I remember that first time I saw her in the hospital. The way she looked around the room and I could tell she was smiling, even though the mask hid half her face. "He is just so sweet. He is so, so sweet to us." I shook my head and then quickly tried to cover up my disbelief with a toss of my hair. "Make sure they know that. Can you do that for me? Will you make sure my students, all those who care for me, will you make sure they know that He is so sweet? No matter what happens. He is so good to us. Tell them to keep believing that." I told her I would.
I never meant for it to happen the way it did. I never meant for her death to become some crisis of faith for me. I meant to keep my promise. I meant to keep believing in His goodness. The day she died, I hit the keys and sang, "Bless the Lord, oh, my soul!" I sat and I wrote all I could remember about her, preserving that small part of her legacy entrusted to me. Through the phone calls and texts I tried to stay strong. "It hurts," I would respond, "But He is good." I did my best to ignore the aching that seemed to gnaw at my rib cage. Each time the sadness would rise or the anger would peak around a corner, I pressed it down. "She wouldn't want this." I would tell myself. "She would want me to rejoice on her behalf, to continue to trust Him completely."
My wedding day came and went a little over a month after her funeral. I hugged my bridesmaid, the one who knew her like I did, and there was a moment where I let it come out. "She was supposed to be here. She prayed for this day for me. She should be here." And then I remembered that her daughter would say the same thing in coming years, and I shook off my tears. I had no right to cry.
This was the process of my grief for months: sadness, tears, reprimand, run. And my grief included so much more than her death. Yes, that was the biggest, most concrete thing. But there was also the leaving behind of the life I had built. The saying goodbye to a community and starting over. The sacrifice of self required for two lives to become one. I would feel the sadness. The tears would come. I would reprimand myself in a thousand different ways (Can't you see how much you are gaining? Why spit in the face of blessing? Other people have it so much harder than you. If you really loved him, you would be overjoyed!). And then I would spin on my heel and hightail it away from the pain as quickly as possible.
I called it noble. I called it keeping perspective. I called it "counting it all grace." But really? I was just running away from the brokenness. I was letting the fear of truly facing the pain hold me captive. I was avoiding the hard feelings because I was afraid of what they would reveal about my heart, my faith, and my God. But to have nothing revealed is to have nothing made real. We cannot choose the things we feel. We cannot take love and leave pain. To feel is all or nothing. To live abundantly is all... or nothing.
It hits me when I receive the video from her, the Montana roommate gone to Oregon. It is a video from Transplant Day. "It has been one year since her transplant. We had cake that day, so I'm having cake today to remember." One year since the transplant. Also eight months since her death. I can't hide behind, "It is as it should be. It is well with my soul," for a moment longer. I pound my fist on the table and send my phone flying across into the cushions of the couch next to me.
I finally admit it. I am angry. I am so, so angry. She wasn't supposed to die. She didn't deserve to die and her family didn't deserve to have to go on without her. We had so much more we needed to learn from her. So much more we needed her to breathe into our lives. How does this make any sense? How are You supposed to be good and loving? How am I supposed to trust You? How am I supposed to believe You? Why would I want to worship You or follow You or seek Your face? I am angry with You. I am afraid of You. I feel completely unloved by You. I don't feel like I even know You anymore.
All I had been running from came to the surface. And that is where my healing finally began.