I do not like today.
Not a single thing about it.
Oh, it’s a beautiful day. Sunny with temperatures up in the high sixties. I got in a run this morning, took a shower, ate some Cheetos and…AND… I’m wearing real clothes.
That’s a good day, friends.
Only not today.
One year ago today, my daughter’s namesake was killed in a car wreck.
And, for me and where I am in the grieving process, I am pretty angry about it.
I’m mad at the car. He should have been driving a fancier car that would have auto-corrected or at least alerted him to the oncoming wall.
I’m mad at the wall. I don’t know who built it but I’d be mad at them too if I did.
I’m mad he took the back roads and was even near a wall.
I’m mad he was too tired. He only needed four hours of sleep a night and they did not have to be consecutive. Would two hours of sleep have saved him?
I’m mad he was going where he was going instead of being safe in his office running the company. That’s where he belonged. Not on that darn road.
I’m mad…well. About everything.
As I’ve processed some of the grieving with friends, I’ve realized one of the reasons I am just now hitting “anger” on the journey is simply distance. I don’t live in the same city he lived in. He hadn’t been a part of my daily life in nearly five years. And I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw him.
But he was larger than life. And so, he was a part of my life even when he wasn’t.
His large loomed in my small.
And I’ve thought and grieved and wrestled with something resembling gratitude in preparation for today. But y’all. I just honestly can’t bring myself to it.
At least not with my whole heart.
So here’s what I’m going to do instead…
I’m gonna give what little pieces of my heart I can push towards the light over to the gratitude process.
These are the moments when the disciples and their never-ending questions and confusions and lack of understanding become so real for me.
These are the moments I become Thomas.
But Lord, we don’t understand. How can we go where you are going when we don’t know where that is?
Lord. Can I have a map? Is this something I can google and find?
And it’s not.
Not where Jesus was going then and not where my daughter’s namesake has gone now.
Where he is, I cannot go.
And why he is there, I cannot know.
So I stand here, in this seemingly endless hallway of grief, disoriented and unsure.
All I know how to do, all God has taught me how to do, in every hallway, in all the In-betweens of life, is to be grateful.
Gratitude produces hope.
Hope in the hallways.
So I’m choosing gratitude today.
I am grateful I had the honor of working for him.
He wasn’t my friend. He had been my boss. More than that. He had been the CEO and founder of the company for whom I worked for over seven years. Most definitely not a friend. But he had been a caretaker and a benefactor.
I can still look around our home, even though this is the fifth home we’ve lived in since going to work for him in 2004, and see signs of him everywhere. That job, the job he hired me to do, provided. His company paid and paid well. It’s not an understatement at all to say, I was grossly overpaid for the job I did.
He simply believed in taking care of employees. They were (and are) a company’s greatest asset. Although, most American corporations may not run on that same philosophy. But he knew, appreciated, and utilized the concept of treating employees and their families well.
And I am grateful for his care.
I am grateful he was a part of our family story.
For so much of this year, I’ve been reluctant to share my grief with anyone. Just a few select people whom I trust but that’s it.
During the second half of my tenure at his company, I worked from a different office in a different city. I was sort of the joke around there. My respect and admiration for our CEO wasn’t something I hid. Or at least, I didn’t hide it well. My co-workers, I suspect, created a cartoon version of me in their heads. One that might have looked a like a love-struck robot, serving and adoring blindly.
Of course, they had not spent the previous three and half years working for him.
My co-workers had no way of knowing this man, our CEO, had asked to be kept up to date on our infertility journey. They never knew I was sending him copies of receipts for treatments and procedures and medications. Emails with results and negatives and encouragements to continue “onward and upward.” A process that lasted a full year.
They weren’t at my house to receive flowers Aubrey and Katie sent us when we were finally pregnant during our third attempt at IVF. Or at the hospital after our daughter was born when more flowers from them arrived.
None of my co-workers were standing in front of him, thanking him for providing infertility insurance and adoption assistant as part of our new benefits package. None of them heard him say, “Oh yeah! That was because of you! I never knew how much that stuff costed until you. Good!”
The people in offices around me, the people I rode the elevator with each morning and parked next to in the parking garage, they had no idea the impact of giving over 10,000 employees and their families financial access to grow when they might not have been able to do so before.
But I knew. My family knew. Our close friends knew.
And because of all that, we named our daughter after him and his wife to honor them and how God had taken our story and made it, not only their own, but those 10,000 families’ story too.
I am no longer embarrassed by the cartoon character version of myself others created. They didn’t know and couldn’t know and I am finished allowing myself to feel shame for my respect and admiration for such an amazing man. Or to hide from my grief and refuse to process it. Today, that ends. Today, I say, he was a part of our family story and because of that, I am going to honor him by embracing the grief and allowing the healing process to begin.
