An Anniversary

On Wednesday Chris and I would’ve been married for 15 years. I guess it would be our golden anniversary, but I don’t really care about that stuff. This is also the time of reliving and remembering: diagnosis, procedures, hospitalization, decisions, death. What a terrible whirlwind it was.

I’ve read back through this blog some, to remember. I’ve texted with one of our nurses; she checks on me periodically, and I love her for it. I emailed one of our doctors, and he emailed me back. He said: “I am having difficulty recalling an experience that has been more meaningful during my years of practice…. I still think about him…. I will never forget seeing you in the lobby that morning [of his death], it’s burned into my memory.” This was one of the residents who rounded so early, so many mornings, who would always crouch down by my cot in the bleary darkness and quietly ask what we needed, what questions we had. He’d pick up my guitar here and there for a second, but not in the obnoxious way people sometimes pick up other people’s guitars. One day, close to the end and with tears in his eyes, he told us how hard it was to come into our room everyday.

Chris and I lived out our vows in that hospital. I mean, we lived out our vows every day of our marriage, which is maybe more notable, but we lived out the sickness and health bit, til death parted us there. We didn’t have to do it for that long, really. But it was messy and smelled like a foreign country and would have been humiliating if the winnowing presence of death didn’t render all the gross things powerless to humiliate.

{Pinky saw me typing just now and asked what I was writing. When I told him I was writing about Daddy, he said he wanted to write about Daddy too, so:

he was very kind and i love him so so so so so so so much and he was so gentle and strong and so happy and so powerful and he was soooooo funny. love: pinky / pal / baby buddy / Andrew}

One day in the hospital, after a conversation with some dear friends about being free of encumbrances as Chris walked that very hard road, Chris looked at me and said: “I’ve been afraid of you our whole marriage.”

He went on to say that fear didn’t primarily characterize our relationship, but that fear had been there consistently enough, throughout. Fear of my disappointment and subsequent anger. Fear of my strong reactions to him. I looked him straight in the eye, from the foot of his hospital bed, and said, “The fact that you’re only bringing this up to me now Is. Not. Love.” “See?” he said, “that’s what I’m talking about.”

Chris’s announcement was a hard hit and for many reasons. From before we were married we’d been working on the dynamic of his quietness, his evenness, and my more impassioned way of communicating, which often, if left unaccounted for, tipped the scales in the direction of my wants and needs. This wasn’t news, and we’d come a long way from where we’d begun. Also, I’m not someone who gets really angry. The most beautiful thing about our marriage (other than our unwaning PDA) is that it was characterized by non-defensiveness. On both our parts. We might flare in a moment of defense in a conflict, but each of us quickly settled into a posture of hearing the other person, a posture of humility and reception. We worked so hard to create honest and vulnerable lines between us–real open space–and we really succeeded. I was so proud of what we had built.

And then this bomb dropped from the hand of my beloved while on his deathbed. I remember thinking in that moment: It’s OK. Don’t take this on right now. Let it go. You can deal with it later. I ultimately said something like, “It makes me sad that you have felt this way. I’m sorry you’ve been afraid. I’m glad to know it now. We’ll work on it.” I wasn’t dismissive. But I also had to compartmentalize to some extent, just to survive the day. He had done what he had had to do, and I did the same.

One friend, or maybe it was Al, said: “In any other context, this would’ve merely been the beginning of another conversation between you. It would’ve been building blocks. It would’ve born better and better fruit in your marriage.” She was right. On a normal day in our normal life, it wouldn’t have been such a devastating blow. We would have built something of it. I know we would have.

Not many days later was our 12th anniversary. He gave me a card, written in his shaky hand. It was full of real love, gratitude, hope. It’s a gift made all the more precious by the emotionally precarious days leading up to it. And I wrote him a love letter, with the knowledge that it may also couple as a eulogy, and it did. This is what I read to him in our room on the 9th floor that day, and what I read in front of any who stayed to listen after his funeral. He treasured the letter; he wanted to keep it on his table next to him, close.

My Love,

Twelve years it’s been together. I cry now, because it suddenly seems like a drop in the bucket of time. And I want so much more with you. It still feels like we’re only at the beginning. 

But let me reframe. I must, or my spirit will be crushed altogether.

I have known and always known that no one’s marriage is better than ours. We have much growing to do, and there are always new depths of repentance and forgiveness and grace needed between us. But our marriage is characterized by a companionship we have reveled in these years, by an unwaning affection, by intimate joy-bringing humor, by the balancing of our distinct strengths and weaknesses brought into play together, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who ministers to each of us in turn through the other. We love each other, and we are in love with each other. We have had 12 years, not merely of commitment to one another, but 12 years of being one

Chris, I did nothing to deserve the gift of our marriage—the gift of you as my husband. God’s kindness is no where more clear to me in my life than here with you. In you, he has given me sure footing, shelter, strengthening, shaping. At times my faith in God’s care, even in his very existence, has been restored because of your words, your prayers over me, God’s very spirit in you. Your faithfulness anchors me. 

Your faithfulness doesn’t waver. Your fear of the Lord is real, and your faith in the Lord’s healing is tried and true. The Lord healed us—is healing us—in our union. 

You are beautiful and kind, Chris. You pursue truth as the greatest treasure, while keeping a tender heart for the people around you. You aren’t defensive but want to see truth even at the expense of your pride. You are so gentle with me.

This year our marriage is deepening and widening for reasons I would never have chosen. But as this is our reality, I accept and count as good the different ways we are learning to relate to each other, the different types of love and service and endurance we are experiencing together. I want to show you how encompassing my love for you is; I pray you feel it. And you—I feel like you’re bearing a cross for both of us, since we are one. You are bearing the pain and fear of this all in your body, and I always feel like saying, “Thank you.” 

Chris, you are my soulmate. I can’t imagine another. I’m so proud to be your wife. No matter what the days hold for us, you have been and are the greatest gift. Happy Anniversary, my love. 

The Cage

When Chris broke off our engagement and told me he didn’t actually love me (click bait!), an older woman stopped me in the stairwell at work and said, “The loss you’re experiencing right now is no different than losing a child.” I instinctively knew she was wrong. But I knew what she was trying to offer me: that my loss was real, that consuming pain is consuming pain. I took from this woman the validation she intended to bestow.

It’s been very important to me along this road to call loss loss. Grief is grief. And God knows Chris’s death was only the beginning of the rapid fire tragedies in my circle of friends. So many of my close friends now know shattering loss. Girls nights at the gin bar are now informal grief groups, each of us with our bewilderment, our questions, our quiet tears.

There is something very precious about this bond of grief. It takes us places together that we could not otherwise know–mining the deepest places of our hearts, walking together, or just sitting together on the valley floor.

I think the unifying and universal nature of grief has made me afraid to delineate between losses. Part of this is because quantifying pain seems a fruitless endeavor. Pain is pain. Part of this is because I know that, truly, it all comes out in the wash. Or will. No one is exempt from the death of the person she loves most in the world. Part of this is because how can one rank loss? I know that delineation doesn’t mean ranking, but it can feel awfully close to it. I never want to come to the table somehow positioned near the top of a hierarchy. I never want the person I’m with in any moment to feel inherently silenced by a sense that her suffering is comparably too small to bring.

