It’s hard to believe that it has already been a year since everything changed. In some ways, it feels like yesterday and in others it seems as if it were a lifetime ago. From December 2013 to January 2016, I lost six of my close family members but it’s these losses, these two in September 2015, that grabbed a hold of me and crumbled every wall and every barrier that I hadn’t even realized I had built. One year ago, not long after this post will go live, I stood at the foot of my grandmother’s hospital bed as she left this world for God’s kingdom. Less than 48 hours later, I stood outside of her house at 1:45 in the morning as her youngest daughter, my Aunt Shelia, joined her.
My grandmother was one of the strongest women that I know and to know my grandmother was to be loved by her. She raised her ten children to be the best aunts and uncles (and mom) I could ever wish for, something she did primarily on her own. Though her first taste of work was growing up on a tobacco farm, she worked as a waitress, a cook, a hairdresser, and a third-shift textile worker to help support them before eventually settling into her role with an organization that provided residential services to adults in the community with intellectual disabilities. She loved on her clients just as she loved on her own family, something that I hope I carry on in my own current role as a teacher to children with special needs. And although she had 15 grandchildren, she had a unique way of making each of us feel special when we were with her.
In this year since, I have learned a lot about what it means to grieve. There are different types of grief and different ways to process it and I have learned that I process through the writing of words. My journal and this blog have been irreplaceable for me but earlier this year, I felt God calling me to start processing what had happened in a way that was new for me. I began the process of putting my story, every lesson learned and every searing heartbreak, to paper. The process has been so full of healing and so full of His presence. To borrow words from the amazing Jess Connolly; “My aim isn’t to write beautiful words. My aim is to be changed by God, write about it, and pray that others are too.”
I write about my story because through God’s endless grace and mercy, I have been changed by it. I have experienced the greatest of joys in the moments spent praying my grandmother from this world into the arms of Jesus. I have experienced the inexplicable pain of losing an aunt who was like a bonus mother to me to a wholly unexpected way. But I have also tasted of the most refreshing, redeeming, and life-giving waters that can always be found in the lowest of life’s valleys.
In the days that have passed since those two September mornings, I have seen so many of God’s promises and the Bible’s teachings come to life right before my eyes. We are taught that when we are weak, then we are strong and although that seems like an oxymoron, I know these words to be true. It’s in our weakness that God’s power is made perfect and, believe me, we were all at our weakest points on the morning of September 19. Losing Aunt Shelia at 1:45 in the morning and then arriving to the funeral home at 8:30 to receive family and friends for my grandmother’s funeral felt as though I was being asked to do the impossible. Raw feelings of pain and grief were written on all of our faces and though it defied all logic, I felt such a sense of strength woven through the crippling weakness.
It may not make much sense to read that one of the predominant emotions that I feel when reflecting on what happened a year ago is joy. Don’t get me wrong, there is still sadness but there has always been, and always will be, joy.
And so today, on this day when my grandmother finally got to see the face of Jesus, we will be doing what she taught us best – loving on each other and spending some precious time together. We will be gathering at the Burlington City Park, the place where she took her children for many a train and carousel ride (and where they would later take their children for many a ride). We’ll take a ride on the carousel, remembering all the times she sat there watching and waving at us from her perch on the benches. We’ll hug each other a little tighter and we’ll keep on making her proud.