Another year, grief over time.

Melissa Pullis, of Hazlet, N.J., stands at the engraving for her husband Edward at the World Trade Center site in New York City during memorial ceremonies for the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2012. (Getty Images)

This morning I walked my daughter up the stairs to her preschool, and realized that she no longer needs help climbing those steps.  It feels like only a few months ago when I was holding her left arm tightly while she climbed each one with focus and effort.

Yet, it’s been three years.  Time seems to both drag and fly, doesn’t it?

As I packed up backpacks and tied shoes this morning I noticed my husband had ESPN on, and it was showing images of the towers falling.  Playing clips of teary eyed daddys and grief stricken mamas who had lost their athletic sons in the catastrophe of that fall.

My mind clicked to check the date, that’s right, it’s September 11.  Deep Breath,  Flashback to that day, watching the towers fall on my parents television and later delivering those tragic newspapers to the doors of hundreds of homes.

Each paper felt heavy in my hand, a piece of history and tragedy leaving its inky mark on my hands and my life.

I can’t believe 11 years have passed since that date, the one I’m sure my children and grandchildren will ask me about the same way I asked my parents about the challenger explosion and the day JFK was shot.

We talked a lot in the raw days that followed Sept 11, 2001 about all that we lost as a country, our sense of safety was gone and we realized that war would no longer be easy to identify or contain.

We grieved as a nation and I think that we still do, even though the years have healed our wounds into scars.

Sept 11 is a grief that we all share, in a way.

But eleven years later, this shared grief has been easy to put on a shelf and convert into a memory, a story.  Eleven years later Sept 11 is a fairly easy day for me to endure, there is sadness and remembering, but there is routine and normal life in spite of it.

But there are days on my calendar that aren’t easy to endure because for me the loss on those dates is personal, it marks another year without someone I love, someone who shaped me, gave me life.

The two year anniversary of my Mother’s death is coming up in just over a month and anytime I think about it I hyperventilate a little bit.  Two years seems like a unbearable gap between this moment and our last conversation.

I long to go back and save her, to intervene somehow.  But I can’t, and so I live in a world where train whistles chill me to the core.

This grief, October 13, is personal and scoffs at the thought of life going on as usual.

And it is this feeling that the mamas, daddys, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers and friends of the 3,000 lost in the twin towers feel today, right now.

I’m sure that for them, watching the towers fall on TV is a lot like a train whistle is to me.  Not just a piece of history or technology but the gut wrenching thing that brings them back to the moment of impact.  The moment they lost someone senselessly and permanently.

It’s the that they wish they could go back and change, to convince them not to go to work that day, not to respond to the call.

The strange thing about grief over time is that it feels like it flies by and drags on all at the same time.

We rail and shirk at the idea that another year separates us from those we love, and that there is no bargaining chip, no option B, nothing we can do about it.

So today as the thought of shared grief arises within you, may we prayers and dedicate our tears to those who can’t get off the couch today, who can’t watch the news, who can’t believe that another year has come between them and their dear one.


Seventh Anniversary

Dave Verkaik, 1955 - 2005

It’s rainy, it’s gray and the heavens look like they’re about to open the flood gates and drench us all in a cool spring rain.  It was like that seven years ago today, the day I lost my Dad.

Each anniversary has been drastically different for me.  The earlier years were crushing and painful.  I typically spent them with close friends and we shared soup and pie, my two main comfort foods.  Each year has been different, but the common thread is one of healing.  Still, I always ache for him, not just on March 19 but always.  Some days it seems like he’s been gone forever but sometimes the thought of our seven year separation sounds ridiculous.

When I hear my friends use the phrase “my Dad said” or “I talked with my Dad” my heart and mind think this:  Oh, Your dad? I’m jealous that you have a Dad.  I remember what that was like, having a Dad.  I loved my Dad, he was awesome.  God I miss him, so bad.

When we buried my Mom my Uncle Rich said read this quote over her grave.  It is profoundly, perfectly true and it has permanently adhered itself to my perspective on loss.

Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute. We must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first but at the same time it is a great consolation.  For the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap. God does not fill it but on the contrary keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other even at the cost of pain.  ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As famous theologians tend to do, Bonhoeffer nailed it.  I walk this earth with an empty Dave shaped hole.  He was my one and only, and I am forever lacking him.  I would describe it as a constant dull ache, or a lost limb. Those who have lost an arm or a leg describe phantom pains that happen periodically, and sometimes my Dad-gap aches like that.  I’m constantly aware that he’s gone, but sometimes there is a sharp, acute pain, and in those moments his absence is almost intolerable.

I have grown to have a peace with my Dad gap, I couldn’t get rid of it so finding a peace with it was the next best thing.  I honor my connection with him by honoring the purpose God put on my life.  One of the last and best conversations we had was him reassuring me that once I had found my call, my “thing”, that I would soar.  I was floundering in those days, only on the cusp of giving him something to be proud of.   would be proud of me, and although I have a hefty amount of self-doubt, that is one thing I am pretty confident in.

No one really knows whether or not the dead bear witness to what is happening here on earth.  There are logical parts of me that are sure that they don’t, and then there are corners of my heart that are confident that they can.

I do still feel that painful connection Bonhoeffer refers to.  My Dad and I are still in communion and although I don’t understand the logistics of it, I know that he’s at peace.  He’s with God and he’s bursting with joy, his burdens are gone, and he’s fully the person God created him to be.  I can also feel how much he loves his grandkids, even though he’s never held them or pushed them on a swing.

Yes, I love being my Father’s daughter, yes I feel him, and oh yes… I miss him even seven years out it stings and it’s hard.  But we are intrepid, we carry on.