Life is unpredictable and exhausting. Grief is debilitating and equally unpredictable. You never know when emotions are going to strike or where you will be when they do strike. Just when I think, I’m beginning to get a handle on the emotional fluctuations, I’m blindsided by a memory, a trigger, or some type of anniversary that is sometimes anticipated, but often times is one for which I am unprepared.
Rewind to a year ago this month…I was looking forward to Aaron’s return to the US and to the East Coast. I was excited about him being close to home once again and the possibility being able to see him occasionally. He was doing extremely well…he was working hard and ready to be close to home. We had hope. Things were looking good. My brother, who was fighting lung cancer, had been given a good report about his radiation treatments. All things were looking up…prayers were being answered and I was feeling very positive and encouraged.
Just two months later, we were unexpectedly hit with the news that my brother had 2 weeks to live. “WHAT???”, was what I was thinking. How could this be happening? Things were going so well. Things were looking up…..I was in complete disbelief. I grew up with Steve. He was my protector….and somewhat of an enemy in our younger years….but he was also my friend. Someone I confided in…and he ALWAYS had my back. No matter what…I could always count on him to be on my side. Aaron was also close to him…Steve had helped him numerous times, and he loved his nephew with all of his heart. And his nephew loved him with all of his heart. At the end of October, my brother succumbed to his illness and lost his battle with cancer. It hit us all hard…and it hit Aaron hard as well. Aaron struggled with death…he internalized the death of close loved ones. Not that we don’t all do that…but Aaron really struggled with it. Aaron got to come home for Steve’s funeral, but he was only home for 2 weeks. We missed all of the holidays with Aaron…and Steve was now absent as well. The holidays were hard and we made it through them, but that’s about all I can say. January rolled around and things were looking up again. Aaron was doing well….and was looking forward to being home in a few months due to his injury in August. He had shattered his heel bone and fractured his spine in August and wasn’t going to be able to keep up with the physical demands of the military, so he was going to be home in 6-8 months. We were making plans and he was excited to be coming home. And then it happened….Just one month later…all of our plans were gone. All of my dreams for him were gone….all of my HOPE was gone. Eight months before, I was on top of the mountain. God was answering my prayers in unbelievable ways….and now I was not only dealing with the loss of my brother, but now I was faced with the loss of my first born child. I don’t even know how to explain the depth of sadness I felt and the abyss I felt myself encompassing. I remember that day like it was yesterday….but I also remember that I lived in a fog for the first several months. I had no hope…my hope had died with Aaron. I felt like I was merely existing in a world that continued to whirl in reality, and it left me dizzy, angry, confused, hurting, and downcast.
I’ve learned that life takes turns for the worst when we least expect it, and often times we are left in the ruins to make sense of those twists and turns. Along my journey, people have often approached me with compassion just to check on me and to see how I’m doing. The other day, a friend told me about a sermon she heard at church. She said, “When I heard this, I thought of you and what you’ve been through…and I just wanted to tell you about it.” She proceeded to tell me how her pastor had preached on the two daughters of hope (a quote by Augustine of Hippo). St. Augustine’s quote: “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” I had to really think on that and mull it over and over in my mind. I had never connected the emotion of anger and the characteristic of courage to hope. How could that be? How could anger be bred from hope…and how could courage also be bred from hope? The more I thought about it, the more it began to make sense, but I had to apply to my situation and to where I was in the present moment.
Let’s talk about anger just a bit. I can absolutely see how anger is a product of hope. How you ask? Well, think back to August of last year. I was filled with hope at the prospect of Aaron being back in the US and at the thought of my brother’s cancer being healed. As a matter of fact, I had prayed for Steve’s healing and completely believed that he would be healed. I had also prayed for Aaron…as all of us pray for our children, and I had seen God answering my prayers…He was listening, because He was answering my prayers as I had expected and in the way I thought He would answer them. I was hopeful….I held a belief that my prayers would be answered in the way that I thought they would be answered. Then, reality hit. My brother died…that wasn’t the healing I expected! That wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted my brother healed on this earth…not in his heavenly home. I know that sounds selfish…but that’s where I was and I was angry at the way things were. I was angry that God hadn’t answered my prayers in my way. Don’t judge…if you are faced with a loss like this…and you will if you haven’t already….you will find yourself questioning things you had never questioned before and you will find yourself unable to find answers those questions. Then, four months later…just as the ground beneath my feet was beginning to stable itself, Aaron died. My world was turned upside down. My questions became stronger, my anger became deeper, and my screaming became louder. Every emotion I experienced was intense and all consuming, and I couldn’t believe that I was really living this nightmare. To this day, I still struggle with the reality of where I am…acceptance ebbs and flows just as the tides do. Some days I have accepted my new reality, some days I can’t even believe that it’s real. My anger was a produced out of the hope I held…and some days that anger is still there just as it was in the beginning. So, anger is the daughter of hope.
Courage…what is it? When I think of courage, I think of a soldier facing an impossible situation, yet he continues with his mission despite the reality of is situation. That’s where my mind goes first…to bravery. So, when I began to think about courage also being the daughter of hope….many thoughts began to swim around in my mind. It takes courage to face a hopeless situation and to ensure that “things don’t remain the way they are”. But I can also see courage being a product of anger as well. I know that anger sometimes forces us to face what we don’t want to face, and it prompts us to take action…even if we don’t want to. That’s where the courage comes in….we do it even when we don’t want to. So to me, courage is the daughter of anger and the granddaughter of hope…it is created out of both hope and anger.
So, where am I? I’m not sure….I’m still dealing with the anger of Aaron’s death, but I am pushing myself to find the courage not let “things remain as they are”. But, I’m not there yet. I’m trying, but his death is still so fresh and the emotions are still so raw. For now, I’m just doing what I can to just sometimes get through the day. Maybe that’s the courage coming out…I’m not sure, but what I do know is that in the midst of child loss, it takes courage to just survive the initial shock. It takes courage to make a choice each day to get out of bed. It takes courage each day to face people and to put yourself in social situations that are utterly overwhelming and over stimulating. It takes courage just to face your new reality and to live with that reality every single day.
What I am learning in the midst of this tragedy is to take life day by day and sometimes, even moment by moment. I am trying to learn to embrace hope through my anger and I’m trying to find courage to not let the anger consume me. How? I’m learning to be honest with God and to just talk to Him. That’s something that I’ve always been afraid to do, but I’m finding freedom in being honest with Him. Does it take my pain away? Not always. Does it make me feel joyful? Not always. Does it make me feel better? Not always. But, it does help me to get it out in the open and it allows me to open my heart up to God in a way that I never have before. I’m building a new relationship with Him in this process of grief…but sometimes it’s hard and feels very lonely.
But, I am now beginning to see a little bit of hope. If you know me, you know that I have been consumed in tie-dying, because it was something that Aaron loved. Out of this new hobby, I have hope that I might reach someone that is struggling…something that Aaron did more than I ever knew. I have hope that our story might reach someone in need. So, although I am still experiencing anger….I’m beginning to see some hope that “even in his death, Aaron is still helping others…what a legacy to leave!” ~ Barbara Brown
I hope that I can learn from Aaron and leave this kind of legacy. Thank you, Aaron, for what you are teaching us even in your death and from your new Home. Your family misses you every single day and loves you deeply.