For Charlotte

On a rainy mid-pandemic Sunday afternoon
the call came.
A mutual Virginia friend uttered the words,
“I heard about Charlotte. I know you were dear friends. I’m so sorry.”
A driver high on meth had crossed the double yellow lines,
hitting her head-on as she drove into town to sing for a virtual church service.
She had left her husband and young daughters at home.
It all ended that quickly.

The room spun around me.
Sobs sprung quickly.
I walked on weakened legs
and fell to my knees in front of my own husband and young daughters:
“Charlotte is dead! Francie and Lucy have no mama!”
I could not fathom the layers of loss.
She was daughter, sister, wife, friend, music teacher, and Mommy.

But she was mostly Mommy.

Ten years before this terrible day, we met in Musikgarten class.
Our big girls were two.
Our little girls were growing within our matching bulging bellies.
We shared circle dances and children’s songs,
toddler stories and pregnancy woes,
pool time and lake adventures,
themed birthday parties and daily demands,
life’s transitions and long evening walks during ballet classes.

But we mostly shared a decade of our hearts and lives.

As I lay alongside my 9-year-old in her bed that evening,
I couldn’t physically read aloud to her.
My tear-swollen eyes, trembling chest, and parched throat
felt acute as I realized that Charlotte would never again lie alongside and read aloud to her girls in their beds.
The agony of this fresh and awful reality was crushing.
I considered the enormous grief of all who loved her.
I thought of her parents and siblings, her in-laws and neighbors.

But mostly I wondered how her husband of 18 years and their now-motherless girls would ever be able to move forward without the very heart and soul of their family.

I carried on with mundane tasks each day,
but the darkness deep within choked as it begged many questions:
Had I been a good enough friend to her? Had I loved her well?
What did her beloved home feel like without her?
How would her husband parent alone?
What would life look like for her girls?
Would they be able to care for the long-awaited pony their family had brought home just a week before she died?
Who would accompany them as they entered the periods-and-bras-and-boys years of adolescence?

But I mostly wondered how those girls, at ages 11 and 9, could possibly process this trauma, this shattering.

Little by little, light began to creep into the cracks.

Devoted grandparents nurtured and school friends filled gaps.
Neighbors, fellow teachers, and hundreds of students supplied an outpouring of remembrance and gratitude for all she gave.
God assembled a trio of surrogate mothers from three different states–
Charlotte’s sister, her former co-teacher, and me.
We dubbed ourselves “Charlotte’s Angels”
and have grieved with one another over texts, pictures, and phone calls.
We gather virtually on Sunday mornings with our collective girls
to share our “roses and thorns,”
to play silly games,
to do special Christmas projects,
to celebrate birthdays,
to hear about courageous new undertakings,
to gently remember,
to gauge grief.

But we mostly marvel over stories of their committed Daddy and Pandora, their pony that has connected bereft children to their mother in supernatural ways.

Six months after her death, when the edges were still so raw,
our four girls and I sat in a gazebo at the home of a friend who knows loss through and through.
Francie reflected aloud:
“I remember the day Mommy told us you were moving to Alabama. She had mascara streaming down her cheeks.”
I breathed in her words and held them close to my heart.
In that moment, the Lord used Charlotte’s little girl to soothe an anguish within me.
Her words reassured me that I had indeed loved Charlotte well in our decade of sister-friendship,
but mostly that she had graciously loved me back.

Three years later, I see and feel her often:
in every rainbow,
in her home when we visit,
in the arrival of new seasons,
in the anticipation of her girls’ birthdays,
in the holidays she loved to celebrate.

But I mostly see her expressions in their faces, her vibrant courage in their new adventures, her creativity in their minds and musical abilities, her words on their tongues.

I wish I could have one more afternoon by the lake with her,
one last conversation,
one final laugh.
I would give anything for her girls to have their mother on this side of Heaven,
for her husband to have his life’s companion parenting by his side,
for her parents and siblings to have their family whole again.
This cannot be.
So I will offer thanks for her life,
but also for mascara-running-down-cheeks friendship.

Lacey Wood is a wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend who is learning to embrace life’s many changes with open hands rather than white knuckles. Having invested over a decade into full-time mothering and homeschooling her long-awaited daughters, she is re-entering her profession as an Early Childhood Deaf Educator. She endeavors to extend compassion to herself just as she does to those around her and to truly abide in the love of Christ. Connecting with others and their stories in deep ways is a source of joy and growth. In doing so, she grows in her ability to love them and Jesus better. Finding balance between doing and being, getting out of her own head, and welcoming silence before God are just a few of the ways she is intentionally being kind to herself in her current life season.