Today marks another anniversary of the deaths of my husband, Shawn, and our daughter Sage. My heart is extra tender surrounding this day, and on this dark anniversary, I was looking through the memorabilia I have of them to hasten the impending sadness and also to season it with the joy of happy memories. This year, going about my normal ritual, I came upon the above pencil drawing. Seeing it elicited a surge of memories from a time long ago that I would like to share.
My mother's family has been doing yearly family reunions for as long as I can remember. For the reunion following the deaths of Shawn and Sage, the organizers had hired an artist to draw the families of those attending. I remember reading the email they sent out letting us all know the reunion itinerary. My heart ached after reading about the family picture, realizing that I couldn't participate, well at least the way I wanted to. If I did participate, I would be doing it alone, and I didn't need any more reminders of my sad condition. The sadness grew as I continued reading the itinerary, mentally marking other activities that, with the deaths of my husband and daughter, now unintentionally excluded me.
Before we had made the trip to the family reunion, I decided that rather than miss out on the family picture, I would bring a photo that the artist could use to draw Shawn, Sage, and me. It is one of my favorite photos of us because it was representative of a beautiful time for us. We had just welcomed our daughter into the world, and we were filled with the excitement of the many firsts in our lives. Little did we know the disaster that loomed only a few months from the day that the picture was taken.
The crash that claimed Shawn and Sage, not only separated us, but left me to face the bleak nightmare of survival alone. I earned new titles I never thought I would; survivor, disabled, brain-injured, and childless widow. I struggled to survive this tragedy; my gigantic physical battle to recuperate dwarfed by the emotional war to survive. The horror of my life's severity without my loving husband and sweet baby, threatened to add one more life to the list of fatalities. At my lowest, I wanted to end my own life and escape the pain of living. Death, an unwanted stranger at first, began to feel like a welcome friend.
Miraculously, I was able to find my way out of that dark path toward a life full of light and hope. This blessing was given due to a great personal effort to correct my feelings toward the man responsible and forgive him, the crucial decision to be positive despite the negativity in life, and angels in this world and the next that created the opportunities to do that.
Seeing this drawing of Shawn, Sage, and me provoked thoughts about life. I was amazed how strokes of a pencil against paper could produce a recognizable image of us. Our lives, like this drawing, are a summation of the many marks we make in life. For years after the crash, people told me stories of how Shawn had made an impact on them in big or small ways and how they have held dear to those memories throughout their lives.
I also noticed this sketched picture, while masterful, isn't a perfect likeness of us. As we make our marks in life, we will make errors we would love to erase. We are lucky enough to have an eraser that not only has the power to correct the small imperfections, but is even powerful enough to wipe the page clean, so we can begin anew. This power of forgiveness has not only allowed me to be forgiven of my own shortcomings, but has also allowed me the ability to make a friend out of the man who killed my family.
I sat on the floor in my office, reminiscing while looking at photos of my young family, unaware that my face had become wetted by tears. In the back of my mind, I could hear Shawn's voice saying these words he had written to my younger sister when she had suffered incredible loss in her life:
"Why would a God, who has the perfect plan, the perfect love, include in this realm we call life, experiences that make our heart and soul ache so much with grief, pain, and sadness that may last until we see our loved ones again? I can only hope and know that somehow, this stuff that digs within us can then allow for more joy and peace to fill up in its place and then, and only then, make it capable to enlarge our capacity to find greater amounts of love and happiness in our present existence and in the future."
I gently replaced the drawing of my sweet angel family into the book I store it in and wiped the tears from my face. After the loss of my young family, I never thought I could be happy again-let alone find love again. I began thinking of my life now and smiled as peace, happiness, and love filled me. While placing the cherished memory book back in it's place on the shelf, my mind full of this wise counsel from Shawn, I realized that just like he had said it would-it has.