Sunday, September 23, 2012

A letter from your Aunt Ali

Yesterday, it was creamy oatmeal with butter on a cool, almost-fall morning.

The day before that, it was the sound of your Uncle Andy quietly playing guitar in the other room while I was working.

Today, it was the warm, sloppy morning kisses from Muffin, your furry Boston terrier cousin.

These are the kinds of things that catch me off-guard and break my heart a little more each day since you left us.

They're simple, everyday things that I never thought much about before, never paused over, never really appreciated as much as I should have. But now I think of you constantly, and these tiny facets of life overwhelm me as the things you never got to experience. This is incomprehensibly unfair.

When I notice these things, my sorrow bubbles up and often spills out of my eyes, and I feel a thick lump in my throat. Sometimes it's a wonder to me that I can continue standing when there is obviously a bowling ball in my chest that wasn't there before.

But underneath all that sadness, Luke, there's something else I didn't expect, and I know it's a gift from you.

A sense of peace.

The days after your death were the darkest our family has ever experienced. We all felt lost and desperate. Not only did we each feel a very personal loss of our son, grandson, nephew, but we also had to witness the terrible grief of the people we loved the most in the world. It was double-stuffed grief. I wished for Doc Brown to show up with his DeLorean and take us back to September 7, when your mom was at the doctor and you were simply, perfectly, alive! Maybe we could've warned someone, Luke, so that all of us could've experienced your birth the way we had imagined it instead of the way it turned out to be.

(Doc Brown, by the way, is a character from the popular '80s movie Back to the Future—he turned a funny-looking car into a time machine. I know you would've liked this movie, and your daddy would've bought you Converse sneakers like the ones the other main character, Marty McFly, wore. Those are your daddy's favorite shoes.)

There are no time machines outside of Hollywood movies, though. So we found ourselves stuck here in the present, with our hearts ripped out and our arms achingly empty and our minds completely incapable of believing what had happened to you. I am trying to put it into words but there's really no way, except maybe to say it was H-E-double hockey sticks.

I know you're probably wondering where the sense of peace comes in. Hang on; I'm getting there. In case you haven't noticed yet, your auntie is verbose.

A couple of days after your mom and dad came home from the hospital, I was driving over to their house in Grandma's old Caravan. It was about 100 degrees, and her car has no air conditioning, so I had the windows down and the hot Southern California air was blowing on my face. While sitting at a light, I was distracting myself by punching the radio station buttons, trying to find something decent to listen to. And on the third station I tried, I heard Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (aka Iz) strumming his ukulele and singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".

I couldn't believe I was hearing it at first. It's not a song that often gets played on the radio, in my experience. In fact, I can't recall ever hearing it on the radio before. It was like someone had just turned on the soundtrack to the movie of my life, and I knew instantly that I was meant to be sitting in the hot, old car at that moment hearing that song. It was like a big, warm hug from the universe. I finally felt permission to let go.

My stomach and heart had been in knots ever since I got the call about you on Sunday afternoon. It seemed each moment that followed brought a new trial that I just couldn't believe I would pass. I wanted to collapse and disappear, and yet I knew I had to be with my sister (your mommy). So there was the phone call to the airline, throwing clothes in a suitcase, frantically driving to the airport, saying good-bye to your uncle, going through security, getting on a plane. That part felt hard because it involved a lot of activity, but the two-hour plane ride was a million times harder because all I had to do was sit and think about you and what had happened and how everything was suddenly, painfully, different.

And that was only the beginning.

Then there was the hospital, and the heartbroken faces of everyone I love, and your mommy having to do something nobody should ever have to do in a just world. There were crying nurses and doctors, and a chaplain in his uniform, and finally you in your mommy's arms, perfect but still. And there were your daddy's eyes, which should have been filled with pride, but they were filled with tears instead. None of it seemed real, but it hurt for real, until it seemed I couldn't feel anything anymore.

But then Iz was singing about trouble melting like lemon drops, and even though nothing was okay, I suddenly knew that somehow, everything would be okay. I don't know how, and I don't know when. I just know that this grief-filled place is not the end, and I believe you're the reason this peaceful feeling washed over me.

No, there's no time machine so that we can go back and keep you from getting tangled up in your cord. There's no way to give you the life you should have had. There's no way to erase the pain your mommy and daddy, and all of us, will live with for the rest of our lives. There's no going anywhere but forward now, and forward sometimes feels like a big, black hole full of unknown monsters.

But maybe there is peace simply for the reason that the worst has happened, and we're still here. It feels like the peace that washes over the battlefield when the battle is done, or the stillness that fills the sky after an explosive thunderstorm, or the quiet that follows a great earthquake.   

This doesn't mean that there won't be aftershocks. I know we will feel those all the time, for a long time to come. We'll still cry for you every time we see something that reminds us of you. We'll think of you on holidays, when you should've been with us, and on regular days, when you really should've been with us. We'll wonder why, and we'll be afraid, and we'll long for ourselves the way we were before this happened, all full of hope and naïve trust in our charmed lives. We will be crazy people, because, as the pastor said, this is crazy-making stuff.

Still, I can't shake the feeling that you're just somewhere over the rainbow, and it's not so terribly far from where we are. And birds fly over the rainbow…so why, oh why, can't I?

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