But lately I feel my gears grinding. Not just lately, actually. But the scrape of dry metal on metal has gotten louder. Harder to ignore. It’s jarring and blares out inside of me like a scream. And it says, in a voice that sounds like shaking sandpaper: You don’t understand.

It’s hard for me to even type that. I’m crying at the tension I feel in this moment, as every fiber of my being wants to qualify that statement, and there are many true qualifications I could give. We all have our very real versions of this.

What helps me say it–what helps me say, simply, You don’t understand–is that I’m finding, as time processes, that I also don’t understand. I said to a friend recently: I think I’m only now beginning to wake up to the reality of Chris’s death. When the atmosphere of your being transforms in a moment, in one quiet moment of dissolution, and you continue, in your next breath, with a different chemical compound in your lungs…. I guess the change is so cellular as to be imperceptible. The shock so thorough it can hardly be felt.

I walked out of the hospital that day in December and left Chris’s drying corpse on a bed there. I drove back home and entered my house where everything was the same except for his absence. The same house on the same street in the same neighborhood, the same front stairs and door and living room, the same playful kids, the same family members, the same friends all still there. We go to the same church, the same school, the same pool in the summer. A huge chunk is missing, but the picture is otherwise completely recognizable. So for even me it’s hard to see and say: Nothing is the same.

It’s taken me a while to realize how different is the air I breathe. How alchemized the water. It’s really just the grinding gears that tell me so. The dissonance between the air I breathe and the old words spoken into it by other voices. The sound doesn’t travel well. The gears grind. And then the scraping voice inside: You don’t understand. And oh, I almost hate myself for saying it again. Loss is universal. But Chris, my husband. One flesh with mine. How can anyone else understand what even I don’t.

In saying these words out loud, even if just to myself–in letting them exist as an at least partial truth–I find another reason why I’ve been afraid to delineate this loss from another. Because in the same cage of my heart where this statement resided waited a cast of characters I have largely kept quiet over these two years–ones I despise and don’t want to see. Jealousy. Resentment. Envy. Self-pity. They’re not flamboyant in their appearing but take turns, scurrying across my path like ghosts, right in between me and the people in front of me. I see through the trail of their fog.

I don’t want to resent my dear friend for expressing that it’s hard for her to have her two kids overnight without her husband when he works, but I do. I don’t want to envy the ease at which another friend says to me, “Be careful!” when I choose to spend time with a man I know I will not marry, but I do. She says those words as a woman with a living husband–the security and settledness there is deeper than she could possibly know unless it were taken from her. I don’t want to sit on the edge of my bed in the morning, paralyzed by the myriad things on my floor and to-do list and feel sorry for myself and my lot in this life, but I do. I do.

Here is one more thought: I think it’s true that when I endeavor to mark the vast differences between the griefs my friends and I endure, the delineation not only validates my unique experience. It validates and gives shape to the unique losses of my friends in a new way for me. I do not and cannot know the pain of losing a child. But tell me, dear friend, what that shattering feels like to you now. How are you holding it, the gaping hollowness, as you move through your days? I can’t understand, but I want to be with you there, even in my unknowing. And tell me, beloved sister, how you exist in the world without your mother? How many moments happen in a day when you feel a silent ache, deeper than anything you’ve ever known? I can’t understand, but I want to be with you there, even in my unknowing.

Dear God, help me hold it all.

Strange Comfort

Sunday we sang “Jesus, I Come” during the Eucharist, and I couldn’t stop crying. I’m quiet
about crying, but the tears stream, and usually in church I’m holding one or two kids in my lap and often blocked from wiping my face and neck. At a certain point in the song, I felt a hand rest on my right shoulder. Just a hand. Still. I didn’t know whose hand it was. My friend Robin was behind me, but on my left side, and she always has her hands full too.

I let the hand rest there, anonymously. I didn’t want to open my eyes. I felt the gentle pressure through the rest of the set. When the songs were over, I reached across with my left hand, covered the hand on my shoulder, and looked back. I saw Olivia D. there, looking at me with an uncommon depth in her eyes. Liv is 13 years old.

Almost three years ago now—three years in January—I sat on the floor in a living room I didn’t know, in a room full of people I didn’t know. I sat at the foot of a pink wing-backed chair, and in the chair was 10-year-old Olivia D., curled up, moving in and out of tears. Her dad had been found dead the day before in the nature preserve nearby. Liv didn’t know it yet, but he had committed suicide.

The Ds had moved to Birmingham a few months before Albert took his life. I had only begun
getting to know Robin when she texted a group thread—one primarily used for inquiries about where to get a haircut in Birmingham or where to sign kids up for baseball—to say that Albert was missing. He hadn’t shown up for work that day. The day went on, and I grew afraid but also felt like a voyeur, peering into the terribly unfolding, sickening circumstances of a family I didn’t know. I had hardly participated in the group text thread until that day. I had interacted with Robin only a few brief times at church. I didn’t even know the names of Robin and Albert’s nine children yet. Truly: I met these children in their home—as a stranger—the day their dad died.

I got familiar in those days with the Ds’ home, the kids, Robin’s parents. I learned which cabinet the kids’ cups were in, I learned to stick the surplus of groceries being delivered to the house in the downstairs fridge, I learned where to find the twins’ pajamas. I remember standing in the kitchen with this woman, Robin—was she even yet a friend? Who were we to each other at that point?—and saying, “Cancer would have been a mercy.” She quietly agreed.

Sitting at Olivia’s feet, she wrapped in a blanket in that pink wing-backed chair, I listened as she quietly verbalized the swirl and confusion in her mind. I won’t recount her thoughts and
questions here; they were hers, and holy. But being with her in those moments, rubbing her leg gently as she spoke, assuring her of her daddy’s love for her. . .I will never forget it and never understand why I had a place at that table.

Less than eight months later, we found Chris’s cancer. The rest is known history.

What a crazy, sometimes awful, upside-down life, poignant and strange in its comforts.

Early Bird Special

Sometimes I wonder if Ash Wednesday is my favorite day of the church calendar. Is that sacrilege? Theologically, I guess Christmas and Easter are my favorite? But experientially, it’s Ash Wednesday.

I almost skipped this year. Ash Wednesday was also Mary’s birthday, and I couldn’t see how to fit in a service. But then I remembered that I could just find a faithful church nearby and slip in while the kids were at school.

The noon Ash Wednesday service is like the Early Bird Special, and while I have trembled at the poignancy of watching my children’s smooth foreheads being scored with ashes, I felt a visceral awareness of mortality watching the slow procession of old people walking to receive their mark. I imagined a few of them as they might have looked only decades ago, trying hard to remember that we are composed of ourselves at every age.

One of the old women I watched had thinned, feathery white hair, cut close to her head, resting around her ears. Her skin was pale, and she wore a loose, silky, royal blue blouse. Another old woman had longer, thicker hair, injected plump lips, tinted cheeks, chunky jewelry. She looked a bit plastic, and she was. Another old woman had dyed burgundy hair that flipped out slightly at her neck. I don’t remember what she wore, but I liked her bold, eff-it hair choice.

