“Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.” – Mary Oliver (September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019)
It was 2 a.m. in the city of angels. Restless on the hospital room sofa bed, I sat up cloudy-headed by the events of the last few days and gazed over at the bed next to me. Killian so very still and his momma, Alex, laying beside him, a place that had been her bulwark to ebb off the inevitable loss of the days ahead.
How had I gotten here?
My mind replayed once again the unseen events that had become a photo-reel in my imagination. Ten month old Killian discovering the freedom of bipedalism begins to discover a new level of his home. A door left slightly cracked rather than tightly closed, an over-the-counter sleeping medicine bottle with the top not quite screwed on, those few minutes of distraction that everyone who has ever been around a young child knows happens daily, the 911 call, and then the tearful phone call from his momma where she had to repeatedly tell me, “If you want to see Killian one more time, you need to come out now.” Repeating it either because I couldn’t understand through the tearful words or maybe just because I didn’t want to believe what i was hearing. Killian would not recover and I needed to fly to Los Angeles.
I had stopped by the office of the landscaping company that I worked for to drop off my letter of resignation – I had no idea what the future would look like but with fall planting only two weeks away, I knew that I did not need anything distracting me from the grandkids that awaited me at the other end that plane ride. I had then taken the first flight I could get on to Los Angeles.
I don’t remember much of the next few hours – somehow, on that very full plane, I had gotten a seat with no one beside me, and I had played through the scenarios of what I could say to comfort the family that awaited me. There had already been such hardship. My son, a marine veteran with 3 tours in the middle east that earned him a purple heart and life altering PTSD, had had almost no contact with his wife and family over the last year. Money had been extremely tight for them both as he struggled to adjust to civilian life and his wife struggled to hold the family together until he worked through the war demons that haunted him. And my years as mother-in-law had been often intensely strained and painful. Yet when I first walked into that hospital room, saw the small child that I had held all day unknowingly for the last time five months before, the tears overcame me. And Alex came and held ME as I sobbed. In that moment I was not the mother of the son who had broken her heart, but the grandmother of the child we both loved.
All the moments that I had missed with Killian in his short life because of my own selfish ambitions or relational insecurities became waves of grief over the next few days. And as I would weep, Alex would wrap her arms around me and we would weep together.
Alex, his other grandma Tutu, his grandpa Steve, and a myriad of aunts, cousins, and friends were able to say good bye to Killian until the nurses took his small body away – where his heart, kidneys, and liver would bring life to other children. Killian died on August 31, exactly 10 months after he was born. Exactly two months ago from today, what would have been his birthday – October 31.
In the city of angels for the next few weeks I learned to be just Grandma B, and I saw the beauty of a fellow grandma Tutu who has devoted her life to serving her grieving daughter and grandkids, and I saw the beauty of a young mom who has more strength than she realizes because of how she has fought for her family. Grief is a river that flows through us now, but we ride that river together so that it does not overwhelm us.
|Hands that loved: Alex Wise, Killian Wise, Tutu, and Grandma B
| God is a Redeemer, a truth I have sung about and spoken of for decades. As the weeks tumble away from the reality of this great loss, I remember my time with Killian, I think of the increasingly frequent time visiting his older brother and sister, I think of the tender time I shared with their Momma Alex, I think of the hopefulness of the days ahead because of healing relationships, and I see that God is indeed a Redeemer. So I keep putting one foot in front of the other, and trust that He understands when I don’t, that He is strong when I am not, and that Christ is indeed my hope and comfort when grief overtakes me.
Grief is a river that now wanders through my life. Flowing from a white-capped mountain’s loss it can seem a gentle stream that belies swift currents building as the river takes its form.
Grief is a river fed from the streams of memories that lay hidden beneath the surface, feeding into the flow at its appointed time. Sometimes a trickle of laughter-filled reflections or at times a torrent of tender tears rush to fill that river that winds its way through my days and nights.
Grief is a river whose eddies hold moments both fearsome and restful, waterfalls of emotions, meandering miles of reflection.
Grief is a river that needs to flow. Holding the river back, I can create what seems a peaceful respite. Then a storm rages, the banks overflow, and grief pours uncontrollably through unguarded recesses of my heart. Grief is a river that needs to flow – to tumble and purify over the rocky places; to seep into dry, barren places where love was forgotten, where forgiveness is needed; sediment memories transforming to silt as the river moves its way down to the estuary.
Grief, though fed with ever-pouring tributaries of life’s history, is a river that has its destination. The river heads relentlessly toward release.
Grief is a river that marks and maps my life yet in its movement renews and changes the landscape of my heart.
Grief is a river that needs to flow.
In memory of Ann Hutchison Peake