When the girls and I were at Gooseberry Falls in Northern Minnesota this past June, we were amazed at all of the trees along the hiking trails that had their roots exposed. These tree roots can be described as gnarled and laid bare. It was truly amazing to walk along the hiking path and to wonder aloud at what had caused all of these trees to have their roots exposed as they were.
When we walk by majestic trees or beautiful plants, then we do not always stop and think about what do their roots look like underneath them. Roots have solid purposes. Roots anchor the tree in the soil. Roots help to keep the tree upright and steadfast, and roots absorb water from the soil. Roots additionally take oxygen and minerals and use them to produce what they need for the growth, development, and sometimes repair of the tree.
It is wonderful to understand what the purpose of roots are. It is also interesting to note that the bigger and healthier that the root system is then the bigger and healthier that the tree will be. When it rains, the roots hold the soil in place so it is not washed away. When soil gets washed away then we experience erosion. Roots of a tree are generally out of sight, and a large tree may have miles of roots. The roots extend to wherever they find the water, minerals, and oxygen that they need. I was simply amazed when I read that their roots may extend for miles.
It was amazing to see all of the exposed roots at gooseberry falls and to try to apply this to my life and think about my own roots. Where have I been seeking my “water, minerals, and oxygen”. What are my roots? What is helping me to keep me upright and anchored?
As I reflect back on my life, I know that for much of my life that I have tried to have my roots deep in my Christian faith. I know that during some of the worst storms of my life that I have felt like my roots were detached and that I did not feel steady or upright. I have also felt like I might get knocked down from life’s storms and battles.
When my husband died in August 2011 from a work related accident and then 22 months later when my only 18 yr old son was killed instantly in a car accident, these were the times that I most strongly did not feel upright or anchored. I have been in so much emotional pain that I have not felt as if I was standing upright or that I was very well anchored. Instead, I have felt like some of my roots were pulled out and that I was broken like a tree that had been severely damaged by one of the many storms. If you look at the picture at the end of this blog then you will see how that tree is not standing upright at all and that the tree looks like it could fall over. I have felt like that tree through this grief journey… beaten down and not well anchored.
We have been a witness to many storms lately and the devastating effects that they can have on so many lives. We have seen the devastation from the hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida and many islands south of Florida and in Puerto Rico. Many people have been physically uprooted as they have lost their homes and belongings. Numerous lives have witnessed the damage and devastation that storms bring.
Two weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico only 5.4 percent of citizens on the island had electricity. This number is hard for us to wrap our heads around or even imagine. Only 14% of Puerto Rico’s hospitals had electricity.
Hurricane Irma made landfall on September 10th in the Florida keys after causing serious damage in the Caribbean. The damage in the Florida keys and in the Caribbean Islands was also significant. Many people through these hurricanes have suffered such damage to their homes and belongings. The devastation is unbelievable when anyone stops and takes the