There was also a man. He wasn’t old but middle-aged. He was black, and his body was malformed. His hands were deeply cleft down the middles and looked reptilian. His legs appeared unequal in length, which threw his whole body off symmetry. His shoulders and elbow joints formed sharp angles, and his arms hung long and uneven. He wore a t-shirt and baggy pants. I’m still fascinated by how opposite he appeared in every way to the rest of the people in the room.

One thing I felt during the service, which I have felt several times since Chris died, but earlier on, was what I can only describe as a sense of embarrassment. An embarrassment of being mortal. I felt embarrassed in front of Chris in the service.

There is an almost infinite distance between me and Chris now: he in his glory; me in my skin that’s getting crepey where my arms bend, me in my stupid boots that I’m so proud of, me with my fingertips that smell like stale cigarette smoke. Everything about me–my hair that’s just dead cells, my worries, my distractions–everything is so shallow, so passing. So much of what I’m mindful of will slough off and blow away. I felt foolish in my existence. And I also felt slighted, to not have been brought into glory myself, with Chris. To be left here to be foolish.

I know it won’t be long. I saw the wrinkled faces of those women, and I could see in their eyes how recently their skin had been smooth, taut. In light of their future glory, they looked no older on Wednesday than they did 50 years ago. In light of their future glory, their hobbled procession was no more labored than the miles they once were able to run. In light of future glory, we are all the same with the same percentage of dying and broken parts, halfway ash already.

It’s humbling. It is embarrassing, and it probably should be. There’s an inherent foolishness in being a mortal creature on this earth. There’s also freedom, too, in light of our future glory. I think there’s a very real sense in which it’s all comin’ out in the wash. For now, I may just keep glorying in my cool boots, because that’s what I have to glory in at the moment. Maybe later I’ll dye my white hair the color of wine or get filler in my lips. I’m not trying to say that nothing is sacred. I think what I’m trying to say is: He knows our frame. And also I’m saying: No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.

What Time Has Done

Here is what Time has done:

yahoo! mail

Dear chris,

We noticed that you haven’t signed in to your mailbox in a while. If you would like to continue receiving emails in this account, please visit Yahoo Mail and log in by April 23, 2022.

If you do not log back in, this account will stop receiving email messages and the entire contents of your mailbox will be subject to deletion, including all email messages, settings, and folders.

And this:

Namecheap Renewals

Christopher, will expire in 30 days – renew now

Also this:


ACTION NEEDED: Please make a deposit to keep your overdrawn account open.

Things are falling away. The g-chats between me and Chris used to say things like:

Sarah: Chrisp!!! I love you so much. and i miss you 🙂 What would you like for dinner from Mai Thai?

Chris: Hi sweetie! Love you so much!! Just waiting on a file to finish transfering Says 26 minutes left Lemme look at Mai Thai’s menu…


Chris: I think you saw this couch, but I think you should reconsider:

Sarah: I’d consider. just looks so slouchy. I’d take these prints over plaids

Chris: we’d have to sit on it to be sure. Really?! oh babesbie.

Now it’s just me chatting, begging him to hear:

Sarah: I miss you so much. so so much. I love you. Please come back. I know you won’t. But I love you. I miss you.



Sarah: Babe…do you even know? Can you see? My heart is broken in so many pieces. Please pray for me. Please come back to us. In some way. 


It’s Chris that fell away. On that day in December. In that moment on that day in December. These subsequent things are just the notifications that keep telling me.

The Cemetery

The cemetery unlocks me. Maybe it’s because I’m alone there, and alone in such an open space. There are trees, there is earth, there is sky. 

Sometimes in a moment of anguish in a day, I imagine throwing myself on the ground or collapsing into the next friend I see or walking into Gordon’s office, falling to the floor, and sobbing into the leather chair I normally sit in. But those fantasies never come true. I just dream them. The circumstances never line up in the moment I need them to. 

But when I go to the cemetery, no matter how possessed I am walking up to Chris’s grave, I am inevitably cracked open. The Anguish, like a spirit, is released. 

I went the other morning, the anniversary of Chris’s death. I laid my body on the leaf-strewn sod. There’s something about lying on the earth, especially when it’s cold. I know his body is close, in that pine box. It’s gruesome to imagine, because a year has passed, and after just an hour last year I could see his thirsty skin starting to shrivel in at his temple. Even still it’s a comfort; being on the earth, pressed against it, there’s nearness.

I didn’t have an agenda that morning. Just to be there. But how quickly a particular anguish I hadn’t yet addressed rushed up and through and out of me in surges of accusation. I sobbed into my crossed arms, “What is your plan??!” I raised myself up onto my elbows and screamed: “Do you even HAVE A FUCKING PLAN???” My thin snot made webs between my face and my arms and the leaves on the ground. 

What I was saying in that moment was this: For your love, God, will my children have a father? Will my children have a father. Will they

The truth is that we could not have a better group of men in our lives, each nurturing, each grounding us in particular and beautiful ways. Each providing physical touch and physical strength and spiritual presence. Thanks be to God. But Chris—Jesse’s, Ruthie’s, Andrew’s, and Mary’s father—will always be greater than the sum of these parts. Will my children ever again have a father. Just theirs. For them. And I. Don’t. Know.

The Lord has stolen much from us. He has done it. If he’s allowed it, he’s done it. How will he reimburse what he has taken? Only he knows. Only he knows. I sure as hell don’t. But somehow I still believe there’s more for us—whatever that may look like, however it might unfold, whatever it might entail—a more that I can’t imagine. Somehow, at least consistently enough, I still trust.

The lawn mowing crew showed up. It’s a big, tricky job at a cemetery, I imagine, whipping around all those stones. I stood up and walked back to my car, dry leaves hanging on my green, woolen sweater. 

The Grounding Things

August 8th marked the one year anniversary of Chris’s initial cancer diagnosis in Chicago. August 26th is engrained in my mind as the day of his first (of several) biopsies. I remember that day–or at least things about that day–vividly. We were hopeful. Energetic, even. Ready to start something concrete. Al was parked in the outpatient parking lot the whole time; she brought me coffee, she cleaned out her van, she played Yet Not I But Through Christ In Me loudly, windows open, as she waited. People were praying and checking in. People were waiting expectantly all morning. I felt the hum of the expectant.

The surgeon who attempted the initial biopsy was unable to get any tissue, as the tumor was fully on the outside of Chris’s stomach, not through the outer lining. He called me and told me the situation, but–so helpful!–another surgeon was there and ready to go ahead with a different procedure right away, to go in outside of the stomach and extract tissue. The second procedure was fruitful and the tissue was sent to the path lab, and even as I type I’m remembering what the surgeon said when he met me in the consult room afterwards: I’ve never seen anything like that before. The pathologist who was in the OR said the same.

At that point, the unknown–and the never-before-seen–still encompassed the possibility of hope. Oncological hope. The unrecognizable nature of Chris’s cancer meant that nothing was yet determined, and in that place we held hope.

