The news was numbing. The tears came so quickly that she couldn’t fight them. An embrace from a dear friend did little to stem the tide, but she didn’t turn it away. Her mind raced with questions and fear threatened to overwhelm her. A weight began to settle in her chest. She felt Him near to her, whispering against the current of thoughts. It was enough for her to just keep breathing.
His voice sounded hollow on the phone. She never knew desperation had a sound. He didn’t make much sense and words didn’t come easily, but her compassion overflowed. All she could think about was getting home. But in the midst of it, she felt everlasting arms upholding her. It was enough to just keep breathing.
Once she was home, the family seemed to shuffle through mundane motions. How do we act in the face of tragedy? Laughter and tears both found their way into the days, mingling together at times. She looked into his eyes and saw a shattered heart. Existence seemed to grind to a halt. She was mystified, unsure of many things, but certain of His presence in that dimly lit room. It was enough to just keep breathing.
* * *
The morning came early, and it was time for her to leave. The sounds of the airport slowly faded as she leaned back into the deep leather chair, and she fell asleep among perfect strangers. She felt contained in her hazy little world. A long journey was ahead of her. She didn’t want to leave, but she knew she had to go. He never left her side, and it was enough to just keep breathing.
She couldn’t see the world the same anymore.
* * *
Everyone was together, smiling, laughing and carrying on. He sat at the edge of the room, watching quietly. He didn’t seem himself that day, and she imagined that she knew why. It was Christmas day, and for the first time … there would be no phone call from Portland, no passing around the phone to wish happy holidays to his son, no quirky conversations. The phone was silent that night. She sat next to him after a while and listened to him talk about how he believed the dead still communicated with the living. She wanted so badly to believe. She knew it was enough for him to keep on living.
The next morning, they all sat and talked over pancakes of loss and hardship and difficult relationships. She listened as they struggled to make heads or tails of the spiritual significance of it all. Her heart broke as she listened. Tears welled up in her eyes when they mentioned how close they had come to losing her mother that year, as well, to a terrible car accident. She didn’t want to revisit that memory, but she was pulled in before she could resist. Her mother caught her eye from across the table as if to say, I know. It’s okay. And the question resounded in her mind, again and again … Why this, God? Why now? But she knew there was still grace enough to keep on living.
* * *
They lit a candle for him that day. One year had passed, but not much had changed. She lay awake that night, thinking of them. She wondered if they slept that night. The miles between them may well have been galaxies. She felt helpless to stop the ebbing pain and emptiness that threatened to overtake them. He told her they were just living through it, but she believed there was something more…more than just to keep on living.
* * *
She saw it in his eyes, if only for a moment. The candle-lit service and the hymns they sang filled the air with nostalgia. He didn’t say a word, but it seemed he wiped away a tear or two. She wondered if she was only imagining it, but nonetheless she felt it. It was only the second Christmas without him. No phone call, no wishing him a merry Christmas. Just life as they knew it to be.
She studied her cousin, imagining how he felt, left behind in a quiet tragedy that should have never happened. She wondered if he thought of his brother that night, or if the shuffle of family and games and gifts was enough to drown out the emptiness left by a loved one too quickly departed. She wondered at how it would feel, but could only go so far before becoming overwhelmed at the thought of losing a sibling. Flesh and blood. Heart and soul. Someone there through years of memories and changes and events and gatherings. And then suddenly, painfully, taken away.
She wondered about Heaven and Hell and how only God can judge a heart, even as its mortal life is slipping away. What happens in a moment? Can it change eternity? She only prayed it could be so for him. For his sake. For their sake.
And there was grace enough to keep on living. Moving. Laughing. Breathing. Enjoying. Remembering. Bitter sorrow was now tempered by joy that only family can bring.
And somehow, hope was in the midst of them.