This post may be difficult to read. It’s difficult to write…
I really don’t like ambiguity, though my call as a pastor and what is called “mission developer” requires this of me every day. I’m a pastor who has started a new bilingual (Spanish/English) community of faith (church), basically from scratch. I’ve had to learn to live with the ambiguity of funding (sometimes my own salary), place to be settled, who will lead, who will join us in community. All kinds of things. I’m not a “normal” pastor in many ways.
And while I’ve changed profession a few times and homes and marriages, even, I find myself struggling with the ambiguities in front of me now.
The picture above is of Chris and Austin almost four years ago, about a week after their dad’s stroke and he was still touch-and-go in neuro-ICU. We struggled about whether to send them with their Central Youth Group on mission trip to help with Hurricane Sandy recovery in New Jersey. In the end, I decided to send them. The fact of the matter was, he would either die, or he would face a very lengthy and uncertain recovery. Either way, there was not much they could do by staying here. This trip turned out to be transformative, especially for Chris. (I’ve written about this in previous posts. See the one with Austin’s tattoo).
When Chris was missing, a friend sent me a link to an article about ambiguous loss. Unfortunately, I told her, we are all too familiar with ambiguous loss. The kids’ relationship with their dad changed completely the day he had his stroke. While he has some of the same personality traits, he is still different, and as a result, I often have said Chris and Austin grew up 10 years in one day. I also told my friend that I hoped and prayed Chris’s disappearance wouldn’t be a case of ambiguous loss.
It is and it isn’t.
It isn’t ambiguous because we know Chris died. There is nothing ambiguous about that.
But there is so much else about all of this that is ambiguous. While Chris was missing and while I was planning his funeral and sending in the river, I would not allow myself to “go there.” I needed to focus solely on finding Chris and then taking care of him.
And now as I try to wade through the ambiguity of what my life is today, I find myself wandering through the ambiguities of these events.
No one actually saw Chris go into the water. I still don’t know how it is, exactly, that he ended up in the river. The why and the how don’t make sense to me. I will probably never really know the answers to these questions. I will request a report from the police, too. I was in communication with them while Chris was missing, but I haven’t wanted to know anything since then. I’ll ask next week, though. At some point I need to know what they think.
And I know Chris was badly hurt at some point when he was in the river. But I don’t know the sequence of events once he was in the water. I won’t go into these details, but…well, it makes me weep to think of him being hurt before he drowned. I hope and pray he didn’t suffer for long. But this I will probably never know, either.
I don’t have the death certificate yet. They performed an autopsy on Chris and so I guess it can take a little longer to receive that. I will request the autopsy report, though I’m not sure I want to see it. But I will want to. At some point. I had this idea that made me smile just a little that Chris would be watching the autopsy on his body and would be fascinated by it.
So I sit with these questions that I will likely never be able to resolve. I sit with the trauma that feels physical from those days that he was missing. Those days seem like an eternity and a second. I can’t piece them all together anymore.
And I sit with the ambiguity of what our lives look like today and tomorrow. I was drifting off to sleep last night, and I was dreaming something that I don’t recall at all. But in the dream, I was proudly telling someone I had two sons. And then I jerked awake and my brain told me, “No. Now I only have one son.”
I know a lot of you have questions about this. It doesn’t make sense, does it? And so I pray that I can let go and let God. That I can let these questions rest in the arms of a loving and merciful God.
In my kind of vision I had a few days after Chris disappeared, I felt Jesus holding me in his arms and telling me he was taking care of Chris. And I felt Chris, too, telling me he was okay. He was sad for me, but he’s good.
I know this post is confusing and hard to read. It helps me with the ambiguities to write about them. If I can put them on paper, it somehow seems to have some kind of logic to it, even if it doesn’t. Even as I finish writing this, as my soul was crying out, shouting to the heavens today, I feel a little bit of a sense of calm. The sorrows flow from my confused brain to my broken heart to my fingers to the computer keys to the screen and they give me space for something else. I don’t know what, but a little peace, at least.
Here are some things that are certain. Chris died. And he was a beloved child of God and I rest assured in the promise of the resurrection. And Chris was well loved by many family and friends. And he loved many and lived well. Of these things I am sure.
One last note. If you’ve read my posts, you know Chris left me with a lot of writing. This poem is number 15 of 15 even though it’s about Day 1 from his collection of “Old Growth Forest.” I don’t know when or why he wrote these poems, but it’s fascinating to read them and it’s fascinating to wonder why he ordered them the way he did. I may have published this poem previously, but it seemed to fit tonight.