Thirteen years ago on a cold gray day in November I stood in a cemetery with my brother-in- law Chuck, his son Tyler and my two tiny daughters. We stood there bracing ourselves against the wind, and physically holding each other up. The tears streamed down the faces of my brother and I, the children just shy of 5, 4, and 3 looked up at us, confused, and a little frightened to see us so upset. We watched in disbelief and horror as they lowered the body of our beloved John into the frozen ground….we stayed until they filled in the dirt, slowly we walked to our cars, and drove to our own houses, that no longer seemed like homes. The shock of the sudden and tragic death of a perfectly healthy 30 year old man, full of the spirit of God, and overflowing with abundance of life and joy…..literally destroyed us all. John’s parents, his sister (Rhonda), his twin brother and I could not look past our grief enough to lean on each other for support a healing. Instead, the pain turned us against each other, and within a year I picked up what was left of myself, my life and my dreams, packed up my babies and headed west.
Over the next five years I cried, grieved, wailed and broke things. I ran and hiked, I fasted and I prayed, I literally ate scripture in desperation, and slowly God healed parts of my heart I did not even know were broken. I loved my job, my family, my mountains and my LIFE again; however, I was always saddened by the loss of not just my young husband, but his entire family as well. John’s family held the keys to his story, a story I did not join until he was 23 years old. They had a piece of the history for Alexis and Emilie; a piece I could not give them, no matter how much I loved them.
Over the past year communication with Johns family started, forgiveness was given and received, emails were exchanged, slowly relationships were restored.
Then last weekend, Rhonda called in the early morning, their mother Shelby Hunt had lost a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, and went home to be with the Lord. The moment I heard the message, the Holy Spirit whispered, “you are to take the girls and go to Michigan for the funeral”. It is December, not my favorite time to go North, and every extra penny goes to Christmas gifts for my kids, not to mention the girls had finals. I was sure Gary would think I was crazy, but he was fully supportive. He agreed this was important and spent hours on the phone cashing in air-miles, and securing a rental car, I called schools, talked to teachers, and this last Saturday we were off to Detroit. Rhonda wept when she hugged the girls now young ladies, the last time she saw them they where preschoolers with “mushroom” haircuts. I cried when I hugged her as well, we both whispered, “I love you”….and we both knew it was more true than it had ever been. The reunion with Alexis and Emilie and their grandfather was by far the most emotional for all of us, not a dry eye in the house. Ron, just losing his wife of 50 years was holding his grand-daughters for the first time in over 10 years. I had always deeply loved my father in law, he was a proud, hard working man, yet faithful and strong like few men I have ever known. Few people knew the cross that Ron had carried tending to his wife the last 14 years; he is a hero to me in a much deeper way now. Ron fed, bathed, carried, and dressed his wife, he honored his covenant and wedding vows to the very end, and I wish him much rest and peace as he heals from yet another great loss.
The girls loved their time with their “new-old” family; they were truly celebrated, just for being Alexis and Emilie. Any shame or confusion over the death of their birth father was dispelled, and for the first time in their lives they heard over and over what a great man their dad was, and how deeply he loved them, from so many others, not just their mother. We didn’t just get our family back, but their wonderful spouses, and beautiful cousins, Kara, Tyler and now Chuck’s three year old son…..little John!
I stood again in the freezing snow in a dark cemetery, staring at the grave of my first love, with a new mound of dirt next to him; Shelby was buried next to her sweet son. I think she would be proud, this time Chuck, his wife Angel, Tyler (now much taller than me), Alexis, Emilie and baby John stood together, united against the snow and the wind as a family, now and always….