She sat in the corner of the room, waiting to be noticed, for someone to invite her to dance, to drink, to visit.
She sat alone because no one wanted to be near her. Like the plague, once she attaches herself to someone, it's over, so people think.
Everyone knows she's a bit of a bear, feared by most of the world. Maybe if she's ignored, people think, no one will have to say hello. Or goodbye. But between hello and goodbye, perhaps, there's dance. A goodbye dance, a tango, that if she's encountered, there's a mutual agreement that she won't return anytime soon.
I wouldn't say I asked her to dance. It was a covenant. A treaty. A promise, that if I ask her to tango, she leave as quickly as possible.
But she didn't. She stayed awhile, lingering in the jungles of my heart. Feeding on my tears like a midnight Twinkie, attaching herself to my thoughts. And while for a time, I felt her take steps back, the year-mark was tougher than I thought it would be.
HIS face began to fill my newsfeed. Words like:
RIP. One-year anniversary of killing spree.
Words no family should have to attach to a loved one who has passed.
These words pushed her into overdrive, feverishly working on her next attempt to consume me.
I asked her to dance again. And if I am to be honest, she never left in the first place. She just moved back to her corner, into the darkness and patiently waited. On occasion, she'd quietly move to the middle of the dance floor and call me out. And I accepted. Again. Because what's that old saying? THE ONLY WAY AROUND SOMETHING IS THROUGH IT.
She has a name. HER name is GRIEF.
Acceptance doesn't come easy, but willingness might. It did for me. She and I began to work as a team. She'd move to the middle of the dance floor when it was time to feel once again. The ever-dreaded feelings. I'd feel her coming for days. And when it was time to tango again, I'd do it. But only because I had to. Because I knew if I didn't feel through it, she'd follow me and slowly peck away at me, waiting for me to breathe again.
While we all have experienced grief in some way: loss of a job, retirement, loss of a relationship, loss of a house, divorce, moving, loss of spirituality, and loss of a loved one--there's human emotion in that loss: sadness, anger, loneliness, shock and disbelief, emptiness.
I wanted to scream at HER: LEAVE ME ALONE!
Because that's exactly what I wanted--to be left alone. STOP FOLLOWING ME, I'd want to yell.
Soon after Jason died, at a family briefing of lost loved ones at UCC shortly after the shooting, a pastor came in and tried to give us HOPE. HOPE, in that one day, our hearts would feel more human. That we weren't alone in this. In that moment, we (my family and I) were in such a state of shock, it didn't register until long after. But that day he talked about waves of grief. Some waves will huge, some smaller, but, he said: we need to embrace the waves and feel THROUGH them. Don't jump over them, he said. Don't duck under them, stand tall and have them push against you. FEEL THEM.
But that's exactly what I did. That's exactly what WE (my family and I) did.
It's been a whole year and six days since Jason left--and it still feels like yesterday--yet--years ago. Is that weird? Sometimes I swear I hear his laugh. It was somewhere between a giggle and a clearing of his throat.
The waves have been big, but they've also been small.
My daughter was three when Jason died. He loved kids. When we returned from Oregon, to find our new "normal," we were at an early morning soccer game. There was a empty field that served as our beautiful backdrop. The fog lingered atop the tree line like a knitted afghan. My daughter, who sat in her chair, immediately stood up and pointed to the empty field and said:
MOMMY! THERE'S JASON!
I didn't know what to say. I leaned into to her, my tears caught somewhere between my heart and my throat. I said: Do you see Jason?
She looked at me, confused. "You don't see him? He's right there, Mommy."
Immediately, I pulled her into my arms and let the tears trail down my cheeks. "I don't see him, Baby. But I'm really glad you do."
That night when I tucked my daughter into bed, I asked her if she'd seen Jason before. She was quiet for a moment. But she looked to the corner of her bedroom and slowly nodded as her a little grin spread across her face. "He stands there sometimes." I said, "Does it scare you?" Her grin got bigger. "No. He's watching over me, Mommy."
I share these two very personal stories for two reasons:
1) I know, now, that when our loved ones pass on, they're still watching over us (keeping us safe) just as my three-year-old daughter explained to me that night.
2) I wish I could have the eyes of a child so that my view wasn't so tainted. This has taught me to keep an open mind, to be aware, to have faith because there are signs everywhere that they're with us. I encourage you to look around. Sometimes our hardened hearts don't allow us to see the beauty of death because we can't see through our sadness.
Do I still struggle? You bet. Not a day goes by that I don't think about Jason. Not a day goes by that I don't think about my cousin Michael (Jason's twin) and my aunt. Not a day goes by that I don't think about the nine other families that lost loved ones that day. I ask God why these terrible things happen. I QUESTION ALL OF IT.
But what I found in my grief, because it's a personal process after all, I have a greater compassion for others and the shoes they must walk in. I try to live without regret, because there was a lot of regret after Jason died. I have more spirituality than I have ever had before. And today I'm GRATEFUL. My heart still aches, but that means I'm feeling THROUGH the waves.
So, this tango with her, with grief, has led me to acceptance. Not everyday, but the majority of the time. And one of the biggest gifts has been I've been able to watch Julie, a UCC survivor, heal. If you don't like her FB page, you need to. Here's the link: https://www.facebook.com/JulieWoodworthUCCSurvivor/?fref=ts
I cannot begin to imagine what the survivors, the ones that lived through that cold October day one year and six days ago, must face. I have faith that each survivor will go on to do great things in spite of what happened. Pastor Randy Scroggins (told to him by a Douglas County Sheriff) who gave Jason's eulogy said:
WE WERE VICTIMS ONCE, WE WILL NOT BE VICTIMS AGAIN.
I'll leave you with some song lyrics from my favorite ANDRA DAY:
You're broken down and tired Of living life on a merry-go-round And you can't find the fighter But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out And move mountains We gonna walk it out And move mountains
And I'll rise up I'll rise like the day I'll rise up I'll rise unafraid I'll rise up And I'll do it a thousand times again And I'll rise up High like the waves I'll rise up In spite of the ache I'll rise up And I'll do it a thousand times again
When the silence isn't quiet And it feels like it's getting hard to breathe And I know you feel like dying But I promise we'll take the world to it's feet And move mountains Bring it to it's feet And move mountains And I'll rise up I'll rise like the day I'll rise up I'll rise unafraid I'll rise up And I'll do it a thousand times again