One of my favorite childhood memories was going on summer vacations with my family. As a family of five, we couldn’t afford to fly, so we’d all pile into our Pontiac 5000 and travel cross-country to wherever our destination happened to be. One year, we had a particularly long drive ahead of us, so my ingenious mother wrapped up little gifts for us to open each time we entered a new state to celebrate. My siblings and I would pour over the atlas and count down the miles until we could open our next treasure. I remember looking ahead down the seemingly endless interstate, thinking that once we crossed over a border, the scenery would magically change. Or that perhaps, there would be some large definitive boundary line surrounding the entire state to mark the difference when crossing over from one to the next. But as I soon learned, there was merely just a sign saying “Welcome to….”. And that was it. Not only was that a disappointment, but imagine my dismay when Iowa looked just like Nebraska. And eastern California looked just like western Arizona.
Funny how it’s the same with age, too. We go to bed one age. We wake up a new age. And yet, there is nothing that really feels any different than the night before. Nothing’s changed or newly significant. (Well, unless your now old enough to drive or drink or rent a car. After that, there’s not much to look forward to….except senior citizen discounts. But I’m pretty OK with waiting for that age.)
So tonight I say goodbye to 41. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this age. When I turned 41, I had a son who would tease me mercilessly about getting older. I had a freshman in high school who was excited about his future. I had two children to love and care for under my roof. But 42? That age doesn’t have those things. I keep asking myself, “How can I turn a new age without Joe here?” I know I don’t have a choice in the matter, but knowing that I am forced to move forward to a new number while he remains forever 14 is too much for my heart to handle most days.
It’s difficult to see my son’s peers moving forward…growing taller, voices changing, starting school as sophomores, and getting learner’s permits. It’s difficult to see my daughter moving forward….growing taller, developing a preteen hormonal attitude, and using Clearasil soap. (She’d be mortally embarrassed if she knew I wrote this, so let’s keep it on the DL.) My nephew is starting Kindergarten soon and my niece now talks nonstop in complete sentences. All around me life keeps moving forward, despite my wish for it not to. And yet, my boy remains forever frozen in earthly time. Never moving forward.
God has taught me a lot about what “moving forward” in grief looks like during these past ten months. Moving forward doesn’t mean I have to wash the dirty glass that still sits by Joe’s computer. Or that I need to take all of his clothes to Goodwill. I don’t need to straighten the shoes that he carelessly tossed in the closet. Nor do I need to dump the water from the bottle that I found in his backpack from the day before he died. And most surely, it doesn’t mean I’ll ever have to stop crying or expect my heart to be fully healed this side of heaven.
Instead, moving forward for me means celebrating just getting out of bed each day. Being sad when I need to be. Knowing that taking two steps back doesn’t mean I’m not healing. Trusting God even when I still don’t get it. Opening up to others about my grief. Not trying to hold it all together. Asking for help when I need it. Staying close to God through His word and prayer. But most importantly, moving forward means always remembering and talking about my precious son, no matter how much time has passed.
I know that waking up tomorrow won’t change much. The end of 41 will look a lot like the beginning of 42. No numerical line I cross will delineate one season from the next…the landscape is still the same. But little by little, day by day, God is slowly working to help me move forward. Not move on from, but move forward. And I’m learning there is a BIG difference between the two.
For those of us walking this journey of grief, moving forward is so difficult because it means moving away from the time we’ve last seen our loved one. But for the believer, it also means moving closer to the time when we will see them again. And that is what we must chose to focus on. Press on, my friends. Keep moving. It ain’t over yet.
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called
me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
(Joe’s favorite singer, Toby Mac…we played this song at the end of his funeral.)