Update at seven years

Posted in General at 7:59 pm by Libbie

I wrote the following for Wednesday, February 5th, but the ice storm hit before I could post it, and the blog’s server is just now back up and running again for the first time. Sorry for the four-day delay.

Well, it’s been seven years since Al died, and I haven’t written anything here in the past two, so it seems high time for an update—on each of us and on life in general.

First the children:

Alasdair and Lauren continue to run CCEF New England, the Christian counseling center they started in White River Jct, Vermont that is affiliated with the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation here in Philadelphia. Alasdair and a woman named Robyn Huck do the counseling, and Lauren runs all the business end of things. I would have the business details snarled up within a day, but Lauren is incredibly competent, organized and efficient, so she stays on top of all of that while taking care of two preschoolers. Amazing. Alasdair is doing exactly what he was created to do, so he is happy as a pig in mud, and Robyn is a great partner to work with. From what I hear, the center is able to be a blessing to a number of churches in the Upper Valley area, which was its goal in the first place. Alasdair also does some teaching, speaking and writing for CCEF.

Their daughters Emily (4 ½) and Adara (2) are growing and thriving, keeping their parents amply busy, and making life an adventure and a delight. You can see pictures with narrative at http://babyeclaire.blogspot.com. I have to say, there is nothing quite like being a grandparent! Can’t even tell you what a delight those two little girls are to me. Alasdair and Lauren are expecting their third child in May—a boy this time. So many blessings and so much joy.

Rebeckah moved to Boston in Dec, 2012 and started working at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. A few months later she met Brian Orsatti at an EMT class, and they were married this past Oct. 20. They make each other very happy, and we are very glad to have Brian in the family! He practices wonderful Italian hospitality, and it’s been fun to experience Boston with him and Rebeckah as tour guides. Brian just started a new job coordinating the EMT training program at BU. I have so much respect and appreciation for first responders and emergency personnel; it’s an honor to have one in the family. Rebeckah has also become a certified EMT, though she is not currently riding ambulances.

Eowyn graduated from the College of Wooster last May with a major in French and a minor in Education. During her junior spring, while she was studying in France, her boyfriend Ben Bestor visited her and proposed. They endured a 15 month engagement, 12 months of which they lived in different states or countries, and have now been happily married since last Memorial Day weekend. Ben stayed with me for a month during an internship in Philly in the Fall of 2011, so I had a chance to find out what a sweet and lovable guy he is. We’re so happy to have him in the family too. I have a giant soft spot in my heart for all three of my children-in-law. Ben and Eowyn are living outside of DC, where Ben is doing a Master’s degree in International Relations at American University. Eowyn is working at AAA doing everything from booking travel to being a notary and coordinating roadside assistance. She’d love to be able to use her French as well.

Alden is a junior at Wofford College in South Carolina. He’s majoring in English and will graduate certified to teach at the high school level. I think he’ll make a really fun English teacher. He’s also very involved in different things on campus and could see himself going into ministry of some kind. Wofford has a January term, and for this past one Alden got a proposal approved to go to Amsterdam to serve as a teacher’s aide in the elementary school he attended when we lived there in 2002. In fact, he got to help in the fourth grade classroom of his own fourth grade teacher! He lived with a friend of our family, improved his Dutch like crazy, saw old friends, met new ones, and had an absolutely fantastic month. Thank you, Lord!

I still love, love, love teaching Hebrew and remain very thankful to have a job that combines my interests in languages and teaching. On the side, I’ve been volunteering at an ESL (English as a Second Language) program in Philly, which is great fun. My students are from all over the world and are such a pleasure to get to know. Who knows, maybe I’ll even learn some Arabic, which is currently the one and only item on my “bucket list.” I had follow-up surgery on my ankle in the Fall of 2012, and it’s doing pretty well, all things considered.

Since the Fall of 2012 I have had two students live with me. Elisabeth is originally from France, by way of three decades in South Carolina, and Ruth is a medical doctor from England. Both have enriched my life so much in different ways, and I am enormously thankful for them. I never anticipated that I would be back to doing the “rotating roommates” thing in my fifties, but if these women are representative of the experience, I’m all for it.

