Dear Kori Jane,
Twelve years ago almost to the day, you and I were heading to a little neighborhood carnival right by our home that we had passed that morning on our way to church. It was nothing fancy, just some hand painted wooden games set out on card tables and a bounce house or two, but no party no matter how big or small has ever escaped your notice. It was a couple of weeks before your fourth birthday and you were long overdue some fun quality time with your mom. When you noticed the gathering again on our way home, and through excited squeals begged to go play, I couldn’t say no! After dropping your Daddy, your baby brother, and your baby sister off at home we headed back to see what exactly all those balloons, tents, and bounce houses were inviting us to.
I circled some field a few times and ended up parking a good bit further than I wanted, but the joy and anticipation on your face as you bounced towards the crowd told me that nothing was going to ruin this day for you- certainly not a long walk to the entrance. Well almost nothing. Just as we finally crossed the threshold of the carnival (or the fair-never did find out for sure what it was) the first rain drop fell. I looked up and timidly kept walking forward, but when we reached the first booth the skies which had been completely clear just moments before opened up and a torrential down pour began. Within seconds people everywhere were running for cover. Booths, tents and bounce houses were being taken down at record speeds, and without a thought I grabbed your hand intending to start the long trek back to the car but at a much faster speed. You pulled in the opposite direction, and began to adamantly insist that we stay and play. It didn’t take me long to convince you there was no more fun happening as we were both standing in the middle of an ever-thinning crowd completely drenched to the bone- the rain had changed everything- in a moment.
When we finally got to the car, I could not tell where the raindrops ended and where your tears began. It would not be the biggest heartbreak of your life, but I’m pretty sure it may have been the biggest thus far. Or at least it is the first big heartbreak I remember, but that could be because I was struggling with processing a heartbreak of my own that day. Well, as we joined the other cars in a race to get out of the crowded, wet field that had been transformed into a parking lot, your questions began. You have always been full of questions. Not the “but why” or the “what happened” questions but the deep, thought provoking, meaning of life kinds of questions. There has always been a deep hunger in your soul for beauty, truth and meaning. A passion for life like no other child I have ever known.
Through your tears you asked me “Mommy, why did God let it rain today? Didn’t he know that we were going to have so much fun? Didn’t He know that there was so much to do? Why did He let it rain? Why?”
I tried to give you a little pre-school theology lesson and explain just how much God loved you, and how rain is one of the ways He shows His love and His strength. I started to quote some bible verses about how He “provides rain for the earth” and how He is “a refuge from the wind and a shelter from the storm.” I desperately wanted you to understand that God is good, and that He can be trusted even when the rain messes up our plans. That in fact He is the only thing this side of heaven that can be trusted. But I quickly realized that you were still too young to understand all that quite yet. You were not mature enough to see beyond your own little reality, and your ideas and plans for that moment were the only ideas and plans that you could fathom being good. So I opted instead to let you ask why, while I started making promises of greater joys yet to come- other fairs and carnivals and even a world where all the princesses live that would blow those old bounce houses and wooden bean bag toss games out of the park. And then we stopped and adopted a baby-doll who needed a new home from our favorite thrift store, followed by sharing a snow cone at the little blue snowball shack that sits in the parking lot of said thrift store.
By the time we got home you were back to your creative, passionate, playful self and ever ready to make up a game or put on a show for any willing audience. The only hint of sadness left was the sadness you felt for the other baby dolls at Family Thrift who had not yet been adopted. But for me, it was time for my daily visit with my sister. Aunt Heather, diagnosed with terminal cancer eighteen months prior, had been moved to a hospice facility near our home. Because she was so young and otherwise healthy, it took the cancer much longer to destroy her body than any of the doctors expected. It was an impossible 18 months watching her slowly die, and the last two months were especially difficult as she desperately tried to hang on for dear life. That day when I got to her bedside, she was in a particularly deep sleep. When I pulled her beautiful long black hair out of her face and straightened her covers she did not even flinch. So I sat down in the large arm chair by her bed, looked out the window and ever so quietly whispered the word “Why?”
“Oh, God, why?” “Don’t you know how young she is, don’t you know that there is so much fun still to be had? Don’t you know how busy I am with three kids under the age of 4 that need me- why do I have to be here watching my sister die when she should be helping me teach them how to live?”
“Why cancer? Why suffering? Why sadness? Why death? Why?”
And even as I was still gazing out the window, asking my questions- the pelting rain started again just as suddenly as it had at the fair several hours before. And with the rain came the reminder that He is “a refuge from the wind and a shelter from the storm.” God is good and He can be trusted even when the rain (or the cancer) messes up our plans, and in fact He is the only thing this side of heaven that can be trusted. And then I knew that like you, I too am not yet able to understand the whys. I struggle to see beyond my own little reality, my ideas of what is right, and my plans for today. I knew from my earlier conversation with you that asking why was just part of the grieving, but even in my asking and grieving the Lord too has made promises of greater joys yet to come.
