My mom was born with a hole in her heart. A literal one. The oxygen couldn’t flow through properly. She was lucky in some ways. She lived on a farm and the doctor told her just to rest if she grew tired. There was no cure for this when she was born. It would have been expected that she would have died from it at some point.
Finally, when she was in her twenties, a doctor at the University of Minnesota, I think, started doing open heart surgeries. Even 50+ years ago she couldn’t get the surgery for some time because she didn’t have insurance. That hole in her heart was repaired and her heart is still healthy.
But of course, when Chris was lost in the river and then was found dead 10 days later, there was created a hole in my heart that will never be fully repaired. To be honest, at this point in time I have trouble seeing how it is ever repaired. As a pastor, I’ve walked with parents on their journey as they lost their child or children. I’ve seen them struggle and I’ve seen them keep going. I know it’s possible. And at the same time, I don’t really see how it will be possible.
So I’ve been thinking of holes. Lots of holes. And I wonder what will happen with this huge hole in my heart and in my life and in my being. Right now, I think it is mostly being filled with tears. It’s funny. I cry often, so often, in fact, that I know I am crying and don’t know at the same time. People usually offer me a kleenex or something to wipe my tears, but it seems to make no difference to me if the tears flow and flow.
But I remembered the picture of the hole at the top of this post. That’s from a wall in Jerusalem that I toured a number of years ago now. I remember looking up and seeing the light come into the hole, and I had a strong urge to see what you would see through the hole. I held my camera high into the air and this is what my camera saw through the hole:
Here is what I wrote about it when I posted it:
So now I think about holes a lot and I wonder what will fill this void. I know a lot of people try to fill the aching of this missing part of themselves with drugs or alcohol or work. And sometimes the hole fills with anger and doubt. And I can totally understand why these things happen.
And I pray and hope that these are not the things that I use to try to fill this huge, gaping hole in my life. I have been blessed by the people around me to take the time I need to wander through the haze of a life with this huge hole. You know, we definitely need longer times at home with our children when they are born or adopted. And what I’m discovering now is how absurd it is that we expect people to go back to work within days of a loved one dying. We don’t allow ourselves or others the opportunity to wander for awhile and sit with the huge hole and contemplate. We expect ourselves and others to get back to it. Maybe it feels helpful, and there is something to a routine, I suppose. But more often, I think we would be better served by allowing a time for grief and tears to fill that hole.
I will share a few more things here.
First, I will share what I pray the hole will be filled with. It is a picture I found on Chris’s Instagram. I have no idea where it’s from or why he took it. But somehow in all of this, I hope this is what fills me:
And I will share a few pictures of holes that I’ve taken over the last few years and the captions will explain why I find them hopeful.
This is a picture from The ice caves at Lake Superior about 2 years ago. We had so much fun that day as a family and it was a new and unique experience for all three of us.
This is from the bean in Chicago. Chris has loved Chicago his whole life. He almost decided to go to School there but decided to stay in Minnesota. We went there often and we had so much fun each time.
I took this the other night after a long day when I was so incredibly sad. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”
And here I’ll share one of Chris’s poems. It strikes me because he talks about different perspectives, and I suppose seeing some ray of hope in the hole of despair helps us change our perspective. I’m not often there yet, but I have seen it with other people who have lost someone so very precious to them.
(5)Thick and Thin
Day twenty. Somehow the forest
appears to be thicker and thinner
at the same time. In my eye
it looks the same but in my brain
I see so many things, all happening
at the same time.
When I move through the brush
I move with ease, almost
without noticing obstacles in my path,
almost like the forest is opening for me.
When I stop, stand still, breathe,
my body is flooded with energy,
from the trees who are deliberate
and delight in their budding flowers,
the insects and bird pollinators
fleeting and singing newly invented songs,
fungus and bacteria beneath my feet
individually so insignificant but
their numbers are so vast,
in one handful of dirt are more diverse species
than trees in this endless forest.
The river of water, one route tracing
the circle of life through all of these bodies.
(From “Old Growth Forest, Chris Stanley)
And finally, I went to visit Chris’s tree again this evening. It looks better, although there seem to be some insects feasting on some of the leaves. But I gathered this bouquet of wild flowers/weeds to send to the river. As I stood there and cried, there was a strong breeze, and I heard (Mostly) Madrigals singing “Breathe On Me, Breath of God.” And I don’t always feel it or know it, but I have faith that God is breathing on me, and that Chris rests in the loving arms of this God who breathes life into us.
I know my friends and family are suffering, too. I see it in your eyes and I hear it in your voices. And I know you want to be strong for me and for Austin. And I invite you into this place that is empty. I invite you to cry tears with me and to mourn the loss of our beautiful Chris. And I invite you into a faith that hope will fill, well not fill, but join that emptiness, to form something that we have yet to discover. Chris is at peace and will always be in my heart and in the heart of those who knew him and loved him and now in the hearts of those who are meeting him through our words.