I love Al as much as ever, and I miss him a whole lot. I remember in the first months after he died picturing life as a stage and feeling as if his absence was an enormous mountain that filled the whole thing, and everything I did or thought, happened in the small spaces around the edges of it. I expected that the mountain would gradually shrink and recede upstage until it eventually became simply a two-dimensional painting of a mountain as background scenery. That has indeed happened. The grief does not dominate every waking moment any more, though it’s always there in the background—a piece of my identity.

It’s funny the little things that trigger pangs of grief. Like being in a spot on campus that I haven’t been in much since our student days. Or thinking about making homemade sausage with his grandfather’s recipe and how excited he would be about that. There are still occasional times when the grief is intense and painful. Maybe the most excruciating from this past year happened the day after Eowyn and Ben’s wedding. All the Groves clan who had been able to come to the wedding gathered at a little farm house in Lancaster that Al’s brother Warren had rented and had a lovely, relaxed afternoon together. Toward the end of it we decided to take a photo of the whole bunch of us. Al was always ALL about getting things on film and would have been the one to round everybody up and keep us all standing there for ages ‘til he got the perfect shot. He would have been absolutely over the moon to have had nearly the whole family of four generations together in one place. Suddenly the idea of taking the family photo brought that realization home to me in a way that was exquisitely heartbreaking. It was just so indescribably sad that he was not there to enjoy the gathering. I had to slip off to the nearby field, lean against the far side of the cargo van we had rented and just sob and sob out loud until I had cried my tears dry.

But most of the time I live in the present with joy and thankfulness, and the sadness of missing Al and the anticipation of seeing him again in heaven remains just background wallpaper. Even having fun with our grandchildren is purely happy most of the time, and it’s only when I let myself stop and think about it that I feel a deep stab of grief that he never met them.

The past two years have been full, and I was reflecting this week on some of the things that have struck me over that time. There are many, but I’ll just pick one:

It stemmed from a random conversation I had with someone at a baby shower last Fall. He had gotten a tattoo of the number of days a close family friend had lived before her untimely death from cancer. That got me thinking, so I later counted the number of days Al had lived: 19,773. As of today, Feb 9, 2014, I have lived 20,129. That number seems very finite and not very large. Thinking about that—literally numbering my days and considering each one as a particular, individual slice of a whole life that is made up of a specific total number of days known only to God—has made me want to seize and spend each one with thought and intentionality. I don’t know how many days are left, but that number decreases by one every time the sun goes down.

Now, I should tell you that my mental age (i.e. the age I think of myself as being) somehow got stuck at 18. (That leads to some weird circumstances. For instance, all four of my children are now older than I am, which is very odd. And when I am good friends with multiple generations of a family I have trouble remembering which ones are actually my peers.) So I still think of my life stretching out in front of me for decades and decades. But in fact, that is not likely the case. If I live to be…say, 70, just to pick a round number, that’s only fourteen years away! I know from personal experience that fourteen years goes by in a flash.

I want to spend those years and those individual days in a way that counts. In a way that furthers what God is up to in this world. In a way that prioritizes his priorities and that he will be pleased with. I have wanted to “live for God” for a long time, or at least I have fostered the illusion that I do, but an awareness that the length of time in which to take the opportunity to do that is steadily decreasing and that the time to give an account is steadily approaching, has brought things into a sharper relief. I can continue to be busy with lots of “good things” that may or may not be what he cares about, or I can lay my plans at his feet each day and ask him to show me what he wants me to do. Sometimes his plans and mine substantially overlap, and sometimes they are radically different. On those days, I can choose to either please or sadden my dearest friend, who died for me. I pray he’ll give me grace to choose the former.

May your days be many, and may you know his companionship as you walk each one of them.

PS: I am in the process of turning this blog into a book for New Growth Press. Thank you all for your encouragement along the way, and I would appreciate your prayers for wisdom to know which (small percentage of the) bits of the blog to include. I’ll keep you posted. The manuscript is due this June for publication sometime in 2015.