Grief was always something that happened to other people in other places around me, but never to me. Not directly. I used to think grief was simply a state everyone eventually evolved into, like achy joints and ear hair. However, I’ve come to feel that gracefully mourning a loved one is an ability that can be mastered at any age. And for too many good people, it’s learned too soon and descends harder than I am yet able to understand or accept. Grief and loss and endings and grace; 29 years in this life and I’d never given it much thought. Now, it’s nearly all I think about. And not only in ways that it relates to us specifically, but also in ways that relate to the bigger world beyond you and me.
In high school, people were always surprised to find out that A.J. Pope and I are cousins. For starters, we were never very close or very much alike. He was always much more involved than me, more athletic, and actually went to his classes. I, on the other hand, was the only boy in the advanced dance class, was kicked off the moot court team for “over arguing”, and spent the majority of my senior year at Taco Bell. All hard to believe, I know. But I didn’t have to know A.J. perfectly to know firsthand of his kindness. Everyone who knew him knew that; that he’s calm but strong, witty but kind, fierce in his loyalty and wise beyond his years. All of which only added to my ache when, on February 5th, he and his lovely wife, Lizette, lost a newborn child for the second time. He lived 10 days.
What limits are there to the scope and breadth of anguish a single soul can bear? And what parts of the body does a grief that heavy go when everywhere else is full? I want to know. If there are words to satisfy, I want to know. At the very least, I wish I had an idea; just one idea that I could string to another and then string to another and then string to another until I had enough slack to make partial sense of it all. But I don’t. All I have is what I know, which isn’t much and might not help. But it comes from the heart, a heart that breaks for them in ways I can only second-hand imagine.
I know that I have memories of A.J., good memories that I’d probably be able to piece together to accurately describe his goodness to a stranger. I know many more who know him and have deeper memories of him, longer memories to fill in the holes and flesh out the man. I know enough of Lizette to know there are countless others who can retell her laughs and faces and happy times and hair dos. And I imagine a trial like this can make one feel evaporated, muted from life. But I know there’s enough of A.J. and Lizette in all of us to keep the spirit of them and their beautiful family forever vibrant and effectual in this life.
I know that, as opposed to what I used to believe, there are no areas of life off-limits to the hands of fate. Or destiny or chance or divine providence or whatever you call it. Part of being here is agreeing to what may and probably will come, and it’s hard and it’s terrifying and at times it keeps me from leaving my bed in the morning. But I think and I hope that it’s as fair and as justified as it is severe and deafening. For as exposed as we are to the hot hand of suffering, we’re just as susceptible to an unstoppable potential for power and godliness. Their world may deservedly feel desolate, but I know the ground they now walk is sacred and promised and reserved for the strongest shoulders of the most worthy.
I know that a healthy portion of this life is spent trying to reconcile the distance between time and eternity. More than that, however, may simply be reconciling the distance between the 9th and the 10th day of baby Likio’s life – the time it took to shake a world and loosen the fibers of a young and righteous home. And beyond that, what of the days to follow? What will fill the 11th day and then the 12th and then the 4,000th?
I only know a little bit. But I feel I know they’ll cross this desolate land, however many days it may take from this one. And in addition to their personal strength, I know they’ll make it because of the earthly and heavenly concourse behind them and ahead of them, on their left and on their right, in their past and in their future and aiding them from on high. They’ll cross this desolate land, because maybe that’s why we’re all still here. And maybe they’re one of the select few entrusted with the directions and the aptitude necessary to crossing. And when they get there, they’ll know the knowing we all seek. And they’ll feel the warmth and see the purpose and touch the faces of their beloved and sing the sweet words of life lost and reclaimed. And perhaps they’ll be honored for the multitude of their endurances in this life and the example they showed all of us. And perhaps they’ll look back and take slow, deep breaths and remember, with reverence, the precious price of it all.