Almost half a year has passed since my last post. In some ways it seems like just a week has passed, and in other ways it seems like the last few months have flown by at light speed.
We wrapped up a really great summer and the kids have started back to school and fall is in full swing here in the Pacific Northwest. Abbie’s in 5th grade and Jayden’s in 7th grade and time keeps marching on, like “Nothing to see here; keep moving along…” And so we do.
We spent time this summer with both sides of the family. We went to Coeur d’Alene and visited with all the Grant aunts, uncles and cousins. We BBQd and had bonfires. We went to the lake and played at the park. We went to Silverwood and played in the wave pool. Just like we do every summer. I won’t lie, there are a lot of emotions to work through when we visit there. It’s feels hard and comforting all at the same time. One of the kids wanted to visit the cemetery and the other one didn’t so I took the one and the other stayed back and played with their cousins. Both of these responses were perfectly right for these two kids who process life in two very different ways.
We visited the Souza side of the family in California together for the first time since before Corey got sick. Last time we were all there, Corey was super sick but hadn’t yet been diagnosed with cancer. He would be diagnosed just a few weeks later. Throughout his treatment and after his passing, the kids spent time in California with their grandparents like they do every summer and I was down there a couple times without them, but the kids and I haven’t been there together in almost three years. My sister and bestie and I took our kids to the coast for a couple days. We spent a day at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, my favorite place to visit as a kid and teenager, and had giant corndogs and rode rides and savored every moment in the sun. We went to Capitola and spent a day on the beach where their dad proposed, ate at Pizza My Heart and had Souza’s Ice Cream. We played in the sand and had great conversations and let the sun and waves bring the healing they always do.
As a mom, I tend to look at things in the context of the school year, which means that, now that summer’s over, we’re kind of in “New Year” mode around here. For me, the start of a new school year is a time of reflection and goal setting, assessing and evaluating. As I look back and compare where we are now to where we were a year ago, I can only stand in awe at God’s strength and grace in our lives. It’s been a year and a half since Corey passed away and I feel like those first several months were spent on auto-pilot and shrouded in fog. I mean, I don’t have a great memory anyway (Ask my sister. I’ve been known to call her to confirm whether a story is hers or mine.) but I look back and think, “Man, I hardly remember anything from the last year! How are we already heading into a new one?” But as I look ahead, I see that the fog has lifted and the sun is shining. I don’t know exactly when it lifted, and I doubt it lifted overnight, but it has lifted. And man, does that sun ever feel good on my face.
I was incredibly fortunate and deeply blessed to be able to spend a couple weeks in Cuba at the beginning of the summer. To say that I have completely fallen in love with the people and the country would be an understatement. All I can think about is how soon can I go back? And when can I take my kids with me? The area of Cuba we were in was hit by a major, category 5 hurricane a couple years back. The eye of the hurricane sat over the region for 12 terrifying hours and destroyed almost everything. As we traveled around and visited churches and homes that had been flattened and where these beautiful, salt-of-the-earth people are trying to rebuild with limited resources but more heart than you could imagine, I began to put words to an idea, a thought that had been swirling around in my mind for several months. I listened to the stories of heartbreak so many of them felt when the sun rose the morning after and they looked around at the flattened landscape. The bridge that spanned the river and allowed people to pass into and out of the area was totally wiped out, so that even the trucks carrying government rations couldn’t get into the area for weeks after. As if the wind of the hurricane wasn’t enough, the rain that dumped untold amounts of water day after day after day was followed by the storm surge and swollen rivers that caused more damage still. It was just unfathomable. We were there a couple years after this event had taken place and you could still see its effects. Even now, three months after our visit, I’m still processing the people, the place and the lingering emotions from that visit.
I grew up on the West Coast and have never been through a hurricane. I’ve watched coverage on TV and have been moved by the plight of people as they watch, helplessly, this monster force of nature coming at them and knowing they’re powerless to do anything about it. You can board up your windows, put sand bags at your doors, and even evacuate, but at some point, even if you do all that, you have to go back, face the music and assess the damage. You have to figure out what’s been completely destroyed, what’s salvageable, what can be repaired and where you have to rebuild. And as I listened to my new friends in Cuba tell their tales of riding out the storm, I was finally able to put words to an idea, a mental picture that had been swirling in my mind for several months.
