I am at the airport right now, watching people and wheelchair escorts
go by. There is a parallel world out there. I lived in it last year when I
travelled for the first time as an invalid due to a fractured lateral tibia
plateau. Those wheelchair escorts are saints—truly one of the kindest
groups of people I have ever met. I am thankful, ever so thankful for
them. The injury? It was an accident involving my very large dog at 2
am. Embarrassing and life changing. Frankly, I am lucky I didn’t
break my neck. It took four days for that to sink in and for gratitude
to overwhelm me, after the shock wore off. The awareness of how
serious it could have been shook me to the core.
Three weekends ago I was at a Strategic LifePlan retreat. As much as
I have looked at my life, talked about my life, processed with others
about my life, the reality of the depth and breadth of the loss I have
experienced never hit home quite so much as it did when I put it out
there visually on a life map. The visual presentation of loss after loss
caught my breath when I finished filling in the life map. How can
that be? I mentally have known the losses were numerous, but to SEE
it over and over really got to me. More important, what I saw for the
first time was underneath the visual data. It was the way that I
respond when things come at me hard and fast. I just put my head
down and do whatever is needed. I do this very well. Too well. With
determination and intention, I just press on.
Time after time I walked friends “home” to Him. I felt the loss and
grieved, until another loss came, and then another and another. I
learned to give my friends back to Him and not hold on tightly.
Amidst the grief I found myself thankful for the gift of their presence
in my life.
And then came the fatal car wreck of my mother and the murder of a
good friend. These two leveled me. With these there was no
advanced notice or diagnosis to brace against— just a huge wave that
overtook me and just about drowned me. Press on. Keep going. I was
the executor with a mission and the friend that helped the police with
the investigation. Grief and loss covered everything like gravy on
chicken fried steak.
For ten years the losses continued. Year eleven was the year of a
different sort of reality check. I had health problems. Gall bladder
removal and a fractured leg. Nothing like health issues to still the
Now it is year twelve. Something has shifted with me. I am so very
sad some days. I finally have time and space to feel all that grief and
loss that has been piling up for the past eleven years. The quiet and
stillness leaves me deep in the midst of it, raw and coated from head
to toe with the missing of loved ones. I have learned that, despite
what it feels like, I won’t drown in the sadness. I have been able to
give in to the sorrow and find a sort of buoyancy as I swim in the
pain of the absence of so many. Their houses still echo their presence
as I drive by, stirring my heart to remember and miss and wail and
laugh and cry at the beauty of their presence in my life and the loss of
those I love so dearly.
All this just swirls together. Takes my breath away sometimes. Other
times it leaves me smiling and feeling the sheer beauty of their
presence, which at moments is so very much there with me, even
though they are not.
I am not “pressing on” anymore. Too tired, too worn out to do that.
The waves of sadness have not drowned me. The stillness has
brought me to a curious place on the far side of all that death, a place
of the deepest life I have known. How curious is that? I am different
now, and I am not even sure how and what all that means. All I
know is that out of all this death I find that life is richer and more
vibrant. Death and loss can be compelling and clarifying.
I am clear that there is a parallel world out there, a place where many
that I love reside. I can feel it. Sometimes I think I can just about taste
it. I am clear that sorrow and grief won’t kill you. I know now that
there is much life in the midst of death. And I am clear that whatever
life I have ahead of me, I want to live it differently, with more
intention and passion, and I just plain want to love God and people
better than I ever have before.
Joanie Harris resides in the Texas Hill Country near Fredericksburg, Texas, where she lives on and manages a small family ranch. Her close friendships, hiking, fishing, and kayaking are what bless her heart and soul. Along with her general counseling practice of 18 years, she specializes in working with people struggling through the relational and emotional challenges associated with the process of estate planning (here). After a decade of loss, her heart and life are beginning a new adventure.