On Dave’s death day, December 21, 2017, I wrote on facebook, “Today is five years, alright. This is not a good time to try and reflect, because Christmas time is just so busy. Thankful for today to be with my kids and Rachel, (my niece) and holding our loss. I don’t like this day, but I couldn’t live without it. It’s necessary. Five years later and the nightmare of Dave’s death lives on. It’s not that there are not amazing things woven in and I do like who I am becoming (on my less cynical days) and I do still think there is purpose to this pain, but I seriously thought that my hard road would be much shorter and have more beauty and “hurrah” to it, at this point.”
Nightmare might seem to be a strong word in that post. It feels strong to me, yet fitting. On December 21, 2012, the nightmare was his death. The nightmare was raising three kids alone. And the most nightmarish part was getting down to Spencer’s level and telling him that his dad died. Today, the nightmare isn’t that we live without Dave, although it hurts. The nightmare is the fallout. It’s that there is this crack now, that Satan loves to play in.
The actual day of acknowledging the anniversary of Dave’s death is NOT a nightmare at all. It certainly has some sweetness and some sorrow and tenderness and joy. I mean, when I went to wake up Leah, she was reading Psalms out of one of Dave’s old Bibles. Sweetness! And then to sweeten it a little more, when she realized that she was on Psalms 21 and it was the 21st of the month, her eyes lit up with amazement. I loved that little gift from God to get her so excited about His word. It’s not common practice that she reads her Bible with her own motivation, but I’m sure she knew it was a sacred day of sorts. I deeply love that her response to a difficult day was to pick up her Bible.
The nightmare is NOT the season. The Christmas season is nutty to begin with, in a purely busyness standpoint. It’s all good and great and fun stuff, but for me, there is a steady low level of sorrow underneath all of December. The year he died, we chopped down a tree and rode four wheelers at a friends house in Crystal Park. We went to his best friend’s birthday party/Christmas party. He hosted the Memorial Rehab Christmas party at our house one week prior to his death, with tons of people. I even remember him talking about how he was afraid one of his co-worker seemed headed for a heart attack. We were just getting ready to ski at Wolf Creek and spend Christmas in Pagosa with his entire side of the family. He just happened to die, right smack dab in the middle of the most joyous Christmas seasons ever. Blah! Don’t like it!
The nightmare IS the product of deep pain and how that deep pain gets played out. I always joke that when I see the first three numbers of the school phone number pop up on my phone, I pray that one of my kids has an infectious disease and is in the nurses office. Obviously, I don’t really want that, but I also don’t really enjoy hearing the words, “Do you have a minute. We have a situation,” from the Dean of Students. So, there I sat, for an hour in the principal’s office, trying to understand where the disturbing behavior of one of my cherubs is coming from. Hopelessness sets in. Chaos like this surrounds Dave’s death day. Did this child feel like Dave might overshadow him/her, so this child needed to do it up big? Or, is it that this child’s grief and shame still can’t find words, so she/he pulls other innocent children into his/her world of pain? I then battle whether to allow this sweet cherub to participate in Dave’s death day, because I just want it free from chaos. Is it my guilt that allowed this child to participate or is it grace? I don’t even have any idea? In the end, by the true grace of God, I did not regret my decision and this precious child only added to the day and was able to make it about Dave. Thank you sweet Jesus.
Then I returned home and another member of this family is dealing with his own pain over Dave’s death, which comes out in the form of passive aggressiveness. It was aimed at me, but ended up hurting one of my kids. Hello Mama Bear!!! Then I’m accused of making him feel little, because all I care about is Dave. I get accused of having no grace for his hurts. I get accused of only caring about myself. That is the nightmare. A husband that is still fighting a ghost.
Death, itself, is a fierce enemy, but I tell you what, shame is the fiercest enemy I have ever witnessed. In my own life and in this family. Satan knows when to strike. Satan knows that we will be pointing to Jesus as our hope and light, on December 21st, in particular. He is a crafty distractor. But I keep repeating, from this two minute movie that our church has played at the beginning of the sermon lately. “Jesus Shines Brighter.” Sorry shame. Jesus Shines Brighter. I do say that with a bit of a caveat. Lately, when I say to myself, “Jesus Shines Brighter.” My knee jerk reaction is, “No, it doesn’t.” It just DOES NOT FEEL LIKE IT! But then I remember that there are many lights. Many bright lights everywhere. They look like the real deal. They are so fancy and pretty and flashy and I’m drawn to them and I think I’m looking at real light, but it’s not giving me light. Then I realize that I’m not actually looking at Jesus. It is true – that his light shines brighter. It just does.
