You Must Believe in Spring, Again

9 05 2017

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On Sunday’s post I mentioned a tune I had recently heard by the jazz pianist Joel Weiskopf. After I wrote that, I found the lyrics for the song and wanted put them here. If a Christian did not write this lyric, then here is surely an example of common grace.

When lonely feelings chill
The meadows of your mind,
Just think if Winter comes,
Can Spring be far behind?

Beneath the deepest snows,
The secret of a rose
Is merely that it knows
You must believe in Spring!

Just as a tree is sure
Its leaves will reappear;
It knows its emptiness
Is just the time of year

The frozen mountain dreams
Of April’s melting streams,
How crystal clear it seems,
You must believe in Spring!

You must believe in love
And trust it’s on its way,
Just as the sleeping rose
Awaits the kiss of May

So in a world of snow,
Of things that come and go,
Where what you think you know,
You can’t be certain of,
You must believe in Spring and love

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You Must Believe in Spring

7 05 2017

WP_20170504_07_49_17_ProToday marks another year since Anna’s death in 2008. The days and weeks and months begin to string together over time but markers continue to arise to remind you of your loss. I say at this time every year that navigating spring time is a challenge and a blessing. It is an interesting period of time in that we are remembering Anna’s birth and death and usually right in the middle we celebrate Easter and remember the resurrection of our Lord. But it is not only that we are remembering Jesus’ resurrection, bat we are looking ahead to the resurrection of all followers of Christ.

Another marker that reveals itself during this period is the beginning of spring. God grants us each year this time when dead things come to life. Roots buried deep under the earth whose tops had long withered and died from the winter’s frost and freeze now have new life coursing through them. Seeds planted in the soil die and spring to life in flowers and food.

I recently became acquainted with the music of a man named Joel Weiskopf. He is a jazz pianist and a believer. I was struck by one of his compositions entitled “You Must Believe in Spring.” Rather, I wasn’t so much struck by the tune as by the title. It captured for me in just a few words the feeling I have each year at this time as I watch my garden grow. Spring becomes a sign, if you will, of the resurrection of the dead. It is not a period of time that I believe in. It is not the fecundity of the earth in which I believe. No, it is more than all of these things and yet none of them. We believe in the Lord of the resurrection and we have hope in the future resurrection which he has promised to those who believe. It is the springtime and its fecundity that is a sign of those things in which we hope.

We pray that Christ would return soon. Come, Lord Jesus. Anna resurget.

 





Happy Eighteenth

29 03 2017

Today it is 18 years since Anna was born. Tonight we will have some variation of our typical Italian meal to celebrate together. Anna loved eating at the Olive Garden when we visited my parents in California, so while we don’t often go to that restaurant anymore, we always choose some variation for the birthday celebration.

 

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Sam and Anna enjoying some birthday fun by the pool.

 

I have two things to share this year. The first will be brief. The second is more important. First, Timberley and I went to see Michael Fabiano last night give a recital in Raleigh. He is a fantastic singer. If you love opera, you need to hear him when you get a chance. He performs with opera companies around the world so he will likely be coming to some place near you. If you do not love opera, what are you waiting for? What does this have to do with Anna? I am pretty certain that she would have loved the recital last night. But I am absolutely certain that had she gone to the recital, she would have decided to have 18 children instead of 17 and that her 18th child would have been named Fabiano. You can read a bit about her children here.

The second thing I would like to share is about a recent trip we made to Indonesia and about how you can help children and families living in poverty.

Sam and I and a group of other students and professors from Southeastern seminary left after Christmas for a trip to Indonesia. We had a fantastic time there, working with a family as they try to reach several people groups with the gospel of Jesus. There is much I could say about that part of the trip, but it is the second half of our trip that is important now.