I have a small green spiral notebook–my To-Do notebook I often keep in my bag–the kind that gets so beat up the cover gets fuzzy around the edges and eventually pulls from the spiral. The lined pages have water stains and blurred ink from leaky water bottles. I looked at this notebook recently and realized how much of a story it holds. Here’s how it starts, page one, and proceeds:

Biopsy Info: Aug 26, Arrive 6:30

Sunday Nights? Krosses + Ritches


Chore Chart

  • Brush Teeth
  • Get Dressed
  • Straighten Bed
  • Take out Food and Water Bottle
  • Homework
  • Backpack against Wall
  • Clean up Living Room/Dining Room
  • Brush Teeth
  • Water Bottle to Bed


-Pinky – Speech

-Heather Simpson

-John Wilson

-Christ Health


  • Citalopram
  • Dimatap?
  • Pads
  • wipes
  • phone case
  • screen protector
  • card holder
  • gaitor
  • goat cheese
  • Almond milk
  • Half n Half
  • Milk
  • hot dogs
  • string cheese
  • turkey
  • sliced cheese


Tom Alford – genetic testing?

Draining fluid





  • Talk to Charlyne
  • Text Katherine
  • Call Alan
  • 1:00 – Pinky Haircut
  • 2:30 – Jesse Haircut
  • Baby shower gift for Sarah?



  • Taize
  • Eucharist
  • Megan in December?
  • Brad bringing dinner
  • 5:00 – Running Club






7:00 – Healing Prayer Service


How long til diagnosis??

How much time do we have to wait?

  • Children’s?
  • Vandy
  • Emory
  • MDAnderson
  • don’t mail, drive it up
    • tissue
    • slides
    • blocks



SCHERF fund at CTK – Every Tuesday check is cut to drain fund

Investigate taxes – Brad and Emily? – and implications for Medicaid

*One person who has a grasp on our finances who we can delegate to – Jason?


Pure Oxycodone, 1-2 pills per dosage

  • watch your bowels
  • milk of mag + H2O


If the molecular lab doesn’t get an answer, what then??

How long til diagnosis? Should we take everything elsewhere? Vanderbilt?


Edema – all the time

Loss of appetite

Norco?? – liver

I. Feel. Helpless.

How can I not feel as helpless



Will he just keep swelling?

Nothing to do?


  • Schedule Kids’ checkups
  • Kids’ Dentist?
  • Puzzle Table
  • Draw names for X-mas
  • Trilogy Leather
  • New Swing
  • Puzzle mat
  • Pest Control
  • Flu Shots – Friday 8:30
  • 2:20 – Well visits J, M, A


Next Appt

  • Cough/Crackling
  • Scary to see progression
  • How will you know if Gleevec is working?
  • How could we know?
  • What symptoms are Gleevec or cancer?
  • What cancer symptoms should we expect?
  • No bile in vomiting
  • Esophagial Verises?
    • What should we be looking for?
    • What to do?
  • Palliative care therapy? Would it be helpful to have a PC consult?


  • Peanuts
  • OJ
  • Orange rolls (2)
  • Milk
  • Half n Half (2)
  • Yogurt
  • Cereal
  • Bananas
  • Bread (2)
  • Turkey
  • Cheese slices
  • Snacking veggies
  • Eggs
  • Shredded cheese
  • Berries
  • Salad?

I feel sick scanning through those days, returning. The unknown was drained of hope in such short order, as I watched Chris suffer and swell. Thanks be to God for the grounding things: phone case, goat cheese, turkey, Pinky haircut, new swing, Eucharist, Almond milk, bananas.

Dear Chris,

We put a bag of baby carrots on the table tonight with our pizza, in your honor. Even Ruthie ate one, saying, “I don’t like baby carrots, but this is for Daddy.”

I got the kids a puppy(!!). Jesse’s been asking, “Do you think Dada would like Tucker?” I say to him, “Well…I think if Daddy were here, he wouldn’t want us to get a puppy yet… He and I talked about it several times… But I wasn’t ready for a puppy either, until everything happened. So it’s different now. I think Daddy would think that it’s great we got a pup, and that he would understand why. And I do think Daddy would like Tucker. He would fall in love with him, just as much as you have.” Jesse said, “Impossible!”

The answers to questions people have like that aren’t simple. I wonder if people want them to be simple, to make it sweet. Or maybe they’re genuinely curious. Many people have said, “Would Chris have loved the colors you picked for the house?” with a smile on their faces, looking up at the warm yellow and blue and green exterior. I try to do you justice. “No,” I say, “he wouldn’t. But I think he would think it looks like a house I would paint, and, since it’s not his house anymore, he’d think that that’s great. He’d be happy for me. And I do think he’d think the light green porch ceiling was a solid choice.”

I got to sing with Preston Lovinggood at Saturn last weekend(!). It really was like a dream come true. I felt alive, meeting new people, being in front of a mic, adding touches of beauty to something bigger and already beautiful. Preston texted before the show: Chris would love that you’re background singing, eh? I had to think about it for a minute and then responded: He’d be happy for me.

It was comforting, after the show, when Charlie said, “I was imagining Chris sitting here watching you…being glad you were getting to do this.” He added, “Nice job, babe,” just as you would say it. I needed to hear those words.

What’s so incredibly painful about all of this is that we’re all just making educated guesses. Putting words in a mouth that no longer speaks.

I so rarely talk to you. I’ve never written you a letter. When I do talk to you–those few times–I can hardly breathe. Mostly I end up shouting, “Where are you?? Why aren’t you here??” You never answer.

But I still have wanted to tell you things. The thing that most stands out is this: It happened just as you said it should, without the life insurance. I know you felt stunned and a measure of guilt when the diagnosis came. But, babe, there is no need unmet. The net is so wide and woven so tightly. The Body is beautiful here on earth. You were right.

I still feel so devastatingly far from you. I still feel like you left me behind, and I sometimes resent you for that. Then I remember how much you didn’t want to die. It’s just hard to reconcile where you are now and where we are–the two places feel so completely unrelated to each other. It doesn’t help that I’m not doing a good job, babe. I’m not. I wanted the experience of walking with you up to the veil to be life-altering for me and our kids. But I feel as bound to this earth as ever. I smoke the cloves from my underwear drawer when I’m stressed with Mary, and I watch Schitt’s Creek on repeat at the end of the day. There’s a shame in feeling like these things would be so undesirable to you now–even more than they were before. And a real shame in feeling like your suffering–and our anguished yet somehow elevated path together those four months–was for naught with me.

I’m actually trusting that Grace is so much more encompassing than all of this–unmanagable, as Gordon said one time. But I hold those feelings of shame, too, within the unmanagable grace. I know they will be swallowed up one day–that they’re swallowed up even now… But I wonder if you can pray for us.

I love you I love you I love you

His Words

Shortly after Chris died, I received a note from our oncologist. It was dated 12/25, a detail that didn’t escape me–he sat down to write me on Christmas Day. His words are touching and kind. He wrote that it had been a privilege to serve us those four months. He wrote that Chris would stay with him a long time. He wrote that he wished he had been able to know Chris in a healthier time. The last line of the note, set apart as if its own paragraph, reads: You could not have been a better wife.

I have kept this note stuck in the pages of whatever book I have been reading since I received it. It’s positioned so that if I fan through the book, or if the pages fall open to it, the words most prominent are those: You could not have been a better wife. Sometimes I wonder if Dr. Windsor had any idea how often I would read them.