Anywho . . . I’ll just get to the point. I guess I’ll just give a simple account of what we did on Dave’s five year anniversary of his death. For all the chaos surrounding it, is was the most perfect way to celebrate, remember, reflect, cry, laugh and talk, all about Dave.
We started our day with reading from Daniel 10, which is a passage in the Bible that Dave read to me, about a year before he died. It was an angel trying to get to Daniel, but he was detained by a prince of darkness for three weeks. Dave was fascinated by this passage and it was cool one to read to the kids about angels and princes of darkness literally battling. The angel that finally came to Daniel, was like, “Sorry, I tried to get here a bit sooner, but that pesky prince of Persia, held me up for 21 days.” Sometimes, the Bible reads more like a soap opera, (is that sacreligious to say that?) I have seriously started to fall in love with stories from the Bible. God is just, and holy and righteous, but he is also pretty funny.
Next, we ate Swedish pancakes. Then we headed to the dog park, where we all spread some of Charlie’s ashes. Charlie (the dog) and Dave were pretty much attached at the hip and call me crazy, but I think they are once again, and if not, I’m fine being wrong on this one. Then we went to Chick-Fil-A and in the parking lot, somehow we got started talking about the day he died and recounting what everyone remembered. It was one teary car in that parking lot. Fortunately, chicken nuggets and waffle fries work wonders in bringing calm to weary hearts. Then we were off to one of those places where you paint on canvases.
Only a few short months before Dave died, his mom brought a box of his artwork from high school. I was seriously amazed at all that he had created. In all the first eight years of marriage, I knew he could sketch up a quick plan for a house project, but I didn’t know he was an artist of sorts. As it turns out, Leah and Spencer are little artists of sorts. It’s been such a gift for them to be so good at something that CLEARLY comes from Dave. Weirdly, we all ended up picking out pictures of trees to draw. It was fun to watch the kids take their paintings so seriously. Inspecting each color choice and never rushing the process . It was the perfect outing for that day.
Then we headed to the Broadmoor for our tradition of seeing the gingerbread houses and getting a chocolate, but they weren’t letting anybody in, unless they were part of a private party, of which we were not. So, we went to the Chocolate Factory, instead, to honor Dave’s love of chocolate. On the way home, we listened to his funeral service. It was such a quiet ride, with a few sniffles, a few light laughs from the stories people shared about him at his funeral, and some heavy, heavy air that is ours to breathe. The heavy air of still trying to grasp that he actually died and what that means for us, and the heavy air of saying goodbye to another day, where we got to press pause on life and experience a little bit of Dave.
Wow. You recounting all this brings back memories for me too. I remember the exact song I was listening to on my drive to Penrose Main after I got the news. It was Kristian Stanfill’s version of the worship song, “Always.” I remember singing it at the top of my lungs, willing God to make this news not be true. That somehow a miracle would happen and Dave would be alive. I remember walking into the little hospital waiting room to see you, Holly, already surrounded by a small group of grieving friends. When I walked in you looked me point blank in the eye and said, “Megan, this can’t be true! You said adoption was like ‘life insurance.’ God wouldn’t allow our kids to be orphaned twice.” My heart immediately sank like a boulder thrown into the sea. I didn’t know what to say. And truth be told, I really don’t know what to say now, except that your faith continues to inspire and amaze me. The way you hold the grief of each member of your family with such intentionality, recognizing it for what it is, is so brave. I love the lot of you, and I am praying that Jesus’ bright light continues to pierce the darkness, dissolving any strongholds that have yet to be redeemed.
What a day – December 21 – will always always be. It was the day we lost Dave, the day children lost their daddy and the day you lost your husband. It was also the day that catalyzed so much else – other CRAZY moments of real, of beauty, of redemption. I remain hopeful and expectant that joy and purpose can be found as the narrative continues to unfurl itself in your family – never predictable, always precious. Love you for this honest update, Holly-girl.