Two days after the rain ruined our plans, Aunt Heather got to see the promise of greater joy completely fulfilled as she took her last breath on this earth at the age of 31.
When I was a young child I remember thinking that real people don’t die. People on the news or in movies sure, but not people you know in real life- and especially not people you love. When I was in the fifth grade, my Uncle Jimmy died, and I remember that was my first funeral and the first time I felt real genuine grief. Like the tangible grief that you carry around everywhere you go, even though no one else can see it. By the time you were in fifth grade, you had already grieved the loss of four people that you loved. Your Aunt Heather, a teacher at your school, and both of your grandmothers. I do not have to tell you that you had two of the most amazing grandmothers that ever lived. My mom was more like a second mom to you, and no doubt your favorite person on the planet. We would laugh because most of your friends mom’s were closer to Nana’s age than mine, and often people thought she actually was your mom. She was young, beautiful, and never ever lost her child’s heart. Daddy’s mom was the perfect Grandma- broke all our rules and was the only other human I’ve ever known to have as much energy as you- which meant that she would get on the floor and play with you until we demanded you both go to bed. She spoiled you rotten and loved you to pieces.
Eventually in the midst of all the rain and storms that kept disturbing our family’s plans, you stopped asking questions and started writing journals, poems, and stories instead. In fact, when you woke to learn the news of Nana’s death you did not ask a single question or shed a single tear. You went to your room and you wrote a poem. In the days and weeks that followed, I could not contain my tears and your lack of tears made me wonder if you were even sad at all- that is until I would stumble upon your writing. I realize now that even at the age of 8, your thoughts were far too deep and your pain far too real for you to express without the help of a paper and a pen.
Probably by Kori Jane age 8
Probably walking on water.
Probably walking through walls.
Probably laying on clouds.
Probably already bowed to Him.
Probably shaking His hands.
Definitely loving Heaven.
While I am walking on land.
While I am swimming though waters.
If you were me you’d understand- RAIN.
Not the kind of rain that falls from the sky.
It is when tears fly by.
Once again the line between the rain and your tears was blurred. But your words even then assured me that despite your grief you were trusting in the promises of far greater joys.
There is no doubt that you understand rain. The way it changes everything in a moment, the way it hurts and heals, the way it grows us and grieves us. How it can be both devastating and beautiful all at the same time.
You have certainly watched as it has changed me. It’s no wonder that your tears no longer easily flow when you have grown up watching your mother’s tears flow far too easily. In many ways you’ve had no choice but to grow up quickly. That first Christmas after both of your grandmas died, I was still trying hard to pick myself up off the floor, and figure out how to do holidays as the 32 year old matriarch of our family. But you were determined this would be the best Christmas ever starting with a spectacular lights display in our yard. With your usual passion and flare you were tearing into the boxes that Daddy had dutifully brought down from the attic which were filled with decorations and lights. You were handing out jobs to each of your three siblings and both of your parents, ensuring that not a single part of the yard was left bare. As I was watching the lights go up, it became obvious to me that like usual, your big, bold, bright ideas were being executed without much planning or forethought. That coupled with Daddy’s lack of designer instincts was stressing me out. The tree he was wrapping ran out of branches, so he decided that he would stretch the lights to a neighboring tree leaving a single strand of lights floating in mid-air between them. I snapped and I said some unkind things to Daddy. I won’t go into details about the volume or tone of my voice- or the specific unkind words that came out of my mouth as that is not the point of this story! The point is that you followed me to the wooden bench swing in our side yard and without speaking a word, gently sat down and placed your hand on my knee as I stared out into space allowing my tears to flow freely. When one your siblings came to ask me a question you would answer for me as I continued to just stare off unable to find words with which to respond. And when Daddy came over to kindly inquire as to what exactly he had done to upset me so much, you intuitively answered him by saying “Daddy, don’t you remember that Nana always hung the Christmas lights.” After a while you drug me inside and insisted that we get busy on the Christmas Tree. You were ten. Wise and compassionate beyond your years-no doubt a wisdom and compassion that only can grow where there has been a lot of rain.
This month you will be sixteen and last month you went to yet another funeral. I was so thankful to hear you mumble the question “why” when we told you that Grandpa was so near the end. I worry sometimes that all the rain will make you angry or cold. That you watching me through all my years of grief and tears will just be another storm for you to endure on your journey. But when you asked why you had to loose someone else you loved- why you had to go to another funeral- why you had to be the only teenager you knew without grandparents. I knew that all the rain had only made you stronger and more alive. I knew that you did not really need an answer- just time and space to grieve and maybe a reminder that there are promises of greater joys yet to come.
Thank you Kori Jane for helping me understand rain, for teaching me to dance in the rain, and helping me find the rainbows and flowers that the rain leaves behind. Flowers which include your profound wisdom, tender compassion, intense passion and gentle strength.
I love you forever!