As we mentally walk down memory lane of ‘this time last year’ when we were trying to prepare for Advent and Christmas while having it totally overshadowed with Bernadette’s expanding needs, care, and the fear of the unknown; we continue to struggle with Bernadette’s absence every day, not just during these seasons of Advent and Christmas. Just a few weeks ago I had one lady seem genuinely surprised to hear that I was still very much struggling to come to terms with Bernadette’s death. ??? I don’t think people realize that the struggle or the pain ever really goes away. It may get put on the back burner for a day or two or a week, but it is brought back to the front burner when there is a lull in activities. Everyone in the family is struggling in their own ways to make sense of this last year.
For me the struggle hasn’t had a chance to get relegated to the back burner. The most I can hope for is to take a break for a day and just let it simmer, trying hard not to stir the pot. Maybe it has something to do with being Bernadette’s mother, I don’t know, but it doesn’t help that Zoe is a constant 24/7 reminder. She looks so much like Bernadette did at 20 months and every time Zoe turns around her actions trigger memories of Bernadette at Zoe’s age and of Bernadette during her last months. The fact that they have almost identical eating preferences and Zoe’s tendency to have two or three colds in a row before she finally gets over it, just like Bernadette did. Little things like Zoe getting sick with the flu last week and having to clean up head-to-toe messes, including five loads of laundry from one afternoon, which reminded me of the last two weeks of Bernadette’s life when we couldn’t keep up with the laundry, she was throwing up so much. And it’s not just a memory that pops into my head like a picture on the wall. As I’m loading the washing machine I can see myself stuffing the machine over and over with Bernadette’s sheets, towels, etc. and feeling the fear and desperation like it happened last week. Or watching Zoe try NOT to poop while on the potty suddenly reminded me of when Bernadette was constipated and wiggled for days, preventing herself from going poop because she knew it would hurt. I’d almost forgotten that memory but it came back with such force and it brought with it all the feelings of fear and frustration as if I were living it all over again – only this time I didn’t have to put on a brave face for Bernadette’s sake so it just reduces me to tears. It’s not just painful events that trigger memories, it can be innocent things too that remind me daily of Bernadette’s absence, like Zoe finding Bernadette’s favorite pink rubber boots and playing with them even though they’re five sizes too big, or her favorite doll being the one Wilma and Dave gave to Bernadette when she was three, or going in every night to make sure Zoe has blankets on just like I did for Bernadette.
The other night we had our monthly Movie Night at Michelle’s and we watched God’s NOT Dead. I admit that I was the one who picked it out as there was no movie planned as of a week before Movie Night. My intention was purely selfish! After watching the trailer, I harboured the hope that something in the movie would strike me and say, “This is how you could be looking at your situation…..” because sometimes when we’re on the outside looking in, without being totally heart invested in a situation, we can see things clearer and then hopefully apply what we see to our own situations. Unfortunately I gained no new pearls of wisdom from God’s NOT Dead, but we did have an interesting discussion afterwards. I was keenly aware that every woman in that room was carrying an incredibly heavy burden of her own. Some shared how they tried to see things, others shared their journeys, others asked questions, nobody coming to any consensus or conclusions. As I listened to the ladies try to make sense of their sufferings and to see good that has come from them, it brought back my own struggle with people’s comments who were, in their own way, trying to help ease my pain and suffering.
The problem was that very few suggestions or advice gave me any consolation in the sense that, even though they meant well, I came to the conclusion that if the comment contained a good that came directly from Bernadette’s death then I felt like they were saying that God wasn’t big enough to bring about that very same good without having to have Bernadette die first, as if she was in His way, or they were saying that the good they saw was greater than the good of Bernadette’s very life! God does not have a culture of death mentality! God can do anything and bring about any good without anyone having to die to accomplish it. I can’t accept the idea that God needs people to die to bring about a greater good, in the here and now, I just can’t. All life is suppose to be precious and a great good in and of itself.
I was trying to explain it to Marc because I feel a desperate need to make a distinction between the thinking that God allows bad things to happen TO bring about a greater good, which is what I felt I was hearing, as opposed to God allowing bad things to happen only BECAUSE He can and will always bring about a greater good – NOT that He wanted or needed the bad thing to happen in the first place. At this point the ONLY greater good I can imagine God bringing directly out of Bernadette’s death is her own eternal salvation. It would definitely be a greater good that she live eternally in heaven with God now than temporarily on earth with us for another 88 years if it meant she would lose her eternal salvation.
In the end, I have to conclude the same as the professor in God’s NOT Dead. After spending his life being angry with God for saying ‘no’ to his prayer, when he was twelve years old, to spare his dying mother’s life, he surrendered to the truth that: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts”, says the Lord. (Isaiah 55: 9) If I were to gain any wisdom or advice from the movie, it would be to truly surrender Bernadette’s death to God and His infinite mercy and love as soon as possible and not wait until my dying breath, for like the professor who was struck by a car when he least expected it, we never knows when that dying breath will catch us by surprise.