“In the future, can’t wait to see/ If you open up the gates for me…It’s kinda hard with you not around/ Know you in Heaven smilin’ down/ Watchin’ us while we pray for you/ Every day we pray for you/ ‘Til the day we meet again/ In my heart I’ll keep you friend/ Memories give me the strength I need to proceed/ Strength I need to believe… I still can’t believe you’re gone/ Give anything to hear half your breath…” –Puff Daddy, “I’ll be Missing You”
September 8th is a difficult day. It marks the anniversary of my aunt’s death, which rocked my family. My mom’s only sister, her death was incredibly painful and something that we just don’t talk about. In fact, her name is only mentioned with the greatest caution. While she crosses my mind throughout the year, the day we lost her always comes with an empty ache, a fog that makes everything else so much less important.
Terry was the first person I knew who died. I had friends who lost parents and knew of some girls who had tragically died when we were in junior high school, but no one that I knew, that I loved, that I had a relationship with, had died before. I remember the frustration and deep, novel sadness that overcame me. As a freshman in high school, I was in a difficult middle place between wanting to be comforted and coddled and feeling compelled to comfort my mother. It pains me that we do not talk about her. I hate that she is taboo, too hard to remember because she was wonderful. I know that we turn the dead into saints, and she had plenty of demons that she faced and conquered in her life, but she became a wonderful woman. I actually spent very little time with her, but she was an inspiration. On top of defeating addiction, she was the mom I hope to be–she led her daughter’s scout troop, shuttled her children to archery and AWANAS, loved her grandbaby fiercely, and met the neighbor kids at the front door to pray with and for them before they walked to school each morning. Her family fell apart after her death and now, twelve years later, I still do not see the silver lining, the reason, the good that came of all this.
This unresolved anger, the senselessness of her passing, is perhaps why I feel so unsettled on the anniversary. As I drove to work, I was incredibly stressed and tired. I had (big shock!) computer complications that made me miss an important conference early in the morning and was running on just a couple of hours of sleep as I left for a long day of work. For the last month and a half, the only thing that I have listened to in the car has been the Avenue Q soundtrack. I closed at work the night before, so I had listened to the radio on the way home because Love Line is a super secret shame of mine. As I started my car, the radio was still playing. Before changing over to my cd, I scanned my presets just to see what I was missing. In a moment that makes me think that “coincidences” are just a simplistic word for God at work, the song that opened this post, good old Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You,” was just starting. My eyes flooded and throat closed, but I couldn’t turn it off. A cheesy remnant of my adolescence, this song is so full of sorrow and strikes me as painfully sincere. It was a reminder of Terry, of her day, that sadness and anger is okay, and that her memory and legacy live on. I haven’t heard that song in years, but it made its way, in its entirety, into my drive. Mourning with the radio made me feel a little less alone.
As the day dragged on and the city baked in an above-average heat, the day looked to be as bad as it could be. And then everything went black. From Mexico to Orange County, the Pacific to Arizona, electricity disappeared. Of course. Because when it rains, it pours on the day I forgot my umbrella. Sitting in the darkness, unable to leave work, I thought about the fatigue overtaking my body. I thought about my stressful morning, about how tired I am of having the worst-case scenario always play out, and then I thought about Terry. The day was just overwhelming. I felt small and helpless and very, very alone.
I finally got home and quickly rounded up candles and flashlights. I called home quickly to tell my parents I was alive and, if something more sinister struck while we were without power, that I loved them. I settled for the most edible of my food and finally gave into the darkness and went to bed. Laying in the still, hot darkness, willing my open window to carry a breeze instead of the roar of freeway traffic, I drifted in and out of light sleep. I woke up and hoped that when I checked the time on my phone that the night had passed, that dawn was near. It was 10. I lay in sweat, near tears, and resolved that it would be a sleepless, endless night. No tv, no reading, no video games, and no phone. I knew I would never make it. And so did God. As I lay there, feeling the hot darkness crush me and my spirit, it happened. About ten minutes after I woke up and panicked at the long night ahead, the lights came on. My fan kicked in and the air swirled over my hot skin. He really wasn’t going to give me more than I could bear, but as Mother Teresa said, “I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.”
I do realize how insignificant a dying computer, mean customers, no lights and a hot night sound compared to my aunt, who no long can fight those little battles. It was just a long day, a hard day, a day that I was more than glad to see end. But, as I fell asleep, with most things back in order, the words of my beloved Avenue Q ran through my overwhelmed mind:
“For now we’re healthy/ For now we’re employed/ For now we’re happy/ If not overjoyed/ And we’ll accept the things we cannot avoid, for now… Only for now!/ For now there’s life!/ Only for now!/ For now there’s love!/ Only for now!/ For now there’s work/ For now there’s happiness!/ But only for now!/ For now discomfort!/ Only for now!/ For now there’s friendship!/ Only for now!… Each time you smile/ It’ll only last a while/ Life may be scary/ But it’s only temporary/ Everything in life is only for now!” —Avenue Q, “For Now”