I couldn’t have foreseen the insecurity that would plague me after Chris’s death. We were always so steady together–or, when we weren’t steady, we always returned to such sure footing and nearness; we always spoke clearly our understanding, our forgiveness, our love to each other. It’s incredible how much someone’s words, said explicitly and with intention, serve to create solid ground beneath your feet, a strong, broad chest to rest on.

Then, all of a sudden, those words are gone. And to that void add the unfamiliar tensions and relational challenges Chris and I experienced in the last months of his life. The new, sometimes awkward and frustrating, dynamic of patient and caretaker. Deathbed conversations that we didn’t know were deathbed conversations–that should have led to building blocks but were left as the rubble of a leveled construction site.

I was preserved from this insecurity while Chris was still alive. I experienced strength and calm in my spirit at the time–I remember how that felt and how thankful I was for it, for God’s kindness to steady me. But in Chris’s absence the uncertainty I’ve felt about my standing with him has rushed in like a flood at times. I’ve read and reread Dr. Windsor’s words, but it’s Chris’s words I’ve been so desperate for.

Then yesterday I found them. Looking through a basket on my dresser for some stationery, I found the anniversary card Chris wrote to me on November 15, 2020. His hand was unsteady, his arms already so weak, and I remember how surprised I was that day that he had procured and written in a card for me. How I hadn’t thought to look for it these months I don’t know–there are many things from the hospital that were put in this or that place in my house as if unbeknownst to me. But there it was, and it was like I was reading it for the first time. I heard him tell me, for the first time in almost five months, that he loves me. I heard his gratitude for me, his need for me, his hopes for us in this life, hopes that I know he still has for me, with or without him.

I finally feel I can put Dr. Windsor’s note away. I will always treasure it, but, in God’s undeserved kindness, I see now that it was just a place holder. I have Chris’s love, in his hand, in his words.


The seven-year-old daughter of some dear friends, when told to hold someone’s hand while walking through a parking lot, said: If it’s so easy to DIE, why aren’t there dead bodies everywhere?

She and I could commiserate. I find that as I watch life around me, I’m stunned by how many people aren’t dead. How are there so many couples walking around–complete pairs—in their 40s, in their 50s, in their 60s, in their 70s? How easy it was for Chris to die. The most eventful thing to happen in my life happened so uneventfully: the slowing of a pulse, its disappearance. How do so many people still have a pulse? 

I find that as I talk to someone—anyone—I check the whites of his eyes, searching for a yellowish hue. 

I find that if someone’s upper stomach is filled out, I want to warn: Your liver appears to be swollen with tumors. You should get that looked at.

I find that I’m amazed and comforted by seeing pale yellow urine in the toilet. And I’m unsettled when bubbles rest on its surface.

I find that my heart often feels as if it’s going to beat out of my chest, and that alcohol seems like the only thing that can calm it. 

I find that I can’t remember things. Information floats in and out of my brain without ever finding secure reception. There’s no accounting for it; it’s just gone. 

I find that when a kind man talks to me, I might walk briskly away, because I want so much more from him than he is able to give me. 

I find that I’m tired. 

An Army, with Lanterns

My dear friend Ashley had a vision just days after Chris was diagnosed. She kept it to herself until it became very clear that Chris was leaving this world. She described the vision as like watching a movie on her bedroom ceiling. She saw our family, with Chris, running down a long dock, but then, when the rest of us stopped at the end of the stretch, Chris dove in and started swimming, with all his might, with joy. The five of us were left there, stunned. We turned around to slowly walk the length of the dock back. And there, on the shore, was an army of people–a crowd, a sea, of people–holding lanterns, waiting to take us in.

I haven’t known how to write this post. It feels way overdue and actually impossible to accomplish rightly. I think I also have a fear that saying thank you might signal some implicit closure between us, and that scares me. But here’s what I need to say:

I cannot imagine where I and my children would be without every single phone call, text, email, card, donation, meal, thought, prayer, hug, tear. The image I so often have–daily–is that we are in a vessel–a sea-worthy boat–and the boat is physically made up of all of these things. They are–you are–literally the hands, feet, and arms of God. With lanterns. It’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen or experienced.

I need you all to know that I read (and re-read) every word you say and send. I don’t often respond. Apart from grief I’m a faulty responder. In the midst of grief I have next to nothing in reciprocation. I’m still letting your love just wash over me and carry me, letting it be light unto our path. I hope that’s OK.

Please keep walking with us. I shudder to think of this way without you all. But I don’t have to.

Christ, Crucified

I have so many thoughts I want to flesh out in writing–some feel like mountains to scale, some like pebbles to point out. But there’s a weight I’ve carried since Chris died, and I think Holy Week is as good a time as any–maybe the best time–to articulate more about this difficult burden: the experience of Chris’s physical suffering. His suffering unto death.

I wonder sometimes if it seems to people–to people who weren’t with him in his last weeks and days–that Chris’s suffering was characterized by peace, even faith, an acceptance of death, maybe a vision of what was to come. I can’t say that there was no vision, no measure of internal peace, no confidence in God’s presence. I don’t know what was happening in his spirit at the end. I can only say what was manifested to me.

When Chris found out he had cancer, his life, as I see it still, flamed out into something transcendent, like shining from shook foil. He was Chris, but he was Chris on a different plane. He embraced–not just hugged, but embraced–every person he came in contact with. He got out of the car in the morning carpool line to embrace the head of the kids’ school. I remember watching another friend awkwardly receive Chris’s embrace, giving him a few pats on the back like, OK man…love you too. Chris wanted people around all the time, to pray, to talk. He wanted cell phones put away. Every evening he set up an icon on the rug by the fireplace, lit a candle, burned incense, and kneeled to pray with whomever was around. He wanted relationship with people and relationship with God.

Then his belly started to swell. He became uncomfortable and tired. It was harder and harder to get around. He didn’t have energy for people. He began to retreat, from the front porch to the living room, to his office, to our bedroom. The flame was diminishing. He was becoming just a man again, a faithful man, a praying man, but just a man, in pain.

He remained an intentional, faithful, meditative man in the hospital. For a while. He really couldn’t read, so he would listen–to taize songs, to a friend reading the lectionary Scripture passages, to another friend chanting the Psalms. He didn’t pick up his phone except to listen to these things. He wanted to remain connected not to devices but to the people in the room. I would read him texts he’d get, which he did relish.

Then one day he turned on the TV. About anyone else this would be hardly worth noting. But those of us who were spending time with Chris then knew that a real shift had occurred. He watched hours of Storage Wars and Pawn Stars each day (wouldn’t have been my go-to’s, but I celebrate our differences). Chris’s strength was gone. His mental energy, his spiritual energy, certainly his physical energy. All he could do was remain.

Maybe this is a surprise to no one. Maybe no one would have expected anything more or less. But I see now that there was a kind of luminescence around the idea of death in my own mind, or, more specifically, the idea of Christian death. As if some of the glow from that initial flame would crown his head or be on his lips like hot coals. But there was no wisdom or wherewithal left in him.

