Light in the Darkness

Eight years ago today, our handsome boy Josh passed away in our arms. The weather this morning is chilly, but not as bitterly cold as it was in 2012. Even still, the stillness of the snow, brisk wind, and grayness of the sky hold me in the moments of that day.

This morning, I retreated from reality and soaked in the hot tub with a cup of coffee and my phone open to my blog app. As I read through the posts, especially the one about this day: Support for the Journey, and those from the past few years: Angels We Have Heard and Doing What I Love, I realize they are gifts I have given to myself to capture memories in the same way certain songs convey a past feeling or experience.

I grew up in a musical household. I remember waking up to my dad playing the organ and mom singing to practice for church. I remember falling asleep listening to polkas and waltzes when my parents would meet for band practice. Songs have always held meaning and music has often conveyed emotions for me when words alone have failed me.

Emma loves music. She sings, plays (an open interpretation of the verb) the piano, and has her favorite jams for our morning drive to school. As we have searched for the best kids’ radio station, I have guarded certain songs as Josh’s and have skipped them. Now, in her almost-four-year-old-wisdom, Emma is quick to notice my skipping and calls me on it. She is in the stage of “Why?” for which I have to search for grace as I attempt to answer her questions both honestly and age appropriately.

Last weekend we drove past a cemetery on our way across town. As she looked out her window, Emma asked,

“What are those rocks doing in that yard?”

“Those are headstones.”

“What are headstones?”

“They mark the place where bodies rest when people die.”

“Why do people die?”

“Because sometimes people get sick. Like, remember how we go to the cemetery in Laurel and baby Josh has a stone?”

“Yeah.”

“That stone is where his body is since he is in heaven.”

“But, why did he get sick?”

“Because sometimes people do.”

“But, why?”

“Oh, look at the lights and decorations on that house. Those are pretty….” The Christmas lights a welcome distraction to redirect from the question I am still hesitant to answer.

In October and November, we celebrated my dad’s, mom’s and Courtney’s birthdays. Like most celebrations this year, they looked and felt different. Still, we found ways to celebrate even if together didn’t mean together in the same way. For Mom’s 70th, Emily organized a Zoom party. From cities all across the US, over 30 voices joined together to sing happy birthday to her.

It meant so much to my family that we could take the time to celebrate my mom. For many of us, she has been a constant source of hope and happiness through the years.

There are many moments from both my childhood and my adult life in which I distinctly remember an urgency to be home: the sleepover at my new fourth grade classmates house, my first semester of college, the MRI center in Missoula, the Children’s Hospital in Denver, an airport in Atlanta, and ironically the stay at home mandate of 2020. Whether it was a lack of my maturity, homesickness, or the need to be reassured that I was safe, I remember the sinking feeling of wanting to be home and needing the embrace of my loved ones to remind me there is light even in the darkest of hours.

One night, Emma woke up crying and wanted desperately to be held. We snuggled together in the rocking chair. It is the same chair my aunt and uncle rocked their daughter in over 20 years ago. It is the same chair we rocked in with Josh. That night, as Emma and I rocked in the darkness, I sang to her This Little Light of Mine. It has been one of the songs I have been guarding and in the moment, it was what we both needed to be comforted.

The other day Emma’s childcare asked me if Emma had a brother. I shared that she has two. They said she talks about Collin all the time and how much she loves him and how every time they are together they go swimming. When I shared that her other brother, Josh, is deceased her teacher said, “that makes so much more sense. The other day we were reading a book and there was an angel on the page. Emma pointed at it and said my brother is an angel.”

All I could muster for a response was, “Yes, he is.”

Today, Courtney and I will spend the day together. There isn’t a plan or a checklist of what we have to do. Tonight, we will drive with Emma through town to look at Christmas lights and share in the joy of this time of year.

As I reflect on the year, I am thankful for each of the memories we make together even when together looks different. I keep thinking this day will stop hurting so much, but in the words from Ed Sheeran’s song Supermarket Flowers “Oh I’m in pieces, it’s tearing me up, but I know /
A heart that’s broke is a heart that’s been loved.”

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