Three years ago today
It was a perfectly ordinary Wednesday evening.
The kids were at church with daddy and I was home with our youngest. Puttering around. Dishes, laundry, diapers and dawdling while a toddling little one followed me around.
My husband’s mama called mid-evening. She was worried. Her own husband should have been home around dinner time from his hunting trip. He wasn’t answering his cell phone. She’d called his hunting buddy (who was at home, hadn’t joined him this time) and he hadn’t heard from him either. I listened, prayed with her, listened some more. Figuring I’d help fill in the time till her son was back with me and she could talk with him and figure out what to do.
The local sheriff on the other side of our mountains drove out to the dirt road where Jerry had parked to hike out to the pond where he’d hope to bring down some ducks. Probably expecting to find the truck gone and we’d just wait till he pulled in the driveway.
No telling how many times Jerry went out to those mountains. He sported the best Cabela’s attire, owned every sort of cool hunting or fishing gadget I’d ever heard of and lots that I hadn’t. He loved being outside. Lived and breathed it.
The sheriff did find the truck. Empty. Untouched. It had been dark for hours by then. It was below freezing. Duck hunting hours long over. No one would stay out there by their own choice.
When my hubby pulled in to our house at 8:30 he spoke with his mom. They were mobilizing a search and rescue crew. They would find him. We would wait until they did. He would drive over the mountains and I would stay here with our clan. Kids went quick to bed and I gathered all the warm clothes I could find. Shaking hands made coffee and put protein bars and nuts in bags and very few words were spoken.
I can’t remember if I called my mom then yet or not. And the very typing out of “I can’t remember…” is why I’m writing this story again today. I don’t want the details to get foggy. I don’t want to forget how life can change in one breath. I don’t want to forget what his great big smile looked like.
My mom was across the country where it was already the middle of the night. Sitting at my beloved Grandma’s bedside. Waiting to see if she would, if she could possibly pull through. Her heart failed her and her body was weary of the toll. So I think once I sent off my beloved, I called my sister. My little middle one, who was pregnant at the time. She said she’d come and I said that I was sure it would all be okay and she should rest. Three hours later when the search crew had not found a thing I called her after midnight and said please, please come.
We sat in my bed, talked, rested with eyes wide open, talked. Waited. The most painstaking kind of waiting there is. My dad and my sister’s hubby figured out when to head over the mountains too. To wait. To help. But mostly just to love in the moment. Every minute was an hour and it was without exception the longest night of my life.
The search team decided it was too black dark to keep searching. They would have to wait a few hours until daybreak. Talk about helpless. Talk about feeling like you can’t do ANYTHING. We prayed our hearts out but mostly the silent kind because the words you need to pray you don’t want to say out loud.
Morning came and I told my sis she should get home to her little boy. She had weathered the long night with me and surely the new day would bring better news. I was certain I would be okay and would be busy caring for my four little people. I would make breakfast and dress children and do normal things.
But somewhere between making breakfast and dressing children the world stood still and five words in a text message from the man that I have loved since I was 15 years old knocked me to the floor and I wailed at the top of my lungs. I had walked into my bedroom to pick up something when his message came. I could not move or catch my breath. I could not pick myself up. I knew he was with all the rescue people and law enforcement and he couldn’t give me any more details at that moment. Later I would know he was knee deep in freezing mud water at the pond where he found his dad…next to his dad’s hunting dog who was still standing loyal watch. I dialed my mom in Virginia, called my sister to beg her back over to my house straight away and sat on my floor in a heap.
Kids had a hundred questions and I had no answers. I shook in tears and held them so tight it hurt. My mom immediately scrambled for a flight home despite knowing her own mama there was still wholly unstable. My sister held me up, helped me get together and we waited some more. But this time without the hope of good news. This time with hearts that hung heavy and broken.
A heart without hope is one of the greatest sorrows of life.
And before that day, I could truly say that I’d never known what that felt like. Ever. I am by nature optimistic yes, but more than that I have known Hope all my life. But I had never known such tragic, unexpected loss. Nothing in all of living prepares one for things like this. And nothing leaves a mark quite like it either.
I think I held my breath for about three months after. Loss like that undoes so much inside. I questioned everything I’d ever known and wondered how in the whole wide world this could happen. My family stepped in and helped lead us through the days that seemed utterly frozen in heartache. Friends near and far, people from church, work, all met needs and loved us in a hundred different ways.
It caught me off guard realizing that today is just a normal day for the world. A perfectly ordinary Sunday. The thing about life is that none of it is promised to us. We might feel like we’re entitled to a long and lovely season on earth. But we aren’t.
The mark of loss cuts deep. We learn to walk with our wounds. But it’s a different walk. The most beautiful part is that if we choose, it is out of those deepest hurts that the most genuine, most sincere and most unabashed love for people can flow.