On the afternoon of July 6th I was sitting on the 47 Bus coming home from work when I got a phone call from my daughter, Stef. She was crying so hard that I couldn’t understand her. When I finally realized what she was saying, I too began to cry. Her best friend Brit had lost her husband to a tragic accident. At that point the details were sketchy “Joshua died. Brit’s Joshua died. It was a car accident.” Brit is a soul-friend from Stef’s gap year in Italy. Stef had been in her wedding, she had received pictures of Brit and Joshua’s newborn baby practically as soon as she was born, and now she was hearing over the incomplete communication system of a cell phone that the love of Brit’s life had died.
Until that phone call it had been a picture perfect summer day with seemingly few cares.
I first met Brit in 2011. We had just returned from Christmas in Egypt when she arrived on our doorstep via an international flight from Calgary. Not only was she one of Stef’s best friends, she also fit in with our family in every way – her sense of humor, her love of deep talks, and her love for the Middle East.
I saw her again a week ago. It was another international flight that had brought her – this time from Toronto.
A lot has happened to Brit during the four years since I’ve seen her. A marriage, a birth, and a death.
I think about Joshua’s death and I can’t categorize it with the regular things of life. It goes into the album that I call the Album of the Unexplainable. I’ve put several things into that album through the years. The death of Dr. Peter Hover, a beloved doctor and father of four who died in Pakistan. The death of my friend’s husband, who died in her arms while on their honeymoon in France. The death of Amy Jo – who woke to see her newborn baby, and then died never to see her again. The older I get, the fuller the album becomes. And now the death of Joshua – young, talented, new father, beloved husband and son, a man who was studying to become an Anglican priest.
If I think too hard about it, I know I will go crazy. Because it is unexplainable. It makes no sense that Joshua should die. And don’t tell me that only the good die young, or that Heaven has another angel, or that everything happens for a reason, because frankly – when it comes to the album of the unexplainable, those sayings are nonsense.
If we are honest with ourselves, I think all of us have an album of the unexplainable. Because there are things in life too difficult to understand, there are things in life that must remain a mystery. We see but a cloudy vision of what is to come, and we are given fractions of understanding, but never the whole.
I watch Brit and I’m amazed. She is so beautiful and she grieves with such grace. “How do you grieve with such grace?” I want to shout. But the answer to that also lies in the album of the unexplainable. I watch her carry her daughter Eve on her hip, laughing, talking, caring for a baby that needs her for every single thing. We laugh together watching 50 First Dates, quoting the more zany lines the next morning. We drink tea and go to a cafe; we talk and for a moment it seems life is normal – but it’s not.
Connected to the album of the unexplainable are the people left behind. Some of them have left the faith, others continue to believe in a God of love and compassion. Brit walks in faith of the day when she will see her Saviour and her beloved Josh.
She carries on, with a missing limb. She grieves every day, but she goes on living.
On Joshua’s Facebook wall I see this:
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, pioneer of the conscious dying movement, lived to regret having described the common features of the grief journey as stages. She came to see that everyone grieves differently and that science collapses in the face of the mysteries of the heart. There is no map for the landscape of loss, no established itinerary, no cosmic checklist, where each item ticked off gets you closer to success. You cannot succeed in mourning your loved ones. You cannot fail. Nor is grief a malady, like the flu. You will not get over it. You will only come to integrate your loss, like the girl who learned to surf again after her arm was bitten off by a shark. The death of a beloved is an amputation. You find a new center of gravity, but the limb does not grow back.
When someone you love very much dies, the sky falls. And so you walk around under a fallen sky.*
I read these words and I think about Brit, an amputee walking around under a fallen sky. She is walking under a fallen sky, but she does so with grace. She is walking under a fallen sky, but her head is held high. She continues to love greatly and give constantly.
And I realize that even as she walks through these valleys and shadows, she emerges every day as one who walks in the light. Brit and baby Eve help me make sense of the unexplainable. Even through death, they radiate life.
As I’m thinking all of these thoughts, I pen these words, desperate to remember:
Today may we be reminded once again that we know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We worship a God of miracle babies and ladders to Heaven; a God who wrestles and marks for life; a God of laughter and mercy. A God who will turn despair and confusion into hope and clarity. A God where one day at his feet we will bow in awe and the unexplainable will be no more..
Thank you Brit – for grieving with grace and for navigating the unexplainable. You will never know the witness you and Baby Eve are to the God you love.
Excerpt from CARAVAN OF NO DESPAIR
forthcoming from Sounds True (November 1, 2015)