Clare Saumell VanderWeele

word wrangler.

The Unexpected Goodbye: A Letter to Chris

My new neighbor cut their tree down last week. It wasn’t dead or diseased, but I’m sure there was some legitimate reason behind their decision to chop it down.

It was surrounded by other trees and houses, so it had to be cut limb from limb, one slice of trunk at a time. By the time they got to the base, I could see just how old it really was, its life on display in concentric circles, each telling a story.

My whole yard was littered in saw dust and broken branches and torn leaves, and the men sucked it all up clean and tidy, leaving nothing but space. But the roots are still there, all over everything. They snake over the ground and plunge into the earth. Big, old knotty things, preventing anything from growing in its place.

And isn’t that the way it is? Death strikes us down, but our roots stay stubborn and strong, our lives splayed out over everything.

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The day after you died, I went running. It was fall. Blustering leaves, crisp air and damp concrete.

I ran until my lungs burned, until my sides cramped in desperate protest, until I heaved for breath and life and answers.

It was the closest I could get to running away.

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To write the words, “the day after you died,” has no meaning to me, because, two years later, it is still so absurdly impossible. I know my subconscious mind agrees: I dream about you once every month or two, and every single time you’re returning from some prolonged but perfectly logical absence.

There was only one dream where the opposite was true, and instead of returning, you were leaving. I asked how long you’d be gone, and you were silent. Too long then, I whispered into your shoulder as we held onto each other.

Two years, baby? 730 days without holding your hand? The concept of nonexistence eludes me. I cannot wrap my mind around goneness. So tangible, and yet so abstract.

It is not real.

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And yet, here I am.

The boy who knows your face and has your laugh when I tickle him – he has no memories of you except for your name, daddy. He wants to visit Heaven to talk to you. He wants to know if Heaven has a door.

Chris, you once told me that bad mothers are not the ones who worry about being bad mothers. And so I take solace in that as I struggle to take a deep breath and not completely lose it when his bedroom door opens for the 7th time in one night, or when he refuses to let me help him with his shoes and we end up late to school.

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Photo credit: Jennifer Troyer & Joseph Harnish

There’s a quote I read from author Cheryl Strayed, “My grief taught me things. It showed me shades and hues I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. It required me to suffer. It compelled me to reach.” And it’s true. To grieve is to learn something despairingly bittersweet about yourself.

It is not what I wanted, but the crushing truth is that I’m a better person today, in the wakeย of your death, than I was two years ago.

Everything is not always beautiful; I am not always thankful or thoughtful or patient; I don’t always remember to be my best self at all hours of the day – but my best self exists because of you. Because you are still teaching me.

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Remember that torturous half marathon I signed myself up for years ago? You didn’t sign up with me, but you trained by my side anyway. You weren’t a runner, but you were still better than me. Instead of running ahead, you kept pace and echoed my footsteps.

Toward the end of each run, when I was struggling to take even one more step, almost doubling over with cramps, you pushed me to keep going. You can go further, you would say, just keep running, you can do it. When I didn’t think I could take another step, you’d bring me another half mile.

You taught me strength and perseverance and faith. And you still are.

Your roots go deep, my darling. Two years later, I still want to talk with you so badly it hurts. But when I stop to really breathe, I know you’re still profoundly a part of me.

Your roots, all over everything.

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10 Comments

  1. This is beautifully written. My heart aches along with you even though I don’t know you or Chris.

  2. So beautifully written, Clare. Love reading your blog, they mean so much!

  3. Powerful, moving stuff, Clare. And courageous, as always.

    And one can so clearly see God’s love shining forth, both in your words and your life. With each piece you write, I sense a bit more of God’s peace and understanding taking hold in your life. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.

    I’m very proud to say I know you.

    Keep writing.

    • Clare

      October 26, 2015 at 3:04 pm

      Thank you so much, David. It’s good to hear from you and know that even just one or two of the words I write mean something to more than just myself. Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Beautiful. A little over 4 years for me now, and I still agree with every single word. Keep writing. โ™ก

  5. I never knew Chris and some how over the last two years I feel like I have known him a life time. I met you in the worst possible moment to meet someone and yet I feel as if I have known you for a life time. Every time I read your blog it brings a tear to my eye and it makes me think of how this could happen to anyone at any time. I do not completely understand how you are feeling I can only base my understanding of how you are feeling by your blog and our talk at Mike and Cassie’s wedding. Your words are beautiful and I love that you continue to share them even though they probably aren’t easy for you.
    From all I have heard about Chris and the way he lived he was a beautiful soul who was blessed to find one just as beautiful and I believe he is watching and waiting for the time the two of you can be reunited.

    • Clare

      November 18, 2015 at 4:00 am

      Tanya, thank you so much. I’m grateful you continue to read my words, it means so much. You’re right, it’s tough to share them sometimes, but I’m glad I do. Thanks for your kind words. Take care ๐Ÿ™‚

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