After we returned from the island where we served and landed back in the capital city of Jakarta, and after the rest of the team returned to America, Timberley came and joined Sam and me. We took another week to visit our old stomping grounds and meet with old friends. We wanted for Sam to see the places where we lived and to solidify for himself some of the memories that for all of us were beginning to fade from view. We visited the homes where we lived and the school where he attended first grade. We visited friends whom we had not seen in almost ten years. It was a good trip.

 

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The kids enjoying the playground at the coffee plantation.

 

 

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Sam recreating the photo years later. There might be a weight limit on that thing.

 

But we also took one day and visited a little girl that we had not met personally but whom we had photos and letter correspondence that had been going on for several years. Timberley and I had decided some time ago to begin sponsoring a child through Compassion International. We were at a Keith and Kristen Getty concert at Southeastern and a plea was made to support a child there. When we went to the table we picked up several cards with children’s information. Then we found one that immediately ended our search. A little girl that lives in Bawen needed a sponsor. “Bawen,” we thought. “That is 30 minutes from where we lived in Indonesia!” So began our journey with Compassion International that has grown to where we now sponsor three little girls. (Sam has noted that each of the children, in some way, look suspiciously like Anna, but I’m sure that is merely coincidence.)

When we learned that we would be going to Indonesia, Timberley contacted Compassion and arranged for us to meet our child. We had a wonderful time with the family and with the good people that run the orphanage where our child and her older brother are cared for. I won’t go into the specifics here, but just let me say that your sponsorship of a child through Compassion will change the lives not only of that child but of the whole family. If you allow it, it will likely change your life as well. I strongly urge you to consider this ministry in your giving.

Anna, we still miss you and think of you always. Turning 18 is am important milestone for young people. But you have passed through many much more significant milestones already and I am sure would look back with a bit of a condescending but charitable laugh at the idea that having another birthday was of some significance. But allow us to have our little parties nonetheless. We are not where you are and do not see the things that you see. But soon, Anna, soon. Maranatha. Anna resurget.

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Mother’s Day in the Mountains: A Cautionary Tale

11 05 2016

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We began a kind of tradition a few years back. Tradition is not the best word for it, or rather, it is not the word I would choose for it. Yet I know not another word for what we have been doing. So that is what I will call it.

In our season of remembering Anna and mourning her death, which begins with her birthday on March 29, continues through Easter, and ends with the day of her death on May 7, the calendar plays one last cruel trick on my wife. The first Sunday following the date of Anna’s death is always Mother’s Day.

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We learned long ago that we could not, nor should we, expect that everyone around us share in whatever emotion we happened to be experiencing at that time. Events would take place that for most were just ordinary moments. For us, however, a mundane event, a song playing in the background, the look of a child running by, it could be just about anything, would make us stop while Timberley wordlessly leaned in. I would put my arm around her and draw her in. We would just silently and momentarily mourn again the loss of Anna. After a deep breath together, we would go on.

It becomes difficult, however, when events around us are celebratory and meant–rightfully so–as times of rejoicing. So once a year, our church–again, rightfully so–celebrates motherhood. We want the church to do that. We have no problem with the church doing that. We have just decided over the years that it is easier if we don’t participate.

Hence our new tradition. We now plan each year to be out of town on Mother’s Day. Sometimes it is a trip to the beach. If we don’t leave town, then it might be a day trip to a museum in town. But we just plan to be away somewhere for the day.

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This year we decided to tackle Mount Mitchell. In hindsight, it would be better to say that Mount Mitchell tackled us. Mount Mitchell is the highest point in the US east of the Mississippi River. My friends from California or Colorado might snicker, but Mt. Mitchell towers above the rest of the Blue Ridge Mountains at 6684 feet above sea level.

Several years ago, Sam and I went there with Sam’s scout troop. I knew that I needed to bring Timberley back at some point. The hike we took was strenuous and beautiful. I knew she would love the combination. We made our reservation to camp for two nights in the state park located at the summit. Then we planned to hike out to Deep Gap and back, traversing about four peaks on the way and getting an incredible view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from each peak. In between the peaks, the wooded areas are full of interesting flora, conditioned by the altitude and the extreme and varying climate.

