The Tenuous Gap

I walked to a familiar place and she was there. Ten years old, not a care in the world. Happy, bubbly, effervescent. I tried to keep from hugging her every second because I knew what she did not: I knew her existence was impossible. Even asleep I knew. It could never last long enough. But I didn’t want to act like I knew for fear something would change.

She glided – her full, long hair bouncing as we walked. We talked about everything and nothing. She held my hand innocently – that little hand threading itself into mine. I felt a stillness and a stirring love, immutable passion toward this thing that was and is no more. This family, forever changed. Still living, breathing, loving… but different than before. My restless soul felt peace.

Friends came to us and marveled because they knew what she did not. And I asked, “Do you see her? Am I crazy?”

They affirmed her presence and we strolled on. Blissfully and mercifully we strolled on.

And then, she left. As quickly as she came, she is gone and I am awake immediately. Morning light peeks around black curtains facing east. I roll onto my back and blink away tears because she is gone. Gone.

The distance between her visits has been too long. I lay awake, cursing the cruel ceiling that won’t let my mind drift back to sleep. It can’t rest now. It is focused – those bygone days of completeness… that little hand threading itself into mine. Long minutes pass. Cursing rolls to acceptance of what cannot be changed and the dream that will not be resurrected. I am keenly aware that the pillow is wet, past damp, it is wet. Are the tears rolling down my face of longing? Or are they tears of happiness? Because for a moment, for just a brief moment I felt it all! The hope… the love… the completeness… the sadness of loss.

“I love being here with them, but I hate being here without her.”

Without her is the way we now live. When loss digs its heals into one’s soul, life becomes a struggle to find stasis. There is a tenuous gap between happiness and sadness. The two are intertwined. Happiness is a possibility, sadness inevitable and thus there exists a fight for the zero point while being pulled at both ends – the little flag on a tug-of-war rope. Most grievers would say that happiness is the underdog. It never wins for long.

I am a griever. Yet I am a dreamer, too. I dream, and she is there. And I am happy for a moment. Eventually I must wake up and pull the rope against the big brute of sadness for my share of happiness – however small the portion. I will pull. I will smile. I will win… at times. I will also lose. But until my dying day I will pull. For even a fleeting victory is worth the struggle.

What We’ve Been Missing

I love this picture. Like many pictures these days, it was posed. We set it up to send to our children on the family text and trick them into thinking we bought a puppy at auction. The immediate response? “Yeah right. But it’s so cute!”

But when I looked at it later, I saw something else.

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“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was pregnant!”

I can picture the scene as if it were yesterday. I brushed her off. We had three kids and she was nursing. No way! The next day she called me at the office to tell me to get a pregnancy test, which I procured along with a gallon of ice cream for comfort should the test prove positive. In the morning, she woke me up with the ice cream and a spoon and said, “eat up, big boy.” About seven months later, this happened. I love this picture.

All Girls

 

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We live our lives under the scrutiny of a lens. When the camera was invented in the 1800’s, who could have predicted what it would become? Pictures have become the dominant form of communication in our society. We have learned to pose, alter, project, share, and display at a staggering rate. We pretend to be “shiny, happy people laughing”. If we witness something unusual, we start filming in the hopes of capturing the next viral post. Celebrities are made and destroyed at the whim of a camera’s click.

In this world of captured moments, how do you hide sadness? When your soul cries from loss and pain, how do you turn away from the intrusive flash of the camera? If you’re a hurting mother, you don’t hide… you take the picture anyway. You continue to pose with your family even when every shutter click reminds you that the photograph will never again be complete.

I’ve watched with dread the approach of three Mother’s Days since Kylie died. While her remaining children certainly make sure their mother feels loved, there will always be the tug of loss at the little surprise missing from the photograph. And a day designed to celebrate motherhood only serves to magnify that quarter of her heart that is absent.

Grieving mothers are remarkable in their endurance. They have a keen ability to forge ahead in the most difficult of times. They cry in the dark to ensure their home doesn’t become a place of sadness in the light. They smile for pictures when every fiber of their being wants to run screaming from the camera. They don’t put on that smile for vanity or pride, but rather from selflessness… because a mother thinks of her children first.

I have seen this firsthand and marveled at my wife’s ability to compose herself since we lost Kylie. Even through immeasurable heartbreak, she has been able to offer a smile for life’s camera. I don’t know how. Losing that part of her heart didn’t come during anesthesia-laced surgery involving a neat incision and careful stitches. No, that quarter was ripped carelessly from her chest as she watched her baby breath her last. Still, she has smiled – beautiful, genuine smiles of happiness covering tears of pain.

 

 

And then, we took this picture and I remembered. I remembered that smile. There is something different about it. It’s been gone awhile and I’ve missed it. While we are forever missing Kylie, we are missing that portion of her in ourselves, as well – that smile… that unbridled joy.

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Joy isn’t something that can be fabricated on a whim, it is an attitude of the heart that bubbles up from within. Kylie had such a well of joy that it sprang forth despite the pain of cancer. She was better at joying anyone I have ever known and likely ever will. I believe that although we don’t experience it as often, our joy is still there – trapped beneath stubborn layers of sorrow. Happiness happens, but real joy doesn’t seem to come as often as it used to. Why is that?

 

I don’t know. I am just excited to see that smile. And of course, it doesn’t mean her mother’s heart is mended – that can never be so. But maybe we are learning some joy tricks from the master. Joy in spite of…

 

I pray all hurting and grieving mothers find their fill of joy today.