Do you do something to celebrate Maria’s birthday every year? I’m eight years out from my triplets’ birthday and death day, and I still celebrate it … wondering if that will ever change in priority status in my heart.
This is an interesting and deeply personal question, right? What is meaningful for some—as it pertains to celebrating or grieving a particular day of someone you’ve lost—isn’t necessarily meaningful for others.
Our Maria’s birthday is May 13, and her heaven day is May 21. For me, as the month of May approaches, it’s as if I’m trying to prepare for an event. I don’t mean to, but that is the way I feel. I’m anxious—preparing mentally, anticipating how it will be, and quite frankly spending way more time trying to guess how it’s going to be. Then the month comes and goes, and we get through it, celebrate it, grieve it, feel it, and move forward. It’s so weird because as May moves past us, it is literally like it’s in my rearview mirror, and I don’t have to pass by it for another 11 months. That’s how I view it—a racetrack that I am on, knowing I’m going to approach it, pass it, and then see it behind me … until, of course, it starts looming out in front of me as I circle back around again.
This past year, May 21, 2018, we marked the 10th year of Maria’s passing. Every year leading up to year 10, we celebrated, grieved, and remembered the same way. We would gather at the cemetery with family and close friends who could join us. We would cry, sing, remember, and then Poppa Steve (SCC’s family name) would lead us in worship and devotions. As we stood there together, he would help lead us through driving the yearly stake in the ground where we stand as one and agree that Jesus is good, Jesus is faithful, and Jesus will carry us.
We push back the darkness of the enemy while claiming that he has no place in our family, and we stand together as one. Then we go across the street and order as much comfort food as possible from Chili’s. We share memories and catch up with everyone who is able to join us. Maria loved to eat, and she loved it when her whole family was together. She said that over and over again when she was with us.
However, this past year, year 10, was different. It felt different. It felt like it was time to do something life-giving and in the present. This was a year that we needed to care well for Will Franklin, and we needed something that we could do with just our family to celebrate 10 years of God carrying us through the past decade.
So Steven, Tanner, Emily, Caleb, Julia, Will, Jillian, Shaoey, Stevey Joy, and I went to … wait for it … Topgolf! We spent several hours together, laughing, crying, and eating great food. The 10th year for us needed to be different, and so it was.
It’s difficult remembering those days of our loss because whether it be our loved one’s birthday, the day he or she passed, or some other special day, those days change in how they feel to us each year. Not everyone is going to feel the same about those days as we do. There has to be some give-and-take—and certainly a lot of grace and understanding given to the people who are grieving with you. What helps one person may be the absolute worst thing for you. Grief is so individual. We are struggling with our own hard and can relate, but we cannot grasp it all.
I’ve come to learn that each year is different, yet there is not one thing, in particular, that is different. The year may be a gentle time to grieve and remember, or the year may be a more turbulent, painful year. Grief to the Chapmans has, at times, felt like a giant tsunami. The waves of grief can wreak havoc, and we can hardly stand. Other times, the waves don’t come as far over our tender hearts, and the grief seems a little more doable. I have learned that through all of this unpredictable journey of grief, we are indeed alive. We are not walking away from Maria— we are most certainly walking straight toward her … all of us are walking toward those we have lost. This beautifully complex place of the already and not yet—where our pain and our laughter remind us, We will SEE them again, and it cannot come soon enough. But in the meantime … we are alive!