Those last days, once Chris was in the ICU, were the steepest decent into the valley of the shadow. It hurts me so much to remember. I remember, then feel somehow a guilt that I let it be that bad for that long, those days. Guilt for not understanding or believing how desperate his body was to be released. Then I remember even harder and recall how the days played out, what we truly didn’t know, what I couldn’t have done differently with no hindsight. And I remember where Chris is now, and that he’s OK.

But my point is that he was in the valley of the shadow, and the journey ended in death. The journey ended in Chris descending, crying out for mercy, and falling, crumpled on the valley floor. There was no triumph. The flame died out. The flame was killed. Chris was defeated.

I’m not saying anything about what has been won for us in Christ’s resurrection. I’m not saying anything about the great opening into ultimate life, about the light on the other side of the divide–the light that can’t die. I don’t mean to be foolish in disregarding that reality for now. But I just need to look at what we can see here for a moment. We can only see the descent, the battle that takes place on this hard ground, and who wins that battle. It’s a fearful thing to behold. I can only imagine what a fearful thing it is to experience.

As Christians, our faith is in the Resurrection–our faith is in what we can’t see, and that faith buoys us through this life lived on such hard ground. We keep our eyes fixed–or try to keep them fixed–on eternity. But before Chris got sick, something had been missing in my understanding: Dying is a fearful, unceremonious, merciless thing. While I know the experience must vary between people, I feel compelled to state this clearly. And I wonder, Where is the meaning, where is the comfort for it found?

I had breakfast with one of our best friends last week. As I processed some of this with her, she said, “Sometimes I think maybe the answer, or the comfort, is simply this: Christ on the cross. No words about it, no commentary. Just Christ suffering and dying on the cross.”

And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, Jesus began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me….”

I can’t say for certain that Jesus was afraid of his death. But I think he was. At the least he was in agony at the prospect of his suffering. He fell on his face, tormented, pleading. He didn’t want it, presumably because he knew how awful it would be. He knew it would be, quite literally, unbearable, unendurable. Death would kill him.

Some things don’t need fleshing out. Or their fleshing out has already happened; they just need to be seen.

Christ on the cross. Christ on the cross.

What I’ve Seen

I want to make a record of a few images I’ve had since Chris died. They feel significant and, sometimes, like the only thing I can grab on to.

Over the course of each night, three of the kids make their way to my bed. Sometimes I wake up when I feel a little body clumsily climbing over mine and then asking for blankets. Sometimes it’s quiet, and I only notice who is with me once the morning comes. One night, about a month ago, I had woken as the third child figured out her place between us all, wanting to be next to me. Our lantern lamp in the hallway was on, and there was a soft glow coming through the half-open door. I heard a steady tap from the hallway, and I realized, whether in waking or sleeping, that the tapping was Chris’s footsteps. He stood in the doorway looking in at us all. He was healthy and wore his plaid flannel and jeans. He was checking on us. I was so calm, unfazed. Just thankful he was there to see that we were OK, all together.

That was it. It wasn’t dramatic. But a warmth spread through me. It was such a comfort to know that he was. And that he had wanted to see us.

As the next day wore on, and this image rolled over and over in my mind, I began to feel so sad. If Chris was, why wasn’t he with us? Why couldn’t we be together? Why was he separate? My sadness deepened, yet my gratitude for this vision has remained.

The melancholy subtly continues. There is kindness and life in the warmer weather we’ve had and in being outside with my children. But the sadness is never far away. In the midst of this heaviness, I decided to visit the hospital again. My heart wanted to be there, to walk the hall where I was last with Chris, to see the women who loved and knew him in those days.

It was strange how familiar it all was–knowing just where to park, being recognized again, after two months, by the woman at the screening desk, knowing which direction to turn when I got off the elevator. Seeing my friends on the 9th floor was a gift. They received me with open arms and hearts. I think, and I hope, my spirit will always be tied to them.

Driving out of the parking lot was equally strange, having gone through the routine too many times to count. As I sat at the red light to get on the highway home, another image came. It was as if I had double vision, simultaneous and separate images of Chris–on one side was Chris at home, healthy and strong, as I always knew him; on the other side, Chris just before he died, in his hospital room, head turned to the side, cheeks drawn, eyes closed, mouth agape behind an oxygen mask. And for a second–less than a second–the two images converged, becoming one. For just the quickest moment. And then it was gone. I couldn’t retrieve it, but I had seen it. My sadness, and my understanding, plunged deeper in that moment.

This past Sunday during church, I kept picturing Chris’s death–watching him literally leave me and our children, and none of us could do anything to stop it. There was no way to stop it. He was water rushing through our fingers. My sadness grew through Sunday and into Monday. I prepared for little Mary’s birthday (which was Tuesday), thankfully with a friend with me to help. But the sadness was building, and when all was taken care of and ready, and I was alone at the end of the day, I was taken to a place I had only been in the hospital room and the few times I’ve gone to Chris’s grave. The sadness and understanding were profound and seemed unbearable. And there was nothing for it.

I felt the weight of our reality: life without Chris, for the rest of our lives here. He won’t return, and all that he had begun in his life–the very living family he had made; the house he had prepared and constantly improved; the film script he had begun with such deep-seated conviction and desire; the icon business he had poured his time and heart into and the partially completed projects in the basement; the small, black ideas notebook, half-filled but dating even into his diagnosis; the copy of The Hobbit that he had started recording aloud for the kids; the post-it lists on his desk, dimensions for things he had planned to make, notes for what he had needed from Home Depot–will no longer be touched and carried forward by him. He left it all, unfinished. I can’t bear this. Most of the time, I move through my days without having to be mindful of this crushing knowledge. But Monday night it came on me in its solid form, or at least came as close to me as it’s ever been.

I sat in Chris’s office, on the couch. Where we sat when we determined he needed to go to the hospital. Where we sat weeks before that when I cried to Chris and with him prayed, “Lord, I don’t believe you can make me happy if I don’t have Chris. Lord, I don’t believe you can satisfy me if you take Chris away from me. Lord, nothing can give me the joy and love that I have with Chris.” I sat in that place alone on Monday, and I felt so searingly Chris’s absence from this world.

I cried out to God, in groanings too deep for words. I could hardly stand to sit in such a painful place, but where else could I be? Then I saw a hand extended to me. It was a hand coming from the darkness so near–the darkness of the unknown expanse I have known is waiting. I knew it was Jesus’ hand, ready to hold my own. I wasn’t ready to take his hand then. But I knew and still know that it was a hand of invitation and promise.

Scenes from a Marriage

“Babe? Will you come in here?” Chris was sitting in the middle of the couch in his office. His right arm stretched out along the back of the couch, and he was reclined somewhat against the back cushion, his swollen belly giving him little flexibility. “I’m having shortness of breath. It was worse when I was lying down last night. But I still feel it.” I crouched in front of him and asked him questions about what he was experiencing, if it was scary. “Babe, I think we need to go in,” I said. “Shortness of breath is one of the things we’re supposed to look for.” He said, “Really, my body hasn’t been doing what it should be doing for weeks now,” and I nodded, agreed: “No, it hasn’t been.”

Chris then paused for a moment and looked away. “I hate it when you talk to me like that. With that voice. You make it sound like you know everything that’s going on with me, and you don’t. I want to feel like you’re next to me, walking with me.”

