Thursday having been the two-year anniversary of Al’s death, I thought I’d write a brief update to let you know how we’re doing and what’s up, since I haven’t written anything here since November.
There have been a number of holidays in the interim, and of course they always make us think of Al and feel his absence. Thanksgiving we celebrated here with friends from the area—or from far enough away that it was too far for them to go home. On Al’s birthday the plan was to get together as a family for a dinner of some of Al’s favorite foods. But in the afternoon Lauren called to say that the company she works for, which has season tickets to box seats at the sports arenas downtown, had 6 free tickets to the 76ers game that night, complete with complimentary food. We decided that Al would have jumped at the chance to go to the game (basketball being “nature’s perfect sport”), so we went in his place and had a great time cheering and feasting. Christmas Eve Eowyn was in a drama, but aside from that Christmas was low-key, which was really nice. We stayed in our pajamas all day, watched movies together, and relaxed. Then my birthday coincided with the start of the January term.
In that term I was the Teaching Assistant for a Hebrew course that crams a full semester into 4 weeks. Talk about intense! It was a month of lots of work and not much sleep, but I loved it. Karyn Traphagen was the instructor, and she is FABULOUS. I learned so much working for and with her (as well as figuring out technological things like how to import Hebrew fonts into Word documents, etc) that I commented to Alden at one point that I thought I could actually feel my brain growing. So that is what I’ve been doing (apart from the endless and time-consuming process of applying for financial aid for Eowyn for next year).
Eowyn is in that lull in the college application process between the flurry of paperwork involved in getting the applications in (essays, more essays, never-ending forms, etc.) and the business of deciding where to go once the acceptance/rejection/financial aid letters arrive in the spring. She’s glad to have the ball be in the colleges’ court for a while so she can take a breather. Meanwhile she has been co-leading a group of the junior high girls at church and loving being involved with them.
Alden has been enjoying hanging out with friends, playing pick-up sports and doing just enough school work to do well but not stressing out about it. When he has a group of friends over to play Rock Band or to watch a movie, I have strict instructions about how much I am allowed to be in evidence.
Becky is still working at a nearby non-profit organization where they are riding the ragged edge of the economic downturn. Non-profits everywhere are getting slammed by the faltering economy, with lay-offs or salary cuts, or both, so the future feels uncertain. If you have any extra dollars, consider sending a few to your favorite non-profit. Many of our friends in various professions are finding themselves suddenly out of work. In fact, we are grieving with and praying for a number of friends who were laid off from one institution just today. But Becky is always fun to have around in spite of any sense of impending doom in the economic world.
Alasdair is in his last semester at Westminster, so he and I will graduate together in May, and Lauren is still working at the same job she’s had since ’06. The big news is that they are expecting a baby in June—a little girl! Needless to say we are incredibly excited!!! Alden is rooting for his niece to be born on his birthday.
And that brings us to the present. On the anniversary of Al’s death we had supper together as a family, and earlier in the day a few of us got together for lunch in one of Al’s old haunts. It was good, if tearful, to reflect on the past two years. In some ways, the event seemed sadder than last year’s marking of it, and I’ve since thought about why that might be.
A year ago someone commented to one of us that we were finally almost done with all the “firsts”—the first holidays, birthdays, etc. without Al. The first of each of those is hard because of course you feel the absence of the person who is gone, and you remember how he was there with you just the year before. Nonetheless, I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t really want to be done with the firsts. That first year was like a river we were floating down, and while we were passing all those landmarks, we were still closely connected to the event that had initiated them—Al’s death. But once we reached the end of the firsts, we left the familiarity of the river and were propelled into the big sea of “the rest of our lives.” We had crossed a boundary. Sure, we would continue to mark time, and to celebrate birthdays and holidays, and to observe the anniversary of Al’s passing, but it would all be part of “life after Al” in a more nebulous way that would just stretch into countless years. The first year was tightly connected to its inception in a way that all subsequent years wouldn’t be. Maybe it’s just that during the series of firsts you brace yourself for each event, and adrenalin kicks in, and there is something acute about each one that links you painfully but intimately with the one who is gone. After that, they become just things that mark the passage of time—a time of unknown duration—until we are together again.
Anyway, I have found that I’ve missed Al more over the past six weeks or so. The best explanation I’ve come up with for that is that being involved in winter Hebrew was like stepping back into Al’s old world, except that he was not there. Al taught that winter Hebrew class for years, and years, and years, and as we went over grammar rules, or vocabulary, or issues in translation, I kept being reminded of him talking about those things. I could almost hear his voice saying some of the same things Karyn was saying… It was sort of odd to be there in the class and not to see Al come strolling in to begin the lecture.
On the other hand, I have been so busy that I haven’t had much time to dwell on missing Al. Once before I wrote that I think there are (at least) three modes that we function in: (1) “doing life,” (2) feeling the sadness of missing Al, and (3) rejoicing as we think about the indescribably wonderful life he is living that we have to look forward to. All three weave in and out of our days in a ramshackle fashion. But I have been so busy lately that I’ve had my mind mostly on (1). With the frequent reminders of Al that I mentioned above, there has been a fair bit of (2) as well, but not as much of (3). I need to stop what I’m doing and take some time to slip into the Throne Room, to kneel quietly before the majestic God who sits on the throne, to take in his glory, to marvel at his grace, to soak up the bright light of his presence, to dare to gaze into his eyes and see there the smile, and the love and the welcome of my Father. When I do that, the clouds break, the weight (of single parenting, of tasks undone, of the future) lifts, and I remember what—or rather Who—life is all about. At those moments, I am so glad for Al that he is there already, seeing with his own eyes what I only catch occasional glorious glimpses of. What must that be like! Ah, to breathe the fresh air of heaven and to be in God’s presence!
Of course I live in God’s presence even now. Not as fully and really as Al is doing, only in a more distant way, but in his presence nonetheless. I’d like to remember that in the course of daily life, when I’m washing dishes, or grading Hebrew quizzes, or having dinner with the kids. And I’d like to make sure that I purposely stop into the throne room more often, too, for the reality checks that I need.
Well, it’s gotten late, so I will post this, put away the vacuum cleaner and go to bed. In these days of economic uncertainty, may you find rest in the One who knows the end from the beginning and who takes infinite care of his children,