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So we set out. Things went well at first. We made our way out I-40 and up into the mountains. We found our exit from the freeway. We followed the directions through the small town of Marion. Timberley made an off hand comment about a gas station and wondered aloud how much gas we had left. I knew we were getting close. I knew that the next day we could almost coast down hill to the town. We would be fine. I said, “Yeah, we’re fine. Don’t worry.” Hmmm.

Then we started up the winding road. Uphill. In an old Volvo 240. Loaded with camping gear. With every switchback I silently watched the fuel gauge dip further and further. I started asking navigator Sam questions like, “So Sam, where do you see us on the map?” “So Sam, how far do you think we have from here?” And all along, I knew that we driving to the top of the highest peak in the state. As I gazed around, all I could see were dozens of other peaks higher that the ridge we were currently driving. Far higher. At some point, our fat, overloaded, Volvo 240–which I dearly love–would have to leave the ridge I was on and begin climbing again one of these other peaks I could see. And then I would l look back again to see the fuel gauge laughing at me as it descended further into the red.

“Okay”, I said, pulling the car to the shoulder. “We’re going back down to get gas.” Sam and I had a brief discussion as to whether we should try to go forward to another town, or to retrace the 30 minutes or so back to Marion. We went back to Marion. I worked really hard not to look directly at Timberley on the way down.

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We turned the Volvo around and started back down the mountain. The driving was easier going back. No acceleration was needed. I knew we wouldn’t run out of gas now. The car did not get hung up on the steep inclines.

But then we noticed a smell. At first we thought of the poor guy we had passed whose clutch or brakes were going bad. But the smell kept following us. So then we thought there must be a car or truck in front of us, out of sight on the winding roads, that was casting its foul scent back in our direction. And on we went. Then it struck me. We are the smell. Those are our brakes that are stinking up the roadway. I pulled off and we got out to inspect our engine and wheels. The engine seemed fine, but Sam told us the wheels were what was smelling and that the heat coming off the wheels was almost unbearable.

We waited for a while until the wheels cooled a bit. I was worried about getting back down, finding gas, and getting back up the mountain before dark. We made the rest of the way to Marion without further adventure. We bought our gas, and set back out for Mt. Mitchell. The way up the second time was much more relaxed. Instead of staring fixedly at the fuel gauge and listening to its mocking laugh, it was now I who could laugh uncaringly at the poor gauge, helplessly sticking to the full side of the measurement.

We arrived near the summit where the camping spots are located. We noticed something odd, however, as we neared our destination. For one, there was considerably more fog at the top of the mountain than at the bottom. And second, the pine trees were not straight, and they seemed to be in a state of constant motion, leaning one way and then the other in a chaotic dance.

Now, before I say anything more, I need to tell you that I monitored the weather for our trip for days before we left. I was sure, and I assured my wife accordingly, that we would experience 70 degree weather with sunshine and no rain during our two days of camping. The weather as going to be just beautiful. The little sun figure on my phone just under “Mt. Mitchell” and right next to the giant 70 told me that it would be lovely.

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I learned this weekend that weather men are hacks. They have no idea. In fact, they probably don’t like me. We stepped out of the Volvo. Instead of 70, it was in the forties. Instead of the sun, we not only had clouds, but we were in the clouds. And then there was that part of the weather report that I did not even think about checking. That was the little matter of the gale force winds at the top of the mountain. (Now, to be fair, I don’t know what gale force winds are. I don’t know what a gale is. But whatever it is, the term “gale force winds” is an apt layman’s term for what we were standing in.)

It was cold, windy, and more than a little damp. But we had arrived. So we enacted our plan to set up our camp site. While I began getting our tent set up, Sam was going to start on a fire. Then while I cooked, Sam would get his hammock set up. Timberley would get the rest of our things put together.

