The night Mark died was such an ordinary night, which has always been so strange to me. And sort of curious. How can the night you lose your childhood love, your best friend, your husband, the father of your children be so typical? How can the night he is killed in a one car accident be such an ordinary night? But it was.
December 28th, 1998. We were visiting my parents and by 9:00 that night, my kids were tucked in tight, fast asleep and dreaming. We had even said bedtime prayers including “God bless Daddy and keep him safe.” I would later struggle with that 10 second prayer for years to come.
The details I remember in hindsight are sort of amazing to me. I think maybe our minds take certain snapshots during traumatic events so that eventually, it’s a story we can relive and retell whether we like it or not. My dad was in the next room watching Seinfeld- his nightly ritual- and I was at the kitchen table with my mom, painting my nails Magic Mauve.
I would later struggle with that 10 second prayer for years to come.
But it wasn’t. It wasn’t really Magic mauve. Had it been magic, the phone wouldn’t have rung a few minutes later bringing the news of Mark’s accident and death.
This is what I remember:
The look on my mother’s face. The color draining. The wide eyes. The disbelief. The choppy words I heard her saying that suddenly set me on high alert. It was as if all my senses were in high gear, but life itself had shifted into slow motion. “There’s been an accident….his truck…there was a tree…he was ejected…died instantly…”
She hung up the phone. And there I was, standing in front of her, eyes pleading, heart already breaking; The sound of Jerry Seinfeld and his dry humor in the background and my nails just perfect for my husband’s funeral.
I know I’m leaving parts out. Lots and lots of parts. But this I do remember: Hours later, l am lying on the couch, wide-eyed the entire night, specifically thinking, ‘I cannot cry. I cannot cry because if I do–If I start– I’ll never stop. So I just won’t cry. I just won’t.’
And the waiting. I vividly remember the waiting. The waiting and listening the entire night long for the pitter pattter of little feet in footie pajamas meant for cozy, happy children. Not children who are about to be told that Daddy is gone. That he is now living in heaven with Jesus. And no, he will not be coming back.
Over the years when I have told this story, I describe the days and months that followed as The Black Hole of Grief. Time became a blur. It felt like entire seasons changed and calendar pages turned as I sat staring out the window of my parent’s kitchen. I would survive the days desperately trying to show my children we were going to be okay, convincing them of how “normal” and “happy” we could still be and then later cry myself to sleep in total despair and heartache, which soon gave way to deep, deep loneliness.
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It would be frustrating to describe the depth of grief and sadness that threatened to overwhelm me daily, that threatened to wash me away in a tide of no return. Sleep was my only relief– my only escape– but waking up was torture. Every morning it’s as if the person has died all over again. I thought about drugs. I thought about drinking, but I was so afraid it would be so sweet–such a complete sigh of relief and blurry ecstasy, that it would be my point of no return; I would never want to come back to reality.
And so instead, my daily inner dialogue went something like this:
I hate my life.
I want to die.
I can’t do this.
This is too hard.
Nothing will ever be okay.
But you can really only go on like that for so long,
Or at least until God stops you.
Because that’s what happened.
I went on repeating those very sentences for an ENTIRE YEAR.
Then one day, as I was doing some mindless task and repeating those very lines in my head, God interrupted me.
Let me just stop right here in case this is way out of your comfort zone: I’m a God Girl. I pray. I talk to Him. And sometimes (not very often, but sometimes) when I’m journaling or meditating or writing I don’t hear Him talk to me, but I feel Him talk to me. He talks to me the way I talk– not with Thou and Thee and old school language– but in ways that vibe with me. God sometimes talks to me.
And so on this day, in the middle of my broken hearted, broken record, He literally interrupted my thoughts and said, “Is that what you want? To die? Is that what you really want? Because you say that every single day.”
“Uhhh. Wellllll. No.”
“I mean, yes. I do want that. I hate my life.”
“But I mean, if you’re asking me if I actually want to die, no. No, I guess I don’t. I would never do that to my kids or my parents or the rest of my family and friends. I know I need to stay here and be here. But I hate it. As long as we’re clear on that– I hate it.”
God kept going.
“Then you need to stop saying that. All of it. You need to stop. I know it’s not what you want. I know it’s not what you planned. I know you hate it. But this is still your life. And you’re still going to be here.”
Big. Heavy. Sigh.
Great. What am I supposed to say or do now? But the thing is, I knew He was right. (Being God and all)
Even though I was so frustrated with Him, I knew what He meant. He wasn’t mad, or disappointed or anything like that. I knew He was really saying, ‘I see you. I see your broken heart. I see the darkness you are trying so hard to muddle through. But what you’re doing– how you’re doing it– it ‘s not working.’
This was my new reality, and something needed to change. And there was only so much I actually had control over. I wanted Mark back, but that was obviously not an option. So while completely resisting every second of it, I made a decision that day: I was going to change my internal dialogue. I was going to stop repeating and replaying all of those well-worn mantras of despair.
When I woke up the very next morning, the first thing I thought about was my conversation with God, and I knew I had a choice to make. I literally said out loud, “Thank you God for another day.”
I continued to say it every single morning.
Some days I said it and I meant it.
Many, many other days, I said it with tears rolling down my face.
I said it with anger. I said it with sadness. I said it with determination. I said it begrudgingly. But I always said it.
Little by little.
An inch at a time.
The light crept in through the tiniest crack.
There came a day when I said it and I meant it.
I was happy to be here. I was grateful for my life. I was going to be okay. My kids were going to be okay. We were surrounded by so much love and support. I began to see there was a life waiting for me, even though it wasn’t the one I wanted. I still missed Mark desperately. In some ways, Mark’s death changed everything forever. But when it was so dark that I couldn’t see a way through, God saw me. He saw me through.
That is my scariest story. But because life is what it is and because we live on this side of heaven, it’s not my last or only scary story. But this I know; This I’ll forever know: God knows me and He sees me.
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