While I could tell many stories about such surprises and am making an effort to write them down, I'll limit it to one here. First, a brief background. In my office, our Fed Ex driver arrives in the last few minutes of the day to collect packages. Some days he rushes in and out with a rushed word since his schedule is tight, other days he has five minutes to spare with us. Immediately before the Indiana memorial service began, he came up to us to express his condolences, begged off that he couldn't stay, and left. I don't think he even spoke with us for one full minute, but it meant much that he took the time to find out the details and slip in briefly, even though he had a conflict.
Both services were special. In Indiana, the pastor who conducted it had been by us through our whole time in the hospital and had wept and prayed with us when Katherine died. In Iowa, the pastor was one we know from college. We met with him beforehand to finalize details, and he shared how he was fixated on our story as he read Eric's account, and even knowing the ending, he starting from the beginning and it consumed his thoughts for that day. He thought he was collected, but during the slideshow, he became so overcome to the point of being unable to share his original message, instead shortening his words as tears streamed down.
For about a month after Katherine died, every day's mail brought cards, some even from strangers. We both found them cathartic to read and some made me quite emotional, especially when people entrusted us with their own stories of loss, some within the last year, others from decades ago.
I returned to work at the beginning of October. The first week and a half were probably the hardest as people streamed in to welcome me back and express condolences or turned silent and awkward when they were surprised to see me and didn't know what to say. It's not as constant now, but initially it wasn't a matter of whether or not I cried at work, it was how many times in any given day. There were some people who didn't know what had gone on, evidenced by the student who said, "Have you been on a long vacation?" And at least one who knew only the first part of the story and asked, "How's your little one?"
I think I can say Eric and I are doing okay through this. We know the pain won't go away, we still miss our daughter fiercely, but we have been leaning on each other and loved ones around us.
My workplace donated a memorial brick in Katherine's honor at the Angel of Hope Memorial Garden, a memorial for parents who have lost children. It was installed last week and we were invited to be present and even lay the brick. That afternoon was draining for us, but it was also good to cry. We know we need to face our emotions in order to heal, but when that becomes too overwhelming, we both cope by distracting ourselves with thinking of anything but what happened.
When my brother died, I remember a conversation with someone I consider a mentor. Years earlier, she had experienced the sudden deaths of several family members and as she was processing this, someone accused her of not properly grieving. She insisted to me in my own grief that never was anyone to guilt me about not grieving the right way, as there is no right or wrong way to grieve. I can be outwardly demonstrative or a bottler of my emotions, and provided that it's not destructive, no one has grounds to fault me. Some days I can take joy in small pleasures, other times I'm noticeably quiet or sad. I admit that it can be hard to see other pregnant women or young children, even while I seem calm. I don't censure myself for the emotions I'm experiencing, since I know how intensely I wished I could have changed the outcome. I don't lay blame on myself or others, because it doesn't seem that this could have been avoided. So I take each day as it comes.
Being the former English major and teacher, I think in literary references, so I wasn't surprised when I recalled a passage from a book I read earlier this summer. In Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, the father solemnly walks down the street, and the author writes the following:
He wondered if any in all the hurrying crowd crowd had come from such a house of mourning. He thought they all looked joyous, and he was angry with them. But he could not, you cannot, read the lot of those who daily pass you by in the street. How do you know the wild romances of their lives; the trials, the temptations they are even now enduring, resisting, sinking under? You may be elbowed one instant by the girl desperate in her abandonment, laughing in mad merriment with her outward gesture, while her soul is longing for the rest of the dead, and bringing itself to think of the cold flowing river as the only mercy of God remaining to her here. You may pass the criminal, meditating crimes at which you will to-morrow shudder with horror as you read them. You may push against one, humble and unnoticed, the last upon earth, who in heaven will for ever be in the immediate light of God's countenance. Errands of mercy--errands of sin--did you ever think where all the thousands of people you daily meet are bound?
I guess I'll end with that. I sometimes people-watch and wonder what their lives are like and what they're facing, and this also serves as a good reminder to try to keep myself from making judgments or assumptions about those I know.