One thing I’ve learned over the course of the last 15 months…Nothing is as it seems. The innocence of the reality I once knew has forever been shattered and overshadowed by the shock of the certainty of our mortality. Until death obscures your perception of the world, you “see through a glass, darkly”….1 Corinthians 13:12. For better than half of my life, I saw through a frosty glass….one in which I could see shapes and forms, but couldn’t make out the definitive details of what lie before me. I was a bystander in my own world. One who stood by and saw, but didn’t see. One who heard, but didn’t listen. How is that, you might ask? Simple…my world had not yet been shaken. My world, had, up until that point, rotated just like everyone else’s world. It spun in a cloud of simplicity that I now envy…a time that I will never regain. I now live in a world of innocence lost…I will never view the world as I once did, because it DID happen to me and my family.
Some days it still seems surreal, but most days, now, consist of the undeniable truth that this IS my life…that Aaron is gone….that life moves on whether we are ready or not…that I will never see him as a father or a husband. THAT is my reality…THAT is how I wake up each and every day. That is what I have to accept when I see young men graduating college. That is what I have to accept when I see young fathers with their young children at the ball field. That is what I have to accept when I see a soldier or a sailor pass me on the street. That is what I have to accept each time I hear a song that he liked…each time I see someone wearing tie dye. THAT is what I have to accept on a daily basis….a thousand times a day. You see, acceptance isn’t a one and done deal. For me, it is a daily, but more often than not, a minute by minute, acknowledgment of the certainty of Aaron’s passing. With each memory and each reminder, I must once again accept the reality of his death..again and again and again. Just imagine what that feels like. Imagine what it feels like to constantly have to accept that one of your children will never again walk through your door or will never enjoy the companionship of his sister and the rest of his family….ever again. Imagine facing each day without hearing their laughter, hearing their voice, seeing their smile, or simply being in their presence. Imagine them being gone forever…just imagine what that reality feels like. Imagine what that feels like on a normal day, but imagine what that feels like on those special days…like Mother’s day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthdays. The list of “special days” could go on and on, because really, every single day is special…especially when that time is ripped from your world. Acceptance on this level is formidable foe…an oppressing adversary that depletes your spirit and leaves you void. It’s a void that can’t be explained to others…it’s one that can only be understood through experience. So, if you understand this barren existence, I am so sorry that you do, because that means that you are walking my journey…my family’s journey…Taylor’s journey of life without her brother. If you understand this void, you live it every single day, just as I do. The “miss” you feel for your child never leaves and never subsides. It remains because your love for your child never dies…that love lives on, and it will live on as long as we draw breath on this earth. And we will grieve as long as we live on this earth. We may not grieve as strongly or as openly as we did in the beginning, but we will never stop grieving. We just learn to hide the pain from others, because over time, the pain we feel becomes exhausting and uncomfortable for others to see, hear, and feel. The pain we feel is no more comfortable for us to feel, but we have no choice. We must feel our grief…we must experience it…we must go through it, because it represents all of the love that we have for our child. Our grief is our unspent love for our child that remains inside of us with no where to go. It resides in our hearts, our minds, and our spirits…because they reside in our hearts, minds, and spirits.
And while we grieve, we still live and breathe. We roll ourselves out of bed every morning…even though we want to stay cocooned in its security from the harshness of our reality. We go to work and perform our jobs. We carry on with, what often feels like, trivial conversations to appease others and ourselves so as to appear as if things are normal. We carry with us a mask that conceals what we hold deep inside. Our mask hides the anguish, the tears, and our shattered hearts. It also hides the questions we hold, the doubt in our faith that we may feel, and the uncertainty we face in the wake of our tragedy. The world keeps turning and so must we, and we must make a choice every single day…to live, to laugh, to love, to experience joy, and to believe. Yes…it’s a choice…and we must make it, where as before, it was just what we did. It was life as we knew it, and we didn’t have to think about CHOOSING life. But now, we must choose it each and every day.
In the midst of choosing life, I have also found myself redefining my faith and willing myself to believe, despite my questions. You see, for me, my faith has been tested beyond measure with the passing of my son. How can your faith not be tested when everything you prayed for during the most difficult time of your life wasn’t answered the way you believed it would be answered? After all, I had believed just like Matthew 21:22 said…”And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” Many might argue that I never had faith to begin with…or that I didn’t truly believe, because if I had, then I wouldn’t have questioned when tragedy hit. However, I think quite the opposite. While I held to the idea of faith before, I’m not sure that I had ever really had to put my faith to use until I was faced with my son’s tragic loss. Yes, I believed in my God…my Savior…I had seen Him work in my life…I had seen Him answer prayers before…I had faith in Him even though I had never seen Him. But, I had never really had to exercise my faith until last year. And when I say that, I mean that I had never really had to USE my faith to get me through such a crushing loss. I’ve always struggled with what faith meant…you might call me ignorant since I am almost half a century old, but do you REALLY know what it means? I have often equated faith with belief, as I think many people have. However, one thing I’ve learned through this journey of loss is that beliefs will often not sustain you in the midst of this type of trial. Why you might ask? Well…let’s just go back to that verse in Matthew. I prayed, I believed, but my child died…despite my prayers. I believed he would be delivered, just as I had prayed. And he was…but not in the sense that I believed he would be delivered. Why? I don’t know and I will never know. This is where the problem arose. My faith had always been abstract…an idea…but I had never had to put it into practice. And when I finally did, I questioned, “Why was he not delivered like I had believed he would be?” I asked over and over and over, but there was never an answer. Instead, I only heard silence…a loud, deafening silence. In that silence and over a period of agonizing months, my faith faltered as I waited and listened. The winds of doubt, anger, and sadness tossed me to and fro, ripping and battering my sails….leaving me in ruins. Battered and beaten, my shipwrecked faith lacked the strength to bring me back to shore. I was broken…the “me” I once knew would never be again…and the faith I once knew was destroyed. And then…after months of silence, something spoke to me and said, “Does it really matter why? He is gone and knowing why he is gone will never bring him back.” It was at that moment that I had to commit to my faith like I never had before. I had to accept that I would never know why and I had to be ok with that. You see, the “why” would never bring me peace or build my faith. It was the acceptance of not knowing that began the process of reconstructing my faith. And while it continues to be a painful and troublesome process, my shattered faith is being reinvented into one that I feel will someday be more genuine. Is it where it needs to be right now? No, it’s not…but that’s ok…that’s what this process of reinventing is all about…it’s going to take time.
So, as I said before…nothing is as it seems…even the things you think will always remain constant…and you never really understand that until you are placed in a situation where you are forced to question what you have always known to be. And in the midst of that tragedy, choosing to live is one of the most difficult choices you will ever have to make…but it’s a choice you must make through the pain and the heartache. It’s a choice that your loved one would want you to make. It’s one that I know Aaron would want us to make….
So, Aaron…we choose life to honor yours.
We love you son. You are in our hearts forever.