When Marleigh and Delaney were small and they asked about death, I would tell them that a person dies when their heart stops beating. “What then?” they would ask. “Well,” was my explanation, “then their spirit flies away. And their body begins turning back into the earth. But their love always lives on inside of us.” This satisfied them. And me also.
John sent me this photo he took earlier today. He told me that at Ethan’s burial they released a white dove. Later, when the family and friends had gathered back at home, a white dove flew in and lighted on their roof.
I was awestruck by his words. I could hear in the few sentences he wrote that the white dove was a powerful messenger for them today, though he didn’t say exactly how. Did it speak to them of the flying away of the spirit? Did its return speak of the love that resides in their hearts and that will remain there forever? Was that dove a messenger to them of love and peace? To them, was it a symbol of hope and comfort and healing?
I’ve been noticing how I have been altered since John’s phone call the other morning. My feelings of anxiety and apprehension around him have turned to compassion, concern, and support. We live far removed from each other. 800 miles and many years separate us. I’ve only met his family once, perhaps twice, and then only briefly. Our lives have carried on without each other. And yet, of course, with the news of the death of my former husband’s stepson, the estrangement falls away. Rightly so. I want to help. I can’t begin to imagine what he and his family are experiencing with this tragedy. They’re living the unthinkable; the unimaginable. Every parent’s worst nightmare. This is their reality now. And I want to send them support, love, comfort. Small tokens. Small, yet I believe that compounded with the hundreds of ways they’re being loved and supported by their family and friends at home it all adds up to something that will help to carry them through this time. At least that is my wish for them.
Calling hours are this evening from 5-8pm. We won’t be traveling to West Virginia for the services. But tonight at 5pm Marleigh, Delaney, and I will be lighting two candles: one for Ethan, who lost his life on the evening of September 30th, and another for those who love and were loved by him. We will burn the candles for the duration of tonight’s service. I invite you to join us in lighting a candle tonight. In support of John and Susan and their family if you like, or in support of anyone else who is suffering and in great pain. Please share your stories if you like. I’m always grateful to hear them, because we’re all in this together, aren’t we. And when it comes down to it, it’s the love and support we share that help each other through it all.
Tuesday morning I received a call from my former husband. I noticed how my stomach began slithering in knots and my heart began to race. Even after 10 years my body still had that immediate visceral response just seeing John’s name on my ringing phone. I was sitting in my auto mechanic’s office, waiting for my car to be inspected. Not the place to talk. I put my hand over that slithery place in my abdomen, took a deep breath, and smiled. It’s okay, I thought to myself. I imagined he wanted to talk about Marleigh and Delaney, as they hadn’t spoken in several months, and I didn’t anticipate it being a particularly pleasant conversation. I’ll get back to him when I get out of here, I thought.
But the moment I heard his voice in his message, I knew this wasn’t a frustrated or angry call. I could hear immediately that there would be no riot acts being read. His voice was soft, his words were paced slowly. He was calling to tell me his stepson had died in an auto accident the night before, and he really needed to talk to his daughters. Could I help him.
I was sitting in my auto mechanic’s office, amidst a regular day. Their world had been turned upside down. Altered indelibly. Unimaginably.
Phone calls and text messages have filled the quiet spaces of these past two days. They will continue to do so. There seems so little I can do, other than send love and support from afar. Assure John that our daughters are healthy, and happy, and, most importantly, safe. John’s partner fills my thoughts. The mother of the young man who died. I wish her comfort. Great comfort. May she be held and cradled. May she receive and feel great love. May she feel comfort.