As I prepared this week’s Kara’s Collection posts to be published, I realized how few we have left before we’re done with this beautiful, important work. It seems silly to type that—I mean, I am a part of the community that journeyed this with Kara. And I’ve read all of these posts a million times. Of course I knew that they would eventually come to an end, but somehow this week, it just hit me hard. Finishing posting her blogs will be the end of a chapter, putting even more distance between me and Alive Kara.
I’ve been rolling memories around in my mind a lot. There is the memory of when she asked me to take over Mundane Faithfulness after she died, and I almost scoffed—that seemed so far off, and while I was never one to deny the terminal nature of her cancer, it felt to me that she wasn’t actually going to leave us, not really. We were both sitting in her bed that morning, my daughter toddling around, holding onto the furniture as she took each tiny, delicate step, her red eyebrows furrowed in concentration. The sun was bright, the conversation swift, and our hearts dancing in a strange rhythm with one another’s, attempting to have hard conversation without being depressing.
Then there was the second conversation, which occurred in the hospice wing of the hospital. It was late at night; she had called me to come over, so I dropped everything and made the 7-minute drive, leaving my babies home with Aaron. Mickey was there, readying the small couch in the room for herself to sleep over. Kara was eager to have this conversation about the blog; there was an urgency in her voice, but she was also in a lot of pain that night. Usually, the nurses could ease her pain and having guests was a helpful distraction, but not that night. Once we had the conversation, I left, wishing I could stay overnight, too. I was angry—angry at cancer, angry that I couldn’t make the pain go away, angry that the reality of death was finally making an appearance in my mind. I went home and wept in Aaron’s arms.
It didn’t take me long to realize that Kara’s giving me her blog was a priceless gift—it gave me a piece of her that I could hold onto long after she was gone.
When I was in college, my dad started sharing books with me. He’d read a book and then pass it along to me; once I read it, we’d discuss it. As I was growing up and changing, it was his way of relating to me, of having something in common with me—no matter what was going on around us, we could always talk books. Right before he died, he gave me a murder mystery. To that point, he had always shared nonfiction books, so this was new. He told me he had really enjoyed it, though, and wanted to hear my thoughts. He died before I could open it. I still haven’t opened it 20 years later. Somehow it feels like if I read it, that will be the last piece of him, like I’m closing the distance between when we did life together and now. I don’t want to close that distance. It hurts too much.
Last summer when Marmee died, I never wanted to leave her bedside. And then, once she was gone, I soaked in every second of the impossible grief that followed—the agonizing sobs, the beautiful prayers, the family time with my siblings and nephew, even the funeral. I’d been through grief enough times to know how precious those moments were—that once everyone left town after the funeral, I would be expected to pull myself out of bed and get back to normal life. Except that for me, life would never be normal again. Those days that went by in a blur would be what I held onto—Marmee’s last minutes, the intensity of family, the big emotions. They were the culmination of grief expressed in a short amount of time that I could grasp and remember and ponder. They were what would bring me comfort when everyone around me expected me to move on.
And here we are at Mundane Faithfulness doing our version of that. Except that as I reflect on how painful it is to move away from doing life with someone you loved so deeply, I have been thinking about how we are also moving toward doing life with them. Only it’s Life with a big L. I don’t only mean the obvious—that every day gets me closer to Daddy, to Kara, and to Marmee. But that every day is an opportunity for me to believe the Gospel a little bit more, to trust the hope of the resurrected Christ a little bit more. Every day is a chance for me to have a perspective of redemption instead of loss—instead of suffocating in the pain of grief, each day that I choose to hope in the coming restoration of Jesus, that hope leaks in a little bit. Hope starts to dissolve the suffering a tiny bit.
I’m not one who believes that time heals the pain of grief. I believe that we just learn to live with the pain. When God designed us, he never designed us to die, so as long as we are on this earth and have to say goodbye to our loved ones, we will hurt. Hurt big time. But I do believe that the hope we have in Jesus can overpower our pain. I believe that hope can creep in and show death who’s boss. I believe that hope can lift our chins to see a glimpse of the restoration that is to come so that instead of walking hunched over like we’ve been punched in the gut by death, we can walk upright in the promise of our pain and suffering coming undone.
Yet it wasn’t until Kara died that I started to believe that doing this upright walking is a choice—that we can choose to live in the despair of grief or we can choose to live in the hope that grief points to.
Typing that makes it sound so easy. I think we all know that it’s not—that it’s horrible and hurtful to look up from mourning. It’s as though we’re looking right into the sun and while we know theoretically about the beauty and warmth of the sun, it does us no good to look directly at it. Grief feels that way—looking up from our pain to the face of Jesus can feel like it’s not doing any good. And yet, there is no other way to experience his love and comfort.
One thing I’m really good at is wallowing—I love to wallow. I love to wallow in hurt, in joy, in love. I hosted a party last weekend, and I wallowed for days afterward in the love that was showered on the mama-to-be. It’s just that sometimes I don’t realize that my wallowing is hurting me more than it’s helping. I think I justify it sometimes—I need to experience the full depth of pain so I can experience the depth of redemption. I also think that I often cross the line between allowing myself to experience brokenness and allowing myself to indulge in pain to the point that choosing joy doesn’t even seem like an option.
But it is an option, and it’s always an option. There has not been a grief in my life so far when God hasn’t been by my side. Every morning when I take my children to school, I pray, Lord, whatever they experience today and whatever feelings they are having, may your love for them be their biggest reality, and may they remember that even though they can’t see you or feel you, you are always holding them in your arms because they are your little sheep and you are their trusted shepherd.
And then I silently pray this for myself as well.