Two problems. First, Sam had some trouble with the fire. Now Sam is an Eagle scout. I once watched Sam at one of his campouts gather material for a fire in the middle of a snowy winter, start a fire with no matches, and then melt a can of snow and bring it to a boil in 30 minutes. It was amazing to watch. But here he was. Damp wood. The aforementioned gale force winds. And Sam blinked. Was he defeated? I saw the faintest hint of doubt in his eyes. But Sam doesn’t give up on things like this. He gets frustrated. He gets agitated. But then at some point he gets smart and figures out a way to get it done. And soon, we had a blazing fire with five little chicken sausages cooking away in the dark.

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The second problem. When I went to set up the tent for Timberley and me, I unloaded the bag of its contents at the tent pad. I unrolled the ground cloth, the tent and the fly. I began to assemble the poles. I slid them into place and began hooking the tent to the arching poles. When I finished, I looked at my creation. Something was not right. The tent sagged noticeably in the middle. As I checked all the fittings and the hooks, it suddenly dawned on me. I had grabbed the wrong set of tent poles for this tent. Our two-person backpacking tent was being held up by a frame fitted for a one-person tent.

There was not much to do. It was standing. It seemed stable enough. It would have to do. The general flabbiness of the tent, however, was only exacerbated by the again aforementioned gale force winds.

We ate our dinner in the dark. We laughed a while. We shared some stories about Anna. And then we went off to bed. Sam got into his hammock. Timberley and I climbed into the sagging coccoon. If it had been a four-post bed with cloth draped over the top, cascading down in luxurious folds, it would surely have been a romantic place to sleep. But this was not a bed with luxurious cloth. We were on the top of an exposed rock, 6600 feet up in the air. In the middle of a cloud. In gale force winds. And the cloth descending a few inches over our noses was what was separating us from the elements. It was far from romantic.

But then we learned something else about the tent and the wind. As the wind turbine continued outside the tent at a steady rate, there was an occasional lull and then a tremendous gust of wind. Every time the gust would hit us, once every minute or two, the wind would get underneath the fly of the tent, blow it up like a giant nylon balloon, and then send it crashing down, slapping against the side of our tent with a tremendous “thwack, thwack, thwack.”

And so it went, minute after minute, hour after hour. And then the rain started. It wasn’t a bad rain, I don’t think. It’s just that, well, again I had assured Timberley before we left. “I’ve been checking the weather. Great weather. Sunshine. 70 degrees. Zero chance of rain all weekend.” I felt like Donald Trump assuring the country of the financial plan he was about to make up. “Your gonna love this weather. Trust me.” And then it started to rain. Every aspect of the trip was working out the complete opposite of what I had expected.

And on and on went the thwacking. Until, that is, the wind finally removed from us the cause of our consternation. Timberley woke me with a start, “Todd, the fly just blew away!” I grabbed my flashlight and started looking into the bushes next to our tent. No sign of our fly. I was not looking forward to getting out into the wind-blown, rain-soaked bushes to search for a fly that by this time had likely blown all the way to Tennessee. Just then, I shifted my feet and realized that I was standing on the fly. It was being held in the ground by two more stakes and was now out of the wind, lying calmly on the ground. I went back to bed.

The rain had stopped by that point. Sam had retreated to the car from his hammock. The wind continued to race through the tent. I say “through the tent” because now there was no fly to keep it out. But neither was there a fly to continue the merciless “thwacking” of the tent a few inches from our ears. So we laid in the cold wind. Watching the stars peak in through occasional holes in the clouds racing overhead. The gusts of wind now just gently rocked our tent back and forth. And after some time, I fell asleep.

In the morning, the wind was still there but seemed calmer. The thick fog still enveloped our campsite. It was cold. I used a small gas stove and made some coffee for Timberley and myself. We talked about our plans and decided we would not spend the second day on top of the mountain.

We packed up our gear and made our way to the head of the Deep Gap Trail starting from the parking lot near the summit. We decided to do just the first leg of the hike out to Mt. Craig and then see how we were doing. The air was clean. The exercise was exhilarating. The hike was strenuous. We had few moments with a view, however, since almost the entire hike was spent on the inside of a cloud. Every now and again the sky cleared, so Timberley was able to get a taste of what the hike would have been like on a sunny day.

