John & Becky
A few weeks ago, John, Becky & I stood in the dining area of The Mill at Fine Creek talking about their honeymoon plans, and I couldn’t help noticing the way that they both swayed back and forth left and right, ever so slightly, as they talked. It’s one of those idiosyncrasies you notice about couples who are so obviously in love that they don’t even notice they’ve picked up the same habits.
I found it completely adorable.
After we looked around the venue, they invited me over for coffee and we sat talking about everything under the sun- their families, trips across the globe, how they met each other. I gushed over Becky’s diamond solitaire and the story of how John took her on a day-trip to Paris (en route to Germany) and proposed to her at the top of the Eiffel Tower. (And thus, John has officially raised the bar for every other guy in the US).
I absolutely adore this couple. John and Becky are completely and totally “people” people: animated, enthusiastic, passionate, engaging- and just plain fun to be around. After spending time with them and watching them interact with each other, it’s difficult for me to picture one without the other. It’s a beautiful and seemingly effortless connection that they have.
And yet, I’m acutely aware of how this journey for them must have been anything but effortless, at times. It isn’t hard to imagine why. Up until a few years ago, it was John and Kathy. They were at our wedding. They came over to our house for Jake’s birthday party. Theirs was the kind of marriage that we, as a young and relatively newly-married couple, could only hope to have in the coming years. If I’m completely honest, I’ll admit there was a time not too long ago when I couldn’t have pictured John with anyone else but Kathy.
Maybe he felt that way at times, too.
But that’s what’s been beckoning me to write this particular feature- the other side of hope. It’s the part that’s next to impossible to see through the fog of such immense grief. Four years ago, this piece would have been about a different kind of hope. The one that waits in feverish stillness by a hospital bedside. The one that paces up and down hallways and corridors, praying relentlessly. Four years ago, I would have written about the tireless hope that John carried in his heart for Kathy, and the graceful way in which he released them both, when it was time.
And here’s where I need to finally say what no one ever wants to hear, yet we know in our hearts is true: Sometimes, the things we hope for don’t work out. That’s the thing about hope. It’s risky and it never guarantees the outcome we want.
John began an inconceivably difficult and risky journey in July of 2010. Whether or not he was aware of it at the time, he let go of one hope only to begin to embrace another kind- one that dared him to picture a starkly different future than the one he had planned some 25 years ago. What do you do when the person with whom you’ve raised a family and built a life, is gone?
What can you do? You stand back and let it hit, let it knock the wind out of you, let it break you. And all the while, you wait for the dust to settle, sometimes wondering if it ever will. There is no manual for grief. It takes no prisoners, and requires something different of you every day.
There are those days you don’t leave your house. Then, those days that persuade you to leave the country, so you do that, too. When you’re at home, you can be simultaneously comforted and anguished at her pictures, artwork, all the neatly-preserved knick-knacks- never daring to move a single thing from where she had placed it for fear of somehow, some way, moving her.
Then one day, you find yourself in Bed, Bath & Beyond, eyeing a comforter.
You catch yourself thinking of the floral one that’s remained on your bed all this time. Do you replace it? Should you replace it? You deliberate, maybe even pace the aisles. But eventually, you pay the cashier and leave the store with it. A seemingly insignificant purchase that’s cost you more than most people will ever know.
And with that, you finally give yourself permission to picture what your life could look like.
Becky was a friend of a friend, a single mom of four who had, no doubt, endured her own share of heartache. A chance meeting sparked a mutual affection- perhaps even a recognition of themselves in each other. That affection grew into friendship, into trust, into a deep love and appreciation. But it was far from easy at times. The reality is that they both could have said “no thanks,” could have weighed the options and landed on “let’s just be friends.” After all, it’s always a calculated risk to love someone. To do so after loss could only be that much harder and riskier, in ways that few could ever understand. And it takes a certain spirit that’s willing to abide with someone in their darkest hours, embracing and navigating the grief as if it were their own.
But she did.
And he did, too
And this Saturday, she’ll be wearing a white dress, carrying a bouquet of flowers with trembling hands and he’ll be waiting for her. And I will not cry because I need to take pictures. (But I might cry, just a little).
We don’t often get the privilege of seeing things come full circle, of watching someone journey through to the other side. But I get that privilege this Saturday. John and Becky are living, laughing, head-over-heels-in-love proof that the dust settles. And when it does, we see what hope has been up to all this time. We discover that it was never resting, never tiring, never giving up. It was weaving together an intricate story of love and light from the frayed threads of heartache.