Crammed into my mother-in-law’s condo, our family created makeshift beds and regressed to sleeping partnerships we hadn’t utilized in decades. My son slept in the king-sized bed with my husband, my daughter on a couch on one side of the fireplace, and I claimed a day bed on the other side. My brother-in-law was somewhere in the basement and, the day before, at the hospital, Nano, my husband’s mother, had taken the last breath she’d ever take in her body. She passed away and went to heaven.
I don’t know exactly what that means. I don’t know how far away heaven might be, but I’m beginning to think it’s closer than we’ve been led to believe. I’m not very sure at all what heaven is. Is it even a noun? Then again, I’m no theologian. All I have is my experience. And faith. I do have faith. A little bit.
The day after Nano died, I woke up crying and I wondered if I’d ever stop. I have never cried with so much of me—never knew my body could produce so much moisture, or that my head had so much capacity for all of that. It would not stop. My family gathered around me and someone stroked my back and someone else handed me tissues and no one said anything at all. All we heard was the sound of my sobs and my brother-in-law making coffee in the kitchen. I cried like that for most of the day. In the restaurant where my son and I went in search of normal and breakfast, my mom called me on my cell phone and I had to give the phone to my son because I couldn’t get past the tears. “I’m so sorry,” my voice staccato-ed to my son. “I don’t mean to embarrass you.”
“I’m not embarrassed,” he answered.
Ten years before, after my husband’s father died, H had dreams where he and his father were together again. The presence of his father was so real, H felt as if he’d actually been with his father. While Nano was in the hospital bed, on her last day of life, I was driving down the highway, on my way to pick up some food for the family to eat, and I clearly felt her presence with me. It happened again after she died, on that morning I couldn’t stop crying. I stepped into the shower and I was reminded of some advice she’d given me, time and time again. It was the perfect advice I needed in the moment, and it sounded as if her voice was right there with me. And there was one more incident, where I sensed her giving me a message and telling me good-bye, for now.
Grief is powerful. I wonder if it makes us raw enough so that we’re like children once again—sensing heavenly exchanges that go unnoticed by adults with our grown-up schedules and agendas and theories about things. Like I said, I’m no theologian. All I have is my experience.
It’s a mystery.
I don’t know if you’ve had experiences like these, where death takes someone you deeply love and opens you up to the wonders of grief and the inexplicably and achingly painful journey of loss. It is a rough road and yet, God promises he’s with us, even then.
Years ago, right after I started blogging, I found a site called An Inch of Gray, written by my friend, Anna Whiston-Donaldson. Right away, I was attracted to Anna’s sense of style, her wit, and her deep love of her family. She posted beautiful DIY projects that I knew I could never replicate, and she made me laugh out loud at the most ordinary things. Her view on the world made me smile. One day, Anna’s son, Jack went out to play in the neighborhood and he never came home. I remember reading the words over and over again, hoping that, by reading them, I’d be able to turn back time and make Jack’s death unhappen. But it was real and it was not going away, and Anna let us into her grief and our grief mingled with hers and she has welcomed us on the journey along with her, her husband, and Jack’s sister, Margaret.
Today, Anna’s book, Rare Birdreleases to the world. It is the story of love and loss and grief and hope. If you’ve known grief, or know someone who’s going through loss, this book should be in your library. When I read it earlier this year, I was reminded of my experience of grief and how it leaves us open and how God steps in to remind us we are not alone. As Glennon Doyle Melton writes, Rare Bird is “A masterpiece of hope, love, and the resilience and ferocity of the human spirit.” And Mary C. Neal says, “Rare Bird is not just another well-written story of love, loss, and the aftermath of death, but it is a story that clearly shows the constant presence and grace of a loving God. It gives assurance and comfort to those whose hearts are grieving, and hope to those who are afraid.” Anna’s book is available for purchase, here.
I have a hard-cover copy of this book to give away. If you’re interested in receiving it, please leave a comment in the space below some time before Friday, and please let me know how you’d like to be notified if your name is chosen to receive the book.
Postscript: This morning, I went to the post office and dropped the hard copy of Rare Bird in the mail. The book will make its way to Kerrilee Agget. When I sent her a FB message, letting Kerrilee know the book would be coming her way, she messaged back that she was on her way to the funeral of a friend.