What I wish I could say . . .
Last night, I received a text message from my cousin relaying news about another horrific school bus crash. The site of yesterday’s crash – a little over an hour away from where we laid our own sweet boy to rest in North Dakota. Her words sent me to my knees and to the deep recesses of my memories, a place I don’t like to visit. Sadly, I have earned an advanced degree in what lies ahead for BOTH the families of the grieving AND for the families of the injured. Unlike my cousin, I do not know any of them personally. If I did, these are the words I would want to say.
Right now, you feel as if the whole world stopped spinning. There are those who will say, “I know how you feel.” Don’t listen to them. Every person’s story is their own and no one, including me, can ever know exactly how you feel. Your world did stop and as much as I would like to tell you otherwise, it will never be the same.
Breathe. One breath at a time. For a while, maybe even a long while, that will be all your fragile and shocked system will be able to do. There are decisions that will need to be made. Why is it at our lowest moments there are boatloads of decisions that MUST be made. Simply trust that your faith, family, and friends will help guide you. Just breathe. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but you will get through this.
In the coming days and weeks, you will discover that you are stronger than you ever knew possible and more loved than you can ever imagine. People – those you know well and those you have never met before – will rally around you. They will dig out crockpots and cake pans, watch your pets, call friends and family, blow snow and pick up mail, hug their kids while they cry for yours, but mostly, they will pray because they don’t know what to do to help you.
Believe me, they will want to help, but all won’t know how to do this gracefully. There are many reasons for this. The biggest of all is what just happened to your family (as what happened to mine) is their worst nightmare. You will be a living reminder that bad things do happen to good people. “Life is absolutely precious and can be gone in an instant” and “I don’t know what I would do if this happened to us” will be at the forefront of their thoughts.
This is where it gets tough because like I said nothing will ever be the same. Some of your friends will not be able to handle their own grief while trying to help you with yours. Remember they love you and your family too. Some will never get over the fact that something bad could happen to their own children. It is too hard of a truth to bear. Others will believe you are enjoying the “fame” that this event will have in your story, as if this is ever how you envisioned the life of your loved ones. Know that you did nothing wrong. Know they didn’t either. Their fears do not negate your grief or your hardship at any point. You will probably develop a thicker skin, but underneath that outer covering will be a broken and shattered – yet humble – heart that will recognize pain in others. Use that light to guide you someday.
Keep breathing and learn to be gentle and kind to yourself. Your body just experienced a trauma even if you were not sitting on that school bus. Every cell in your body experienced the most toxic of shocks. Bodies are resilient, but toxicity takes a toll. You will struggle with the simplest of tasks. You will be forgetful – because that is the amazing thing about these beautiful creations we are. God equipped them with ways of insulating pain – even it lasts for a moment and is fleeting. Right now, you are still focused on one breathe at a time. Someday – oh someday – you will be able to do more than that.
I don’t know all the details of what happened yesterday, nor do I need to know them. I simply know you are hurting. However, you are going to learn all throughout today and the coming days and weeks, how insatiable the appetites are of curious minds. News reports and conversations can and will get the details wrong. As much as that will hurt and you may want to right every wrong, it will not change your hurting, your grief or your loss. This is your story. You are the author of the previous chapters and of the precious ones coming up. You can choose how much or how little you wish for the world to read.
Just keep breathing because every tiny inhalation and exhalation means you are surviving.
Soon you are probably going to just wish you could erase this day and get back to living. This one day will leave an indelible scar, but I know you are stronger than all of this. I promise that you absolutely will LIVE again. It will never be the way you want it to be, but the day will come when you wake up and this isn’t the very first thing on your mind. The road to that day may be short for some, and painfully and agonizingly long for others. That day did come for me, but the journey that began almost seven years ago after our darkest day still has lingering and lasting effects for our family.
Healing is a word that will get tossed around a lot in coming days. Healing can be a lifelong journey. You may have considered yourself a sprinter in life before this moment, but now, you will be changing your pace to endure becoming a marathon runner. There will be surgeries, hours of therapies, medications, appointments, loss of work and income, arguments with insurance, services, memorials, remembrances, and grief, insanely profound grief filled with what-ifs and whys. On those last two, they are jerks and trust me, they will never bring you comfort. You will learn to become your child’s advocate as you didn’t realize that not only are you training for the toughest race of your life but somehow you were promoted to coach of the team as well. Breathe. You are made of the right stuff to lead your family to the finish line – however long and far away that might be.
Things will never be the same. Your lives are changed forever. You won’t want to hear this right now, but you will see better days. The earth opened up and swallowed you into the darkest pit you could ever imagine. But listen in those quiet still moments – even those filled with doubt and fear and trepidation. Really listen. You will hear the voices of those that love you cheering as loudly with their heart songs as possible. Their melodies are there. Old and new friends, you have yet to meet, are cheering the loudest, because they too have found themselves in the pit. They KNOW what you will need to just get up out of bed in the morning.
They always say light shines the brightest in the dark, like those horrible creatures in the deep, deep ocean. Even when grief and pain rear their ugly heads, keep your eyes open. There will be tiny light reminders of love and encouragement, including some heavenly sent, all along the way. Keep your eyes open and breathe. Cling to that shining love because those moments will help you take baby steps to what will ultimately help you move beyond just breathing.
Four little letters that string together to provide the mightiest of foundations. H-O-P-E. Hope it is such a tiny little word, but it changes everything. Outside of breathing, there is nothing greater than I can say to you than cling to hope in whatever way, tiny or grand, God provides it for you. Breathe and hope.
Outside of my words, I wish that I could bring my favorite quilt and rocking chair to your halted world today. We could curl up together while my tears mixed in with yours. We would rock and pray, cry and rock, but mostly, I would just hold your hand and remind you to breathe.
As much as I wish that my experience and pain could lessen yours, I know it won’t. There were others than came to comfort us with the comfort they had been given. Their words did not fall on deaf ears, but my heart was not ready to believe the unbelievable. I didn’t think we would make it. The one truth that finally spoke to my heart were two words, the shortest verse in God’s word. Jesus wept. In the aftermath of losing one child and caring for two severely injured others, it was the first thing that made any sense. Jesus wept, and so too am I and many, many more for you and your families. You will make it through this, not because of these words or anything I or anyone else can or will do, but because I know that with Jesus’ dad, all things are possible – including living through and beyond your darkest day. With legions of others, I will be praying for you to be comforted with one beautiful breath after another.