My Facebook memory today is from seven years ago. It is only three words; three words that transport me back to a very specific time, place and rush of emotion.
It was January 2011. We had been planning for the arrival of our twin babies we were adopting from a birth mom in Florida. We had been working towards adoption for over 3 years. For months, we had been speaking to this courageous mom on the phone, helping with the financial burdens of her pregnancy, and praying for her and the little ones. For Christmas, my sister had given me two snuggly newborn winter onesies, a pink fuzzy girl one and a warm cuddly brown one for our boy. Both with little ears on the top; you could just imagine their little faces inside the small openings looking like the sweetest little newborn pink and brown bears. Just like any expectant momma, I had a bag packed and a plan for the care of our other kids while we would be away. We were ready for the moment the phone would ring and we would hop a plane to Florida to meet the new members of our family.
On January 21, the phone rang and we hustled to gather our things and board a plane to meet our new children. A quick cryptic post to Facebook would make sense only to those who knew of our story.
“And we’re off…”
And then the phone rang again. The tone was different this time and filled with the unthinkable news that our babies had been born and our mom changed her mind.
“What? What do you mean? We just talked to her a few days ago. She assured us of her decision that we would be the parents of her sweet angels. How could this happen? We had prayed so hard for this and done everything we were supposed to do.”
I remember that day as though it happened yesterday. It seemed a stark contradiction to the faith I had put in God’s plan for us and for our family. And the road got even rougher in the months following when yet another birth mom chose us and then decided that it wasn’t meant to be. The question of “why?” never rang so strong in my mind as it did that day, and as it did again last week on January 10, 2018.
After my Dad’s death, we have all been recovering. Walking through the holidays without him was a new and somewhat sullen time. There was definitely an emptiness in our hearts and at the table. There was wisdom and bits of knowledge that weren’t being passed on, music that wasn’t playing quite as loudly, Wheel of Fortune and strange BBC shows that weren’t being shown on the t.v. My uncle Matt and I solidified a bond through our grief. Matt was ever-present; a constant source of love, support, laughter, and hugs whenever I needed them, which I gladly returned back to him. Just like me, he missed his oldest brother something awful. He admitted to me in a beautiful moment of friendship and honesty that Dad’s death had been harder on him than he had thought it would be. We committed that we would get each other through this and find our new normals together. We promised to meet at least every other week to go through the stuff at Dad’s house or just give each other a hug. I talked to God in my prayer and thanked him for Uncle Matt, for giving me this amazing man of comfort to help me in my new state of orphancy. I knew that with him, I was going to be ok.
At 2 am on January 10 my phone rang. A miracle in itself because I never have my ringer on my phone at night. But loud and clear, my phone rang and woke me. It was my Aunt Karen. I was startled to see her name on my phone because I knew she was recovering from a bad fall 3 days previous where she slipped on the ice and fractured her pelvis and wrist and detached her elbow. Her voice was calm and each word was purposeful. “Kathy, I just want you to know that an ambulance has taken Uncle Matt to the hospital. He wasn’t responding to me. I’m just calling and asking you to please pray.” She apologized profusely for waking me and I assured her of our prayers. I lie in bed next to Chris and could barely breathe. I had just had a text conversation with Matt that day?? What is going on? I knew he had been battling a bad cold and bronchitis but he wasn’t really sick. With the support of my husband, I lept out of bed, got in the car and headed to the ER. On the hour drive, I prayed unceasingly. I said my Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and just had a very passionate conversation with God asking him to protect him; “Dear God, please cover him with your love and grace and mercy. Be with the doctors who are there with him. Heal him, God. Heal him.” Halfway through the ride, an overwhelming sense of peace and calm came over me. God was with him, I was sure of it.
During the hours that passed, I sat with my Aunts Karen and Trish and my cousin Chris and his wife Jennie. Seeing this man who was our hero, our torch-holder, our glue; lying in a hospital bed dependent upon cords and tubes was hard to comprehend. As they transferred him to the ICU, I sat with my cousin, his only son. We were holding hands and he said: “I’m not ready for my Dad to die.” I looked him squarely in the eye and with complete confidence said to him, “He is not going to die.” I knew with all certainty that the sense of peace that had washed over me was God’s grace and hand in this situation.
Three hours later, I sat amidst the many members of our large loving family who had gathered to hear the doctor tell us, in the most round-about way, that my Uncle Matt had not made it. He was gone.
My inner voice screamed inside me. “NO! NO No no no. I had prayed. I had a sense of peace. I knew he was going to be ok! He is only 63. I just talked to him yesterday!” I couldn’t help but think that I had lied to my cousin. I gave him a promise with every fiber of my being that his Dad would not die. And yet he was gone.
I’ve spent the past week trying not to make sense of it. Trying not to ask that question again and again – ‘why?’ We celebrated his life as a family yesterday. Something none of us wanted to do and yet we cleaved to each other and felt the amazing love we have been gifted with since our birth into this crazy family. A love that heals all wounds no matter how deep. The emotions are still so raw and painful right now. For me, I don’t know where one grief ends and the other begins. I miss my uncle. I miss my Dad. But each day feels a little different.
As I opened Facebook this morning and was hit with that memory of loss from 7 years ago, I hear my six-year-old daughter playing in the other room and I am reminded that God did answer my prayer – just not in the way I wanted him to on January 21, 2011. But Ellie was in God’s plan and so worth all the loss and suffering that came before her.
The same can be said for today. I know without a doubt, God did answer my prayer last week. Not by saving Matt for this earth but by taking him to be with Him in the next. It’s something I won’t fully understand until (hopefully) I get there myself. And I also know it’s not wrong to feel sad, hurt, even angry at the loss of this great man. Even Jesus cried at the loss of his friend Lazurus. But as we walk through the grief, this little Facebook memory reminds me to be looking for the miracles that are yet to come from this loss.
I said to another cousin earlier this week as we were both trying to make sense of what feels like a kidnapping from our family; “There is no grief without love. And I wouldn’t trade the love he gave us for anything.” Matt Penning would tell me to keep writing, to keep smiling, to keep going and cherish each moment because it’s the only one we’re assured of. And so I will.
And we’re off..