I am an entirely different person.
When I look back on 2015 I think who was that woman? Who was this person that encountered the greatest storm life could give her?
I often think about that first day of school on September 8, 2015. It had been only 10 weeks since the sudden death of my very best friend. The woman who showed up to school that day was a person numbed by shock and hope and grief and faith.
Before that, I had always been a tough-it-out sort of person. As the daughter of a Marine I was well versed in their unofficial motto: suck it up and press on. But after his death I knew I just could not do that. I had to grieve honestly and make space for sadness and work to be as emotionally healthy as I could.
I was determined to let myself be wherever I was— whether that place was devastation and sadness or feeling fine or even happy. And I was determined to be vulnerable and not just cope. I knew I had to let myself to feel the entirety of the loss, to bear the full weight of the grief.
So in doing all of that, I became a weird person. A person of extremes. I was really good and I was really bad. I could be mean and I could be nice. I was happy and then I’d be sad. Bitter and then hopeful. I was going through public trauma and I was doing the best I could but it was very weird. And I was me but yet not me.
So in a way, more than being Andrea, I became a Grieving Person. A person defined by my grief and not my Andrea-ness.
As a Grieving Person I met a million new people and did a million news things. Basically all the things the Grieving People Books tell you not to do… “Don’t make any big changes for at least two years after the death of a spouse!” they preach. And yet six weeks after my husband’s death I had sold half my belongings, said goodbye to our apartment of three years, moved out of New York City into my parents home in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, and had been admitted to a one-year theology school.
Life couldn’t have been more different as I went from a married urban housewife to a single suburban student. Not to mention I was still full time grieving and running the entire photography business I was forced to inherit with his death. (That’s another story.) But what you need to know was I was in this odd, weird, scary, different, unlike-anything-else-that-had-EVER-happened-to-me space when I walked through those school doors that September morning.
Now that I look back on it I keep thinking how weird it must have been for people to interact with me. One does not encounter freshly widowed 25 year olds every day.
But it was weirdest for me. Each day was so drastically different. Some days I’d be so exhausted at the thought of tying my shoelaces I would just start crying. But then other days I’d crack jokes and smile and felt, dare I say it, normal.
So it was weird. And I had so many questions and not many answers. Who was I? Who was I becoming? What did I want? What should I do? Why did this happen to me? I was living in wake of the Worst Thing Ever happening to me and it was all uncharted territory. And I was haunted by the fact that I lived and breathed on the very earth my husband’s soul had left.
A lot has changed since his death June 26 and school’s start September 8. I have rebuilt and renewed and re-examined my life. I have been walking, talking, thinking, and grieving. I have begged and bargained and not just while praying. And now that I think about it, I have spent practically every waking moment since he died, in one way or another, processing my marriage, my grief, my loss, and my self.
In these past seven months I have felt anything that CAN be felt. Sad and encouraged and revived and hopeful and angry and bitter and joyful and back ’round again. I have held babies and gotten massages. I have written here on this blog and on over 200 pages of journal. I have prayed and reminisced and wept and dreamt.
And what I have now is the realization that I, Andrea Enright, am an entirely different person.
And perhaps what is most surprising is that I am okay with that. And not just okay, I’m amazed by it. Encouraged by it, even.
You see, I am a woman who has been radically re-shaped by the tragedy I’ve faced. I am a woman who has been broken down with grief and slowly rebuilt again. And now I am a new me. A whole new creation. And believe it or not— I wouldn’t change a thing. If I had the choice to choose my story, I’d choose the same one, over and over again.
I know it sounds strange, it may even anger you, but I would not change what happened. And if I had ten hours to tell you the entire story, you might be convinced too– but for now just believe me when I say I’ve been eternally transformed.
Here’s how it happened.
In these past seven months I have met my story writer. And by met, I mean REALLY met. We have chatted and argued, laughed and cried. I have been comforted and encouraged and challenged and championed.
Now I have eyes to see that my story writer has been with me every step of the way. All along He was writing in punchlines and inciting incidents, peaks and valleys, miracles large and small. All along he’s been penning His masterpiece, which I have tentatively titled “Andrea Caroline, Protector of the Broken Hearted.”
And while I have been pissed at Him a lot these past seven months, He’s dealt with me graciously and oh so tenderly. And He’s revealed such goodness to me, such favor. And though I only have some idea of the story He’s writing, I know it’s something beautiful.
In this time of grief I am learning to trust the story writer. For He not only holds the pen of my life, He MADE the very pen that writes it. It is in Him I trust and in Him my story is written. And in doing that, my story is becoming all about Him.
I am finding out so much about the story writer. He’s just so good and kind and compassionate. He’s patient. Passionate. Tender. Bold.
And you see, this Andrea is becoming more like her story writer each day, kind and compassionate. Patient. Passionate. Tender. Bold. And this Andrea, this broken-and-rebuilt, still grieving, still struggling, still healing Andrea is the Andrea I’d choose over and over again.
Yes, I am still hurting. I am still uncertain about my future, but now I know who holds the pen. And each day I trust Him more and more. And in doing so I have emerged from the soil of the valley of the shadow of death as a woman with wisdom. And I wouldn’t change this wisdom for anything in this world. Not even bringing BJ back. I wouldn’t bring him back because so much work has been done in my life through this grief.
So much compassion has been forged.
So much dependence has been fostered.
So much trust has been rendered.
I may be a broken person, a sad person, but I am a more kind person. A more understanding person. A more compassionate person. And I just can’t imagine un-doing all the work that’s been done. And I see how I can work for God’s kingdom with my now tender, broken heart.
And after all, I’ll see BJ again so soon. So very soon–
For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
Yes, what happened to me was awful and I do not wish it upon anyone. But what I have realized when it comes to suffering is somehow you bear it. Somehow you keep caring. Somehow you keep fighting. Somehow you keep loving. And somehow you move forward.
And in all your loss and grief and fear and mess, if you make space for God, you emerge stronger and yet softer. Wiser but quieter. Listening more and doing less. And in a good and strange way, suffering helps you become the person you always wished you could be.
Yes I have learned that if you give your darkness over to God, if you surrender to His mysterious ways–
what emerges can be beautiful.
Bright and radiant.
Not perfect, not fixed, perhaps not even better–
For He has made everything beautiful in its time.
And that, my friends,
is the goodness of grief.
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