When I was nine years old, the bottom fell out of our family’s world with one, horrific phone call.
The call that changed everything—it came on a December day, just before Christmas. I remember very little about the date—the common, everyday moments leading up to the call. But I will forever have imprinted in my memory the picture of my mother crumpled over, hands intertwined in a dangling phone cord, her body folded in anguish, as she sank to the floor.
I have written about this day before.
I have chronicled that “on a cold December day, thirty-six years into her vibrant life, my eight-months pregnant Aunt Jeannie— my grandmother’s oldest daughter and my mom’s only sister, was driving home from her day job as a civil servant with the Government of Canada where she worked with Indian Affairs.
It was a clear evening, but snow lay on the ground. She had a little economy car and visibility was quite possibly low. The doctor said later if she had moved her head an inch to the right she would have avoided that truck’s plow which smashed through her windshield, slicing cleanly through her skull and brain. That inch was never meant to be. Neither for her, nor for her baby: my precious cousin, Jesse.
From that moment thirty seven and a half years ago (a time when Jeannie was just about the age my brother is now) until she finally left this life for a better world, a better place: my aunt lived the life of an invalid. Unmoving, un-speaking, unable. She was robbed of most everything, save the compassionate care she would live to receive throughout the remaining days of her life via the hands of my dear grandmother. She was largely alone. No babe to cradle and love. ”
Alone. In a manor, secluded from society.
That date in time: it has been one of the hardest things our family has had to reconcile over the years, in terms of understanding ‘why’.
We still ask why. Why, God, why??
And we will probably never get an answer for this question, at least this side of eternity.
It was, and still remains, an impossibly, horrific situation for our family. It left us crippled with grief. I do not know what state our minds were in as we worked our way through the grieving process. I can’t remember whether or not we collectively, as a family, cycled together through the grieving stages: first denial, then anger and so the series of emotions and feelings goes.
I can only say that, over the years, there have been many tears shed and many questions left unanswered.
What keeps one going, in the face of impossible odds? How did my mother do it? How did we all do it? My mom had three, young Littles, and one on the way— due in two months, when her life shattered and the bottom dropped out. This was to be the pregnancy she would share with her sister, both taking the time to enjoy their babies together.
It was not to be.
How did she cope through this horror? How did we come through to the other side and carry on?
Along this time, I remember that I developed some pretty extreme anxiety. I was in Grade 4. Feelings of suffocating. Of tightness in the chest and sweaty palms and racing heart. Feelings of extreme fear. I thought I was always on the verge of dying. I later became a hypochondriac.
At first, I would wake at night, sweating— after which I would creep up the stairs to my parents’ bedroom, so as to check that they were still alive. So as to check that they were still breathing. Living, and not dead.
I also would wander the basement of our parsonage home, wide awake and scared, willing myself to be sleepy enough to fall back into bed, exhausted and worn from my steady circuit around the lower floors of our little home. A process that felt endless to me, as it was my nightly regime for more days than I can record in memory.
I remember the feelings: the worry, the fear, the constant panic.
The troubling thoughts. These followed me for years and years, until I eventually numbed myself with the trivialities of life, as a preteen.
I can also remember my own dear mom, carrying on, moving forward through her pregnancy until she reached the finish line on February 15th, giving birth to her fourth child, my first baby brother. How she did it, I will never really comprehend.
She carried on . And so did we. We carried on, together.
There are several key things, essentials, that made this healing happen. I would be remiss if I did not speak primarily of our solid faith in an unfailing God. It was pivotal to our Hope. My mom’s example led the way for all of us.
But God helps those who help themselves.
And so it was also something very practical and down to earth that saved the day.
Books. It was books that saved me.
Hope, for me, was in the books. It was stacks and stacks of books that held my hand and walked me through into the tunnel of grief, out the other side. It was books that gave me my reprieve. That guided me forward into the light.
It was books.
My mom had always read to us as babes. Right from the womb, we heard her soothing voice. Her calm and quiet presence. As preschoolers she introduced us to the Pat the Bunny and the World of Beatrix Potter and a peek into the life of “The Raggedy Man”.
A comfort and joy. My favorite book as a child, The Story of Miss Moppet.
So it would be the voice of my mother, reading me series after series after series, as a child, that I remember as a beacon of hope, carrying me up and into the light of Hope.
Yes, we read the inspiring words of the Holy Bible, nightly and as a family. These words bringing truth, light and healing for the present, as well as promise for a time to come. This family tradition carrying over, long into my teen years, and still very much alive today in my own reading.
We read the needed, timeless and relevant words found in the Bible.
But we also read Little House on the Prairie.
We read All of a Kind Family.
We read Lucy Maud Montgomery’s beautiful stories, following her many fascinating characters in and out of trouble and interesting circumstances and situations: Anne Shirley, Gilbert Blythe, Emily of New Moon.
We read together, and we read apart.
I read Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins and eventually succumbed to the banality that is Sweet Valley High.
I was repeatedly amused by the antics of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and the tales of Mr. Not-so-Much.
And I survived— all because I daily escaped the reality of life for the fairytale world that lay beyond.
In some ways, it very much rescued my failing spirit. I would actually have to say, it really did save me.
And here we are, now: again looking for immediate salvation in a troubling time.
Parents, today, are wondering how we will move forward into this unknown, unpredictable new world.
Mamas and papas: we will find ways.
We will carry forward on the wings of Hope. Hope in an unfailing God, the same yesterday, today and forever; hope in the collectivity we have as a people; and hope through the words and imagery found in stories, poems and songs that have been created for us, creatively designing a world beyond the frightful realities of today and the confines of an unknown tomorrow.
These words we will seek out and treasure: they, too, will transport us from the complicated ‘here-and-now’ to the unfettered ‘somewhere beyond the rainbow’. Just like they did back then. Just like they did when I was a child.
We will find ways.
We always do.
And we always will.