Very early in the year, before I’d even committed to going to Cuba, as I was reflecting on the year we’d just come through (have I ever mentioned I have never been so happy to turn the page on a calendar and be DONE with a year?) and looking ahead to the year to come, I felt like the Lord gave me a vision (not the kind that makes me seem weird, of course) of standing on a beach and looking out at the aftermath of a hurricane. It may sound weird, but hear me out. In so many ways, we too were powerless to stop this monster force of nature coming at us as we watched, in unbelief, Corey’s final few weeks play out in a way that no one could have predicted or braced us for. There was the initial impact of his unexpected hospitalization and rapid decline, then the time spent hunkered down, sitting under the “eye of the storm” for those 15 dark and scary days in the ICU, then the shock and disbelief as we buried our husband and dad. It may seem like the storm ends there, but, as anyone who has been through a major hurricane understands, the storm surge the follows the landfall of the hurricane is often way more devastating and damaging than the hurricane itself.
The storm surge comes in and the water keeps rising and rising and seeps into every nook and cranny it can find. It’s littered with downed power lines, sludge, and all kinds of unseen threats. And the worst part is that it sits there, soaking and permeating every little thing it comes into contact with. It’s only after the hurricane has long moved on and the storm surge has finally receded that you really get a sense of what you’re up against. You can see what’s been knocked over and torn apart by the wind, what’s been destroyed by the water and where the high-water-mark is, delineating where you need to take it down to the studs and/or foundation and begin the rebuilding process. I felt like the Lord showed me that night at the beginning of the year that the hurricane had come and gone, the storm surge had receded, and we were standing, once again, on firm, dry ground. And while there was fresh evidence of what we’d come through and there was still an awful lot of work to do, we’d made it. We’d survived and we had a good idea of what was still standing and where we needed to rebuild.
One of the women I met in Cuba (who had the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen and the sweetest, most meek countenance) told us about sitting under a tarp that hung between some trees the hadn’t been flattened on their property – for months. Everything they had was destroyed in the hurricane. Eventually they were able to rebuild, but all the time she spent in the constantly damp environment after the hurricane has left her with lingering health issues. As I listened to her, I thought, “I certainly understand the lingering effects of a storm. Albeit an emotional one.”
I listened to a TED Talk recently by a young woman who’d also lost her husband (I really hate the word “widow”). She talked about moving forward, not on; about how you don’t get over losing someone, but how you do move forward with life, carrying them with you. Anyone who’s lost someone significant in their lives understand this. We will never get over losing Corey, but the storm surge has receded and the sun is out, we have hammers in hand and we’re taking the first steps in building this new life together.
In the months that followed Corey’s passing, most of the time I felt like the water level was so high I could barely keep afloat. Thankfully I was – and still am – surrounded by so many caring and supportive people who came to our rescue and made sure we didn’t go under… again and again and again. And now some of those same people, along with a smattering of new ones, show up with their tool belts on, helping us fix this, repair that, and rebuild from the ground the things that need rebuilding.
I can do this? is no longer shrouded in fog and followed by a question mark. It’s now punctuated with italics and an exclamation mark: I can do this! Not without loads of help, and not without occasionally slamming my thumb with the hammer, but we’re consciously and purposely putting one. foot. in. front. of. the. other. and moving forward into the post-hurricane season of life we’ve been given to live.
Today would be our 15th wedding anniversary. I’ll “celebrate” by going to work then getting home in time to take the dog out and get Abbie to piano lessons. I’ll come back home and respond to the two hundred, “I’m hungry, what’s there to eat?” declarations thrown my way, then I’ll get the kids to youth group and Wednesday night classes at church. I won’t cry or feel sorry for myself, but I’ll look at the evidence of the storm we’ve been through and will feel a deep sense of gratitude for the firm, dry ground we’re standing on, and that the Lord’s hand, ever at my right side, is keeping me unshaken… still.