We made it back to the car and decided to go into Black Mountain for lunch and then home. We knew of a German restaurant in town that had been recommended. We had Reuben sandwiches there and then got on the road for home.

Things rarely go exactly as planned, and sometimes they go in precisely the opposite way of how you plan them. But we still plan and move on. Did our trip fail because of the wind or the fact that I wouldn’t stop for gas on the drive in? No, those events just added to the experience of the adventure. We have a story to tell now that is different than if we had had sunny skies and beautiful views. In the future we will certainly laugh more about this weekend than we will about the beautiful ones.

We had a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend together. We worked together to overcome problems. We laughed together. We helped each other.

Timberley noted that Anna would have loved the camping and hiking. I wasn’t so sure about the camping part of it. Anna was very much the Princess. She put up with a lot, but she also enjoyed her bed. But she would have loved the hiking and being outdoors. She and Sam both love(d) animals and nature. And her fertile imagination would have surely turned the weekend into part of a novel. But, alas, our plans do not always work out. The weather is unpredictable. Sometimes we forget to stop for gas. Sometimes the real weekend ends up being so much different than the one you planned. The reality is always a mix, then, of sadness over disappointment and amazement at how things actually turn out.

 

 





Happy Birthday, Anna

29 03 2016

california-2007-071Another marker today. Anna would be 17 years old today. It is difficult to imagine, really. I shared last year of a memory of Anna learning to ride her bike, and what that might look like as she would learn at 16 to drive a car. The imagined scene was not pretty. But at 17, what am I supposed to imagine? Her first date? Her senior year of high school? It is all so unreal for a little girl who will always remain nine years old. More so for a nine year old girl who, although she wanted to have seventeen children and had already named them all, had no interest in being married. She recognized with apprehension the difficulty of her position and so conceded that she would have to marry in order to have all of her children. “But I don’t want to,” she insisted. “A husband is merely a tool for having children.” I have no idea where she learned things like that at nine years old. Was there a series of juvenile feminist literature she had hidden somewhere in her bedroom?

This year is unusual for us. The calendar is not right. Easter normally falls after Anna’s birthday but before the date of her death, May 7. This year, however, Easter has fallen on a date early enough that it preceded her birthday. I suppose in hindsight that the ordering of these events matters little. In most years, the remembrance of the Lord’s resurrection on Easter serves as an encouragement to us before we come to our day of grief on May 7. Were Easter to ever fall after that day, I suppose I would say it is only natural for the day of Anna’s death to occur before our remembrance of the resurrection. That is the natural order, is it not? In all these things, we find hope where we can and take encouragement where we are able. Dates and their orders have no intrinsic meaning. We imbue them with meaning as we create the relationships with one another and with our lives.

This Easter season and Anna’s birthday season have been difficult for our seminary. A little over a month ago, our librarian, Jason Fowler, lost his young wife to cancer. It was a long process that although never welcome, was expected. He is grieving now and is likely looking at Easter in a more tangible light than he ever did before. Then just last week one of our student’s lost his wife in a horrible automobile accident. It was sudden, like Anna’s death for us. There is no time or opportunity to prepare for that kind of grief. I don’t know that student, but I do know that this Easter was a whole new experience for him and for his young children. I hope that the grief he feels so strongly now only serves to make the reality and hope of the resurrection that much stronger.

I tell a portion of Anna’s story–a very small portion indeed–to my Old Testament students each year at school. (For some reason, I spare my Hebrew students the same treatment.) I have a specific purpose in sharing with these students, and I shape her story in a way that I believe fits with what we are doing in class. I have found over the years that her story still resonates with many of our students. I received a brief note the other day from a former student letting me know that I was one of his favorite professors. I know why he said this. It had nothing to do with the Old Testament or my ability (or inability) to teach well. It was solely because of a series of conversations we had about an issue that had developed in his life. We spoke together throughout the semester about an ongoing problem that had come up with one of his children. I know that the only reason we ever had those conversations to begin with was because he had heard my stories about Anna. I know that there are others like this young father, some I am aware of some I am not, but I do know of this one changed life.