I paused, staring at him. “I’m sorry you feel that way, babe. I don’t want you to feel like I’m looking down on you or analyzing you. I want you to feel like we’re together. I’ll do my best to be careful how I say things.”

Chris looked up at the ceiling and said tightly, almost as if to himself, “You don’t get it. I can tell you don’t understand what I’m saying.”


I tied Chris’s hospital gown in the back and helped him slowly stand up, his hands on his walker, me supporting his left elbow as he gradually rose to his feet. I reached down and wiggled loose the fat, pink plug of his IV pole from the wall behind the bed and draped the cord over a bag hook at the top of the pole. I grabbed a blue disposable mask for him to put on, and we set off on our first hospital hallway walk.

It took a minute, figuring out the best side for me to walk on. He poked at me for walking half a stride behind him, so I rolled the pole quickly to move up and match his latitude. Halfway down the hall on the wall to our left was a large photograph of a goldfinch, and we remarked on the lovely wildlife. We chatted and laughed quietly about how much the woman who brought Chris’s breakfast tray seemed to adore him. (“My friend!!” she had said as she passed us a moment earlier.) Once down the hallway and back up the other side, we stopped at a large picture window that faced northwest. We tried to figure out what was what in the distance–the sharp, white steeple that pierced the sky, the curve of road we could see retreating behind thick woods, the mansions lining the ridge up to the right. We lingered together for a while at the window. Eventually one of us said, “Welp. Should we head back?” As we completed the hallway loop that took us back to room 909, I shuffled my step once so our slow feet were stepping in sync, parallel, how we always liked to walk.


The tech brought in fresh towels and told us to press the call button if we needed anything. I said, “Welp, I guess they don’t help you bathe… Looks like it’s Team Schmerf!” “The dynamic blue-o!” Chris added. I laughed, the bursting out kind of laughter.

Chris hoisted himself to a stand from the side of the bed and shuffled to the bathroom with his walker. I was right with him, my hand holding his upper right arm gently, but ready. In the bathroom, he slowly circled around and backed up to the toilet. He lowered himself, gripping the handicap bar on the wall with his right hand, holding his gathered gown with his left, and I started the shower. Chris said, “It has that handheld shower head down there…can you unhook that?” The handheld shower head was attached to a pole that ran the height of the shower. It could move up and down on the pole, as on a track, but there wasn’t an obvious way to free it. “Hmmm…lemme see…” I wiggled it, swiveled it from side to side, moved it up and down, looking for any button or lever to release it. “I don’t think it comes off, babe. I’ve tried everything.” “Well, I don’t believe you. I think you should call the tech.” “I promise, babe! There’s no way to detach it from the wall! It just goes up and down! I don’t know why it doesn’t detach, but it doesn’t!” “I know you think it won’t come off. But I still don’t believe it can’t. Go press the call button.” “Fine. You’ll see!”

The tech came in and agreed, “Yeah some of these don’t come off the pole. Some of them do.” “See, Chris??” “But let me see… Oh, there we go.” She lifted the shower head off of a small metal peg.


Chris faced the back corner of the shower stall, holding on to the handicap rails with both hands, arms in a V. His entire back was as wide as his shoulders, all the way down through his waist. The fluid in his abdomen had filled and thickened his whole torso. His feet were puffy and shapeless, and his legs were like tree trunks from the edema. His arms, though, never huge but always substantive, had shrunken with fat loss and atrophy. I studied his body as I gently scrubbed his back and legs with a loofa, taking extra care near the massive wine-colored stains covering his left underarm and rib cage. Bruising from his surgeries was slow to fade.

We figured out the washing as we went along. Just changing positions and getting out of the shower and gowned again–making sure the shoulder snaps were rightly aligned and around the right places–were each little puzzles to solve. Once dressed, Chris stood at the sink and commented on how gaunt his face had become. We both watched his reflection.

Leaving wet towels and washcloths strewn on the bathroom floor, I set up the walker in front of Chris, and we slowly set out for his bed. “Well that was a real nice time together, Babesbie,” he said.

Memorial Service

Tomorrow I fly to Chicago for a memorial service for Chris at our old church, Church of the Resurrection. I’m dreading leaving the kids–pray for their hearts, please, and mine–but I have a deep sense that this will be an important step in the grieving process. Not only did Chris and I attend Church of the Resurrection in our dating, engaged, and married life together, forming life-long relationships in such formative years, but these are also the people with whom God had us when Chris was initially diagnosed. They sent us out seven and a half years ago when we moved down to Birmingham, and they sent us out five and a half months ago when we embarked on a different life-altering journey. I’m nervous to return, and I’m so so hungry to be there. The kids have chosen to stay close to home, and they will be well cared for, and while I don’t relish the thought of being apart from them, I do relish the thought of space and freedom to move around and be still and talk without interruption and drive alone in my rental car.

The service will take place at 6:00 p.m. CST on Sunday evening and will be streamed here for anyone who wants to watch.

The Joy Effect

I cannot tell you how grief will look tomorrow, or even how it will look tonight as I go to sleep. All I can do is describe how it has been. And here’s something that has stood out to me: the times of my deepest joy in the last few weeks have brought simultaneously the deepest sorrow. Some of these instances have had to do directly with the loss of Chris. This has been happening since the beginning, and now that Chris is gone, the sorrow and beauty sear me at the same moment. When we stood in Chris’s hospital room the morning he died, I said to my brother-in-law, Charlie, “I’m gonna need you.” The implications were understood: I have four children without an earthly father present. Charlie replied, “I’m ready.”

The beauty in those two simple words. It overwhelms me still. There’s an ocean of grace and love behind them. But it’s the same ocean of my sorrow–the same water that engulfs me in an anguish too big to understand. It’s the same ocean.

More recently I’ve experienced this in a somewhat more inexplicable way, where the link to Chris isn’t so overt. I had a gathering for my birthday–just women–that was a thing of love, through and through. No stone was unturned in communicating care, beauty, truth, goodness. I didn’t anticipate the deluge of sadness in me during the gathering. The best way I could understand it at the time was that even such heights of love couldn’t touch the emptiness of losing Chris. But I think I have a slightly different understanding now.

Sunday we spent the night with my sister’s family, specifically so that I could watch The Greatest Showman (my niece’s favorite movie) for the first time. The joy of that film opened me. The space in my chest just expanded with air and lightness, the depths of my heart felt reached by joy. But I had to leave partway through to cry in the bathroom. I texted Chris’s phone, I miss you so much, babe. I sat on the toilet seat and looked at his pictures on my phone while the rest of the family waited for me to resume watching. When the movie was over I cried on the couch and tried to explain to my niece that, in fact, I really did love the movie.

Al and Charlie tried to articulate for me the link to Chris: the story is about enduring love. But no, that wasn’t why I was sad. And of course there will be times I will want to share things that I love with Chris, and that will bring a fresh anguish, but this was not one of those times. I’m pretty sure Chris would, at every level, hate The Greatest Showman. Nothing about the movie specifically made me long for Chris.

But what I see happening, perhaps, is that when my heart is opened up in joy–when something reaches in and gives air to those deep places–air and light and opening is given to everything those deep places hold. It’s the same ocean. To access the depths is to access it all, and right now the depths are holding so much.

