Processing loss could be compared to watching the waves of an ocean make their way to the shoreline, crashing violently against the land before retreating back into the dark depths once again. Now that I was unemployed in this golden city of the prairies, a place that was growing at a rate of almost 40,000 people a year, I had some time on my hands to think through my life, where I had come from and where I now found myself. I was broken. Beat up inside and disorientated. Somewhere along this journey I got swept up in those mighty waves and was thrown against the shoreline, tossed without care, and then dragged back out to the ocean to do it all again.
I was tired.
There seemed to be no end to the pain and suffering. One night on my way back home from a corner store, after purchasing a treat for my wife and I to enjoy, I was approaching the one major intersection before the turn off to our home, when right in front of me I witnessed a high speed crash of some inconsiderate driver blowing a red light and then t-boning the vehicle trying to turn left on the green light. Both cars spun around, throwing off parts as they danced, and then crashed into concrete barriers that separated the traffic. One gigantic boom and all of a sudden at least two more people’s lives are changed forever.
The initial blows of grief are crippling. I would be running errands with my wife and as I most often opt to do, I wait in the vehicle while she completes the task in the store, often keeping a close eye on the doors so when she emerges I can drive right up and pick her up. A courtesy that we extend each other. I don’t get in her way by entering the store with her, instead I am able to enjoy a few moments of silence and people watching, and in return she is dropped off and picked up right from the door like a VIP service. But silence is like a two-edged sword and there were many a moment where people walking past our vehicle would have caught a glimpse of a grown man unable to contain the heart-shuddering grief that had just suddenly overwhelmed him, leaving him sobbing uncontrollably behind the wheel.
It was a time to take stock of my life. Thankfulness would come later. To survive each day, it would mean a deliberate step taken right after another. What is the next task that needs to be done and then cutting myself some slack if I couldn’t accomplish it or taking a moment to congratulate myself when I did. After all, we still had four young children to tend to, all of which were trying really hard to adjust to their new surroundings, having left all that they had ever known behind. I could be thankful for them, but only during those moments that I was numb from feeling too much, for the magnitude of what was lost was reflected back at me every time I looked into each of my children’s faces.
Three daughters and a son. A son. I had two sons. Briefly. Twenty-two minutes is not long enough to have a son. Three daughters and two sons. But now one is gone. No matter how I looked at the situation I could not lessen the impact of what had happened. I walked around in desperate need of triage – bleeding out but with no-one noticing.
Perhaps it was safer that way. Condemnation and judgment was the card-stock used for sympathy back in the valley city. Cut-off from my parents and chastised for not behaving correctly from the pastor non-pastor and his family. Family, friends, and church, all scattered when it all went bad. Who had the effort to pick up the pieces and salvage anything that might be left? Corporate abandonment and resentment for my departure to remain at my wife’s bedside. What was left for me in that dusty valley bottom?
That is, of course, why we were now here, in this golden city of the prairies. The irony, of course, was now we also had nothing. But, somehow, in the silence and absence of something, the nothing brought a comfort – a space – in which the deep grief wallowing inside of me could burst out whenever and however, finding voice and language to languishing emotional experiences without the fear of condemnation or judgment.
And so I wrote. Capturing the details of my grief journey. Capturing the details of my life thus. And slowly, with much care and coaxing from my wife, I talked. We talked. And somewhere in the midst of our isolation, sitting in the middle of this lonely city, we began to grieve together. Our individual stories becoming entwined once again, finding strength in each other’s arms, in each other’s embrace, in each other’s pain.
The waves would still come and still come they do, even to this day, so many years later, but the strength of those waves, crashing along the shore, are minimized because my wife and I are locked into a life’s embrace, enduring the crashing together and finding solace with each other in those moments. For, at least in this instance, it is not but one’s story, but two and in this instance, at least, the story is not a story but a journey.