With each passing year, the grief process changes. In some respects it gets easier. In other respects, however, the process changes in an unexpectedly negative way. Memories start to fade. One ties the loved one to a certain life event only to realize later that that person had already died before the event occurred. You had manufactured the memory. Guilt ensues. I still remember the day that I sat on our back porch reminiscing about how much my mother loved sitting on that back porch, only to realize that she had died the year before we moved there. And yet the memory of her sitting and enjoying our back yard was tangible to me. From time to time we read the Sacred Diaries of Adrian Plass out loud together. I can see Anna laughing at all the jokes. Or I can see her laughing with us as we watch Sergeant Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes. Yet she was not there for any of that.

The vagueness of these memories propels me towards a new insight into Anna’s death. Perhaps my memories, and the inconsistencies of those memories, is slowly being replaced by a surety of the future. My memories of Anna, while growing more opaque, are giving way to another set of visions–memories if you will–of Anna enjoying the presence of the Lord. As we sing hymns of praise to our Father, and I convert all the pronouns so that I am singing of Anna’s praise to her Father, I am filled with this concrete certainty that Anna is more real and far happier now than the when she experienced the happiness of a flesh and blood child. And the certainty of that vision of Anna’s present state gives me a more certain hope in my own resurrection when Christ returns.

This certainty, of course, is not based on any vision of Anna. It is based on God’s revealed word. I should say, perhaps, that I know of Anna’s state now because of God’s word. And as I imagine Anna in the working out of God’s promises to us, that vision helps me to understand the future with a certain hope.

We will continue to miss her very much.





Anna Would Have Loved Italy . . . Sort Of

15 10 2015

Timberley and I celebrated our twentieth anniversary earlier this year. We were married January 7. But January is a horrible time to travel, unless you are going to Patagonia or Tasmania, so we waited until now to make our trip. (That and we thought we would wait on our trip until Sam had left home for college. That part didn’t quite pan out. We get to enjoy Sam for one more year!)

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We had known for some time that we wanted to go to Italy together. We had been several times in the past and had thought it would be a very romantic place to spend an anniversary. It was. We stayed in Florence and a few days in Siena. Everything about the trip was wonderful.

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One day as were walking through Florence, we were faced with the artwork from the Medici family. I think we were perhaps seeing a statue of Lorenzo Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent). My thoughts went to Anna and her love of the Renaissance. Then I remembered the names of all her children that she planned on having. (Without having a husband, but that was another story.) It seemed that all of her names were Italian or pseudo-Italian. Salvio and the like.

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As we walked through the street that day, I said to Timberley, “Anna would have loved Italy.” “I know,” she replied. “She would loved everything about this.” I thought for a moment and said, “But I guess that where she is now, she would probably think that Italy was not much to see.” Timberley said that it is easy for us to lose our focus and proper perspective on things. We can only see what we see. We don’t see what Anna sees. We have our experiences here, and we can only focus on missing Anna. We make the assumption that Anna is missing what we are experiencing without her. But the situation is really reversed, isn’t it. We are missing what she is experiencing.





Various Shades of a Monochrome Loss

7 05 2015

There is a sameness to every loss. Every loss is different.

Jerry Sittser, in his book A Grace Disguised, says that all loss shares similarities. It doesn’t matter the kind of loss or the degree of the loss. It is fruitless, he suggests, to play the game of comparing grief.

We have friends who lost a home in a terrible fire. They had built their dream home and were preparing to move in, when, on Christmas Day, it burned to the ground. Their loss was severe.