And I am grateful.
I am grateful to serve as a witness to his life.
The man I knew spent ten of thousands of dollars helping a caddy at a golf course who needed extensive work done on his teeth. He met the caddy once. Recognized he was in pain. And paid for his pain to be fixed.
But that story, and others like them, was not something I told. Because they were not my stories to tell. And because I knew him well enough to know, he didn’t care for anyone else to hear them. He hadn’t done it for publicity or recognition. He’d done it because he could. He had the resources and the caddy did not.
I tell the story now because it was one of the many told to hundreds at his funeral last year.
In fact, just before the funeral began, I was talking to a friend sitting with me. She knew the story too and we had just talked about how many stories we simply never told.
And then that exact story was told.
We kind of chuckled.
There are lots of people who can bear witness to his life. Employees, friends, family, administrators of universities and non-profits alike. Thousands, really. And we each have a unique perspective.
We all will be a part of creating the legacy of his life.
Books will be written about him. The articles written are already too numerous to count. Some good. Some not so good. He was fearless. He was an anointed visionary. He was generous. And he worked furiously towards a goal.
In all walks of life, those qualities can be used to build or tear down.
He chose to build.
I have never worked as hard nor as long as I did for him. He demanded much of us. But we knew we were part of something bigger than our own individuality. He invited us to join him on a journey to create and establish and craft something that had never been done and would outlive us all.
And we all enthusiastically agreed.
In doing so, I became a witness to his enormous life. His energy. His indescribable intellect. His unconditional love for his wife and family.
All of it.
Even smack in the middle of that, even when life was moving almost too fast to notice, I was acutely aware of the privilege it was to be there.
In our every day, much can get lost. Much can be overlooked or undervalued. While other things, like busyness and stress, can become over-valued and mistaken for actual good fruit. But working for him taught me to look beyond the busyness and stress and see the vision, the caring for others, the building of good, to see those. To look for the purpose.
My daughter will never know her namesake. She met him once. But one picture of the three of us will be the sum total of her memory of him. But as a witness to his life, she will learn about him from me. Already, she is like him in some ways. My girl comes home from school concerned for kids who don’t have tennis shoes or who didn’t have a good lunch. She wants to give and give and give. She is a natural caretaker.
And that? That is the legacy he left in our family.
I am grateful.
I am grateful for the One who creates beauty from ashes.
Those years of waiting for a child were hard. But on that day, standing in front of my much-loved CEO, hearing him say the new infertility and adoption assistance was because he had watched our journey, every day of waiting was worth it.
Every. Single. Day.
We never used the benefit. We were already pregnant with our daughter when it was introduced to the company and God called me home before we were able to have a second child. I remember being concerned we wouldn’t have another child when I left my job.
Okay, “concerned” is wrong. Flat out scared is a better description.
But God so clearly said to me, “That insurance was never for you.”
And I didn’t so much care for that answer but I accepted it. I obeyed His call to leave my job anyway and His reward was our son, 40 weeks to the day of my resignation.
Too often, we see ourselves in the middle of our hallways, waiting for answers or resolutions or fulfillment of God’s calling and we can not see the beauty God is creating from our ashes.
We are covered in soot and smell of fire. We don’t feel refined or made new or strong. We feel used up and unseen and left behind.
But our feelings are not truth.
The truth is there is always beauty. There is always a purpose. There is always a piece of Him and His kingdom to grasp.
In the middle of this grief hallway, I see ashes all around. The fires feel even hotter now than a year ago. I’m not even entirely sure I want refinement or something new.
Keep your new things, God. I’d rather have him here in this world.
But those feelings of mine are not true.
Someday, someway, somehow, there will be beauty from this. And y’all, we may never, this side of heaven, know the purpose. That’s where faith steps in. That’s where faith reminds us of what He has done before. Reminds me that in the middle of the infertility hallway, when I could see nothing but my own burning pain, God was at work. Putting a generous caretaker and an infertile girl together to create beauty.
Faith allows me to grasp that small piece of Him and His kingdom and hold on.
And to keep my eyes and ears and hands open to the One who creates that beauty.
Honestly, I don’t really know what’s next. It’s been a long, long time since I grieved someone. Something, sure. A dream, a goal, a life expected. But not someone.
This grief hallway is mostly new to me. Even admitting I’m here is uncomfortable. But it’s time. And just writing through this, this is a big first step.
If you are where I am, in the hallway of grief, not sure what to do or how you can find some stable ground on which to stand, I offer you the same process you just read.
Take what pieces of your heart you can. Big or small or so tiny you’re not even sure it counts as a piece. And push it towards the light of gratitude. That subtle heart shift matters. Gratitude takes your heart and mind off of the things of the grief and turns them towards the Comforter and His joy.
Onward and upward.