In the garden…

I’ve seen the green shoots in the garden that no one wanted. The snow keeps smothering and then melting just to smother again- like the covering grief. We are not sure whether to welcome the newness of the transitory precipitation of sadness or whether to nestle in and pray for thaw. Still, the garden is growing. The promise of blooms keep us waiting despite the cold.

A few months ago, our community quaked with the loss of a young citizen, friend, and daughter. Charlotte was six years old when she was struck and killed by a truck on a quiet city street in the middle of the day. I didn’t get the news until the evening- a friend phoned while I was painting at my shop. Alone, my response was one of fury, of rage. I screamed. I roared into the absurd night. And then I gathered courage and sought out shared tears.

Charlotte was one of the children in our little “yurt school” cooperative. Full of fire and glitter, she burst into every space, romanced every flower, and choreographed the wind. She danced with abandon, shared with gusto, and stood her ground like an oak sapling.

How do you explain the death of a child to a child?

The next morning, with mussed hair and sloppy pajamas, we sat with our boys. I slowly and quietly explained to them that our friend Charlotte had been in an accident and that she was taken to the hospital and that she had died. I watched my five year-old’s eyes change as the words clicked into place, their meaning contracting and expanding the muscles in his small face. This was the most frightening moment: The realization that I would never fully know what mechanisms were at work, what cogs were turning and what internal parts of him had just transformed. Again, I was angry and fearful. What has changed in my son? Is there a stony crust formed somewhere deep in the recesses of his trusting heart? Has the muscle of his love for others grown stronger? Is the acid of this senseless loss bleeding into his veins? There was no way to know. The line of distinction between the person-hood of mother and child revealed its rich ink.

We raise our children to let them go. Each milestone becomes a landmark on a course of departure. But we all carry the hope, maybe even conviction, that the route circles back, that somehow our sons and daughters are on a ship riding the tide that ebbs, flows and returns.

So when our faith returns an empty ocean, a broken vessel, then what?

Our perceptions are always changing. Our gratitude, sustaining. And still we search for what is beyond our vision, beyond our understanding. We linger on the hopeful shore: mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, sisters and brothers. And we fill the tides with our tears and change the course of ships with the moon of our love.

No one wanted to plant Charlotte’s Remembering Garden- we didn’t want to have to re-member, we wanted the moment to be alive in her presence. Over one thousand bulbs went into the cold earth on a rainy morning. Hands caked with mud massaged them into the soil. And now we wait for spring, trusting that the season will change and bring her joy to us again, again.

char run

 

 

 

If you would like to hear more about our experience of how we’ve walked with our children and community through this tragedy, please feel free to be in touch. Leave a comment or send me an email trouble.trace@gmail.com.

Common Nonsense

What exactly are “common sense” solutions?

The problem is not obvious. The break is not clean. The parts are no longer available. We can’t fix what we do not understand, what we are ill-equipped to repair.

Ten years ago, my dad called me to tell me that my mom had died. It was a cold February night in Brooklyn. “Is Aaron there?” My dad asked. He wasn’t. “Do you know where to find him?” Yes, what is this about? “Are you sitting down? You need to sit down… Christy, your mom is dead.”

I can feel my heart racing even now. I can hear the world become muffled by a blanket of that falling moment. And then the blanket lifted. Sounds became sharp, piercing. Color radiated and hummed. Texture vibrated. I felt peace and energy and unremitting comfort. This is so good, I told my dad through tears. She is free of the limitations of this world. The brokenness, the despair, the relentless hoping, the unseen faith of waiting and struggle and perseverance. We prayed together, voicing our gratitude for her shared life.

And then I ran.

I ran like one runs in dreams- with the swiftness of purpose, without noticing my breath.

I found Aaron, my then fiancé, in class. He gathered our things, he gathered me, and we drove through the vivid night.

The cause of death was unclear. She had been home alone, reading on the back porch (Her Bible was open to Isaiah 61, amazingly.). She had walked my sister to school that morning, spoken with my dad at several points throughout the day. Nothing had seemed out of place. She was healthy, sound. But when my sister came home and found her lying on the floor, she knew something was wrong. Caroline hid in her room until, not five minutes later, a friend called to speak with my mom. Caroline explained that she couldn’t wake her up and that she had some blue spots on her face. The friend immediately called 911 and came to get Caroline, who was 8 at the time. My dad received the call a short while later from the police and came home with a friend. “She looked cute.” He told me later when I asked if she looked like she had suffered in those final moments. “She looked cute.”The house was treated like a crime scene. Forensic officers were dusting for prints, checking for evidence, looking for pieces. Nothing.

My mom’s body was taken to UVA Hospital for an autopsy. My dad picked up my sister. And then called me.

One week later, there still were no answers. My mom’s body was sent to Richmond for a second autopsy. We were told it would be at least a month before we would be given any  indication as to what shut her body down.

There were no answers. The cause was unknown. There were no replacement parts.

And this was an immense and beautiful blessing.

We had been dropped into an ocean of grief, of loss, of confusion but there was no memory of blame, no point of origin. We were here, in this moment, breathing, floating. The ‘why’s’ and ‘what if’s’ were harbored elsewhere, along with their distracting, false hope of rescue. Instead, rafts, life boats of friends and family sailed to us and we bobbed along together.

Eventually, a medical “explanation” was afforded us. But it was superfluous. Basically, it confirmed what we already knew: this was unavoidable and it is final. This we all know. This is our shared knowledge- our common nonsense.

So, loose the weak thread of comfort that we seek in reason. Un-knot the net of tidy solutions. Release our captive souls and those we hold prisoner with our tear-blurred judgement.

Even in the distorted face of a killer, there is the knowledge of pain, the lie of being alone, and the hope for satisfaction. As ugly and horrific and terrifying as it is, we share this pain, these lies and this hope. It permeates our collective, finite humanity. And yet…

Death itself is dying. Decay is submitting to life. Isolation is fading into community. The shredded cords, the frayed ties, our broken heart-strings are woven into the warp and weft of peace.

momand dad 98