We have friends who have struggled with childlessness. Is that a loss? Can one lose what one never had? In their case, they lost their dreams. They lost the fruition of lifelong and deeply felt expectations. Yes, this was loss.

We have friends who struggle with life-long illnesses of children. Is it a loss if the child is still with you, but chronically and perhaps terminally ill? Dreams and expectations may be lost, or at the least changed dramatically.

But isn’t all loss like that? We lost our daughter seven years ago. But the loss is really of the times to come that you plan for and dream of. We expect to have this future time with our child, and then she is gone. Yes, we lost her. But perhaps what we really lost was the her that had not yet come to be.

Or, put another way, the nine-year old Anna we were doomed to lose anyway. Had she lived, she would have never been nine again. She would be sixteen if she were still with us. She would be in high school. She would be getting a driver’s license. She would be (gasp) dating boys.

Sam is eighteen years old. He has grown into a (very large) young man. He works. He goes to school. He has his friends and spends a lot of time with them. Timberley and I spend a lot more time by ourselves than we did a year ago. Sam is not three, or four, or eight anymore. That Sam is lost to us. We can remember, sure, but we don’t have the precocious toddler anymore. He is gone. We lost him.

Our memories still work. We can remember the Sam that is gone. We can look at pictures. Sometimes, if we look really hard, we can look at grown up 18-year-old Sam and still see the toddler. But it’s not quite the same. In the same way, we have our memories of Anna. We can look at pictures. But that precious girl is lost to us, just as Sam the toddler is lost to us.

So perhaps what we lost was the Anna we never had. Anna the 16 year old. Anna the college student. Anna the wife. Anna the mother. We lost the future.

Is it in this way that all loss is the same? We have an expectation for tomorrow, but that expectation proves fruitless. We don’t get the job we want. We don’t get into the school we expect to. We don’t get asked to the prom, or we don’t get asked by the person for whom we hoped. Our child does not live to the age we expect and we lose the lifelong relationship we planned for.

Perhaps in understanding the sameness of loss, we can better come alongside others who are grieving. We know their pain, because we remember our own pain. We don’t compare the loss or the grief, but we let our own experience of loss drive us to come alongside and support the other person.

I said at the beginning that every loss is different. To this point I have been thinking about the similarities of all loss and grief. I want to think now about how each loss is unique.

When we lost Anna, we lost a very particular young girl. There was no one quite like her. I don’t say this as a proud parent (which I am) or because I have over-sentimentalized who Anna was (although I do), but simply as a statement of fact. Every person is unique. Each individual has the idiosyncratic quirks which make that person distinguishable from every other person.

Just as Anna was unique, so I am unique. I am different than every other man, every other husband, every other father. So it is only natural that in the meeting or joining of Anna’s uniqueness and my own uniqueness, there emerged a relationship that was unique. There was never a daughter and a father like Anna and I. Together we were one of a kind.

That unique relationship that I lost no one can quite understand. No one else is me. No other child is Anna. And no other father-daughter relationship was Anna’s and my relationship. And so there was no loss like my loss.

It doesn’t make my loss better or worse, or deeper, or more tragic, or anything of the sort. It just makes it different. And that difference is what makes talking to those who grieve so difficult. None of the things you prepare for quite work. You try to let the person know that you know how they feel. Well, the truth is, you don’t know. “I understand how you feel. I once lost ______.” What does that matter to the other person?

Instead, perhaps it might be good for you to ask the grieving person to talk about the uniqueness of their loss. Since every person is unique, ask about the person who passed away. Ask about what made that person unique and interesting. Perhaps ask about their relationship. What was lost in the absence of that relationship. To my friend who lost his house in a fire, I could have asked for him to tell me about what made that house their dream home. In other words, explore the uniqueness of this person’s pain and grief. Don’t assume it is just like your grief, because it isn’t.

Let the sameness of grief drive you to compassion, empathy, and, perhaps, silence. Let the uniqueness of grief drive you to inquisitiveness. Perhaps out of the union of the two a beautiful story will emerge.