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.