As I wake up each day and do what is required of me, I don’t know what my grief will look like. The sorrow is there, and it will be plumbed one way or another. Sometimes it just wells up out of nowhere, of course, or in the context of talking and thinking about Chris. But sometimes, the deepest times, it has come alongside a true joy I am experiencing. Al said with tears, “What a kindness.”


As I type Jesse is reading a comic book while spinning in our swivel chair, Ruthie is doing a math work sheet at the dining room table, and Andrew and Mary and chasing each other through the length of the house, tagging each other, screaming, laughing hard. Earlier this evening friends filled our house–my mom, the kids’ school friends and their moms, who I love dearly. There was noise and movement and laughter and wine. Many days and parts of days feel like this.

When my aunt died five years ago, I was stunned with grief. And I felt her spirit so close. I would make decisions as if she were watching me, wanting to please her. Her things in my house served as her ghosts and caused such a deep ache for so long.

I feel so different with Chris. His things around, which are everywhere and in and through and to all things, don’t shake me. I don’t feel his spirit near. I don’t imagine him watching me. Instead, I have felt so very distant from him. His healthy self, who I made a life with for all of these years, feels like a thing long passed. It’s hard to imagine him moving through our house, standing in the kitchen, sitting at the dinner table, working in his office, lying in our bed.

One of my friends suggested that maybe as more time passes between me and those intense and life-altering months in the hospital, more of Chris’s healthy presence will come closer to mind. I think she may be right. And her suggestion also affirms to me the otherness of that time. As I was walking through those months, even before Chris was admitted to the hospital, I was always finding the ways that we were still the same–the humor Chris and I shared, especially. His personality. But on the other side of it, I’ve reflected on how drastically different everything actually was: We were in a new place, on a different side of town; Chris’s body was changing in every possible way; medical problems were part of our every day conversations; Chris was suffering, which meant that the way we related to one another was so drastically different than it had ever been. Maybe this is why healthy Chris has been so hard to recall.

I believe that Chris is now with our Lord, our Creator. As he suffered at the end of his life and died, this belief brought real peace for his sake. On Sunday, the day before he died–the day I made him comfort care–I walked into his room and knew he was leaving this world. I set down my things and went straight to his ear. I don’t remember what all I said to him, but I do remember telling him to imagine it all–imagine where he was going, imagine the beauty of it and the freedom of it, imagine the joy of it. I was almost joyful in my anticipation for him.

Now, as I try to think about where Chris is, I mostly just feel so very divided from him. It’s impossible to know what it’s like where he is. If only I could picture it. Then I might not feel so separated from him. And so left behind. Chris is both so far back and so far forward, and both places are inaccessible to me.

I know I don’t really understand that Chris is gone. I haven’t seen him for over three weeks, but I don’t grasp that that time will not have an end date. I still sit down and think, What just happened? But I have a sense that there’s so much more coming. Like there’s a huge bubble full of water above me that is always threatening to break or will just slowly engulf me. How could it not be so? At some point I’m going to start believing this reality more than disbelieving it.

I will *try* not to think about how or when the waters will rush in. I know I wouldn’t be able to imagine it rightly. For today I’ll take the cushion that was given me–in my mind, in my heart, in my house.


The Saturday before Chris died I made the decision to make him DNR. I had been thinking it over since getting to the ICU a few days earlier. When I unexpectedly ended up spending the night away from him on Friday, I had woken up in the night and realized that if something happened while I was not with him, he would be by default a full code status, and I could return to find him on a ventilator (from which he would never get off until another decision was made). Experiencing that sense of mid-night panic made the DNR decision very clear to me.

I asked Chris’s parents to come over Saturday night so I could tell them what I had decided that day and also to discuss how they had been experiencing him when they sat with him in his room. I needed to know that what I felt about his health and his life wasn’t felt only by me. By God’s great kindness, we were all having the same thoughts, reaching the same conclusions, letting go, in unison, of our beloved.

I wasn’t very emotional in the conversation. I was straightforward, fairly direct. We had real ground to cover. At one point I said, “I just want you to know that I’ve spent the first half of today crying about all of this.” My sister, who was also with us, said, “Right now, you’re the woman who lifts a car off of her baby. She has the strength to do it because of love.”

I’ve realized in these days, this week, since making the decision to let go of my husband’s life, since watching him die, since burying his body, that I’ve been lifting the car off of the baby for four months. I lie here in bed now, so tired, and I have no idea how I’ve lived these months. I have no idea how I drove back and forth each day from my house to the hospital, saying goodbye each way to the person or people who matter most to me in this world. I have no idea how I lived in a hospital for two months and watched as everything physically familiar about Chris changed. I have no idea how I could handle waking up any given night to his body bleeding and oozing from unnatural places. I have no idea how I watched him endure excruciating pain. Then I would go home, across town. I have no idea how I would pull up to our house and be as enthusiastic to see the kids as they were to see me. I don’t know how I would jump on the trampoline with them and do puzzles and read books. Of course–I had help. So much practical help. But how did my heart do it??

This is not a rhetorical question. I have been sincerely asking myself this. And I can reach only one conclusion: I was carried. I was carried through each day. I was brought through the valley of the shadow of death, nearly unbeknownst to me. I could never have imagined it rightly; in my broken imagination, I would’ve been crushed and alone. Because left to my own strength, I would have been crushed and alone.

I can only say: Thanks be to God. Thanks be to our Heavenly Father. Thanks be to our Good Shepherd. He didn’t only carry me; he carried each of us, even Chris. Even in Chris’s darkest days, he was brought through, I know it.

Now we are beginning a new part of the journey. I’m scared, and I’m sad. My mind zooms ahead to survey the landscape, and I don’t like it. Where is Chris? Why am I alone to raise our kids? It’s too much to bear.

But I have an Ebenezer stone. I have got to stop and set up this stone so that I can always look back and remember: We were carried. We were carried through the unimaginable. Remember. Remember. Each day he will carry us. That is what he does. Remember.


For those of you who are unable to attend the funeral service (10:00 a.m. CST) and time of remembering (2:00 p.m. CST) for Chris, you can join us via livestream. Both services will livestream here. To follow along, you can find the order of service here.

Thank you all for joining us in person or in spirit.

*Chris has a keen interest in orthodox iconography. He was beginning a small business in which he would sell reproductions of icons from a contemporary Romanian iconographer he had connected with. His plan, now mid-production, was to mount high-quality prints of these images on wood panels he would make. The image on the order of service is the first icon Chris purchased rights to–the Pantocrator. The mounted prototype of this image was in our hospital room these last months, ever in our sight.

**Some of you who are unable to attend the time of remembrance have asked if there is a place to submit stories about Chris. I would love that. Please email stories to Alan Murphy at


Funeral for


Thursday, December 17th, 2020 at 10:00 a.m.

Christ the King Anglican Church

2250 Blue Ridge Blvd. Hoover, AL

The service will be immediately followed by a brief graveside liturgy at Forest Hill Cemetery.

Please also join us for a time of sharing about how awesome Chris is back at the church at 2:00. I will never want to stop talking about him.

*Masks are required. Please do not come if you are experiencing any signs of COVID-19 or have been recently knowingly exposed*