try.

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my flight crew

As time drew near for our trip I decided it was best that we fly instead of road-trip. There were two other families we planned to visit as well and we only had a handful of days. So I figured that flying would give us more time to actually be with the people that we came to see (as well as adding a little excitement to the boys’ lives; this would be their first flight). So last Tuesday morning we flew as a family of four. Yes, I received spoken and unspoken compliments at the airport–stares and grins as my three lads followed behind me. But really, the boys aren’t that small anymore. In fact they each carried their own bag and Aedan pulled our luggage. And I made out just fine.

A summary of our trip would be this: two of the three families I visited were relationships begun initially with Jeremy, not me. There were moments when I pondered the weight of my presence there, for me and for them. I was entering territory that was unknown, maybe even uncomfortable (presumably). I wondered if who I was and who the boys were would carry enough “Jeremy” to be fun and to have interesting or edifying conversation. Could his friends be mine? Could the memories that they shared with him be memories that they share with me? If this trip was any indication as to whether this is possible, then yes.

In saying this, I’m fully aware that Jeremy is gone and I know that I can no longer live vicariously through him (this reality has been painted in several different ways over the past 10 months). That was good and fitting before but it’s not possible now. And as I tread new ground–as I walk (or fly) into the world without him–it must be me that becomes known, apart from him (realizing that “me” is forever changed because I was once his). Even still, there were moments when Jeremy’s absence was obvious: when I could picture him leaning against a kitchen counter; when I could almost hear his laughter with the kids or his voice in deep conversation with another. I was tempted (as I often am) to think: this should be him here, not me. It was difficult driving the roads that he knew so well; I, missing the turns that he wouldn’t have. Yet I know it’s likely that eventually I will come to know the roads as well.

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saying “goodbye” to new friends

And there was so much good we experienced on our trip. I saw my boys build friendships with the Tollefson boys–constant joy in all five sets of eyes when they were in each other’s presence–and it made me glad to watch new friendships unfold for them. I loved hearing them say, “I don’t want to go home; I will miss them”. I enjoyed building a friendship with Miriam, who let me take a peek into their everyday life without hesitation. I drank of their hospitality. I felt their love for me and for the boys, not just because we were once Jeremy’s, but because we are us. The other families we visited and spent time with left the exact same impression. The boys played hard. At my friend Nicole’s house I did not once see Eli without an animal in his arms, which fills his love tank in a way that I can’t. The boys were great travelers–even great companions at times. I would definitely do it again (and I think that they would too).

Our return flight home was probably the only difficulty we had all week. It was late; we were all tired and worn out. And as our flight finally took to the air I was starting to transition my heart and mind back into what was really our everyday life. Unfortunately, what I had on my schedule for the next day was to attend yet another funeral.

The week before our trip Jeremy’s (and our) good friend, Ben, had planned to come over to take Aedan on a much anticipated outing. Aedan was excited; he was needing it. I received a phone call from Dre (Ben’s wife & one of my best friends) that he was on his way to the hospital because his dad had a heart attack. Outing cancelled. “Will you pray?” Of course. And in those tender moments I thought, not again–no more death in the lives of the people that we love. And must I tell the boys? When will the scales tip for them? When will they begin to think that death is life? I tell them so often, “it wasn’t meant to be this way” but then what’s not meant to be becomes so common. What will this do to them? Or what will it do for them? 

Yes, I must tell them. So I sat the boys down that morning and told them that Ben’s dad was in the hospital and we prayed together. Aedan was disappointed that his plans were canceled but as the moments passed he was more concerned for Ben and his dad, whom he had only interacted with a couple of times. Aedan kept saying, “I just can’t stop thinking about them; have you heard from them?”. An hour later I sat the boys down again and told them that Ben’s dad had died. In the lives of our small group that has met weekly in our house for a handful of years, this is the now the fifth death in 18 months: my dad, Erika’s mom, Jeremy, my grandma, Ben’s dad. I wondered what the boys’ response would be.

our small group

our small group

As usual, it slightly surprised me. Aedan’s first comment was, “Well, we know how Ben feels, don’t we?”. Yes, we do Aedan. “You know what’s interesting, Mom? You lost your daddy, and we lost our daddy, and now Ben lost his daddy.” They know how it feels; my nine and seven and four year old know how it feels (and I hate that). But in that moment, instead of growing bitter at the death that surrounds them, they yearned to comfort; to see how we are a community; to see that our grief can bring us together because we feel the same. And I think it’s possible that seeing a grown man who loved their daddy lose his daddy might bring them comfort. I don’t know how, but I think it’s possible.

So that was the backdrop for the only difficult part of our trip, tears shed on our flight home by Jo Isaac. Midway through flight, sitting quietly in his seat, holding a miniature die cast airplane that I had purchased for him, he said, “Mom, I wish we could fly in this plane all the way to heaven”. For him, heaven is up there; if we could just fly high enough. And he wept as I sat three seats away and across the aisle from him. He wanted daddy. Could we not just go a little higher?  No, we can’t. But I know how you feel. Instead, we’re gonna learn to drive these roads down here a little longer. Death and life hold such mystery (and I don’t always like it). But I can’t imagine living with these mysteries without the people–near and far–in our lives, who console us and whom we, one day, may find ourselves consoling.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1: 3-5

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