“To have been loved so deeply, even though the one who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”
– J.K. Rowling
How do I begin? By all accounts, today is just like any other day. It’s just another Saturday. There are no holidays dedicated to the third of December. There are no parades. It’s a day that can easily slip by, undetected and unannounced.
And for most people that’s exactly what happens. It slides by, unnoticed. It’s difficult not to envy those people.
December is always a hard month for me, but this year it is especially so. This year is the first year that December 11th falls on a Sunday since it did five years ago – the day police arrived on my doorstep with my sister’s license in hand and my worst fear was realized.
My sister was dead. And what was previously unimaginable was my new reality.
This year is the first year since my sister passed that each day leading up to December 11th falls on the exact same weekday it did prior to her death five years ago. And somehow, that makes everything feel closer.
I can’t help but remember the Amy of December 3, 2011. She was so innocent, and so young. The Amy of December 3, 2016 is much more than five years older than her.
How do I capture how deeply devastated I was on that day? How do I describe the journey since? Grief is a tricky thing to describe, as no two people who have encountered it have seen or experienced exactly the same thing. No two relationships are identical. No two people are identical. So no one grieves identically – even if the grief is over the same person. It’s terribly isolating.
Grief is a kaleidoscope. But rather than just being something that you look through, it is a monster that engulfs you. Sometimes it’s all you can see. Your perspective is entirely changed as you look at life through the fragments of colored glass. Things are distorted. Even the things you once knew and loved look completely different. And just when you feel like you’re beginning to make sense of the “new normal,” the floor is knocked out from underneath you. Everything spins. And when you’re finally able to right yourself and make sense of your surroundings again, the picture that you were starting to familiarize yourself with has changed. And so on and so forth. Eventually, it’s hard to be motivated to stand up again. Or bothering to familiarize yourself with the new picture within the kaleidoscope.
Of course, take my words with a grain of salt: I’ve been trapped within a revolving kaleidoscope for five years now, and I’m a little dizzy.
Grief is an ocean. Deep and mysterious. Some days, the tide is low. The ocean is calm. The sky is blue. All is peaceful. Other days, there’s a hurricane brewing. The tide is high. The ocean is no longer inviting, but dark and dangerous. It’s a place where you could easily drown if you don’t tread carefully.
It would be easy to lose my identity in my grief. After all, what is one person to an ocean? Nothing.
Fortunately I know the Creator of oceans. He also happens to know the number of each and every grain of sand in existence, tucked alongside of the knowledge of the number of hairs on my head.
I am so deeply known and loved.
And this – this is where my identity begins.
Nancy and I were so intrinsically linked – so much of who I was, or who I thought I was before she died was tied to her. She drew out the best in me, while still allowing me to be myself. She “got” me. She was my hero and best friend. She was the type of person who inspired those pithy sayings that all the rest of us peasants aspire to. The world lost a beautifully precious soul on the day she died. I grieve for those who never got to know her.
Ever since she passed, God has been steadily working at reestablishing the foundation of what forms my identity. Not because the things I identified myself with – such as being a good student or as a singer or actress – are inherently bad things, but rather because they are only good things when they are superseded by greater truth. My identity is not, and can never be rooted in what I do. It has to be rooted in what God has called me: Beloved. (Which is actually what the name Amy means.) I am loved – not because of what I do, but in spite of what I do. I am beautiful, because of the work that God has accomplished through the Gospel in my life, not through my own effort or strength. As C.S. Lewis so succinctly sums it up, “When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed, but increased.”
I have been given my own personal thorn in my flesh to serve as a constant personal reminder that His “grace is sufficient” for me (2 Corinthians 12:9). I have struggled with depression since Nancy died, and it has been a harrowing – and exceedingly humbling – experience, to put it mildly. It is likely something I will wrestle with for life. To be perfectly honest, if I laid the years of my life side by side, and had to rank them, 2016 would probably not be at the top of the list. Or even near the top of the list. It’s been a hard year for me personally, for a myriad of reasons. But even in the midst of this, in the midst of such an insanely difficult year, I am overwhelmed by God’s grace and favor towards me.
My depression, as dark and oppressive as it seems some days, does not have the power to snuff out hope. It does not have the power to diminish beauty. And it certainly does not have the power to lessen my God.
I write about it now, not because it defines me, but because I think that vulnerability and honesty are the antidote to prideful isolationism. As Sheila Walsh so beautifully says, “My brokenness is better bridge for people than my pretend wholeness ever was.” I am no longer ashamed that I struggle with depression, because I have realized that it is not something that defines or cheapens me. It is not who I am. I am not a depressed person; rather I am a person that struggles with depression. Maybe that all seems like rhetoric, but the difference in those two statements, when applied, is key. Depression is something that brings me closer to people, because it’s created a deeper empathy within me than I ever could have cultivated without it. It has made me slower to speak and quicker to listen. It has helped me to be less hasty in my judgments of others. Not to mention, I was loved before I struggled with it, and I am still loved now.
I have wrestled with depression more consistently this past year than I have previously. Not because my life is less beautiful than it has been previously – but perhaps because in some ways it has been more so. This year, I began seriously dating someone for the first time – and it has been a wonderful wonderful thing. It has not been perfect – far from it, as we are both flawed individuals – but it has been good. Experiencing this relationship has been living breathing proof in my life of God’s faithfulness and I am so thankful. I never imagined that such joy could be mine in communion with another person following Nancy’s death.
“I do not know a perfect person. I only know flawed people who are still worth loving.”
– John Green
That isn’t to say that it’s been easy. You see, I know exactly what I am risking to love another person so openly and vulnerably. I know what it means to lose. Grief is the price of love. But I refuse to allow the fear of loss to creep into my life and paralyze me from doing the best thing humans are capable of – which is to love.
I will not live a life void of love to protect myself. What kind of life is that? Worse than no life at all. I will love, and in 2016 I was given the chance to love in a new and profoundly deep way – a way I have never loved before. I have wept for what is at stake in loving so deeply, and for the fact that Nancy will never have the chance to meet him or vice versa – at least not on this side of heaven. But I rejoice in this gift, in this capacity to love and go on loving. No matter how distorted things look through the kaleidoscope or how deep the ocean seems, this is one thing that will not be distorted or drowned: love is worth it.
Thank you Nancy for teaching me that and modeling it for me. I am proud to say that legacy will not die with you.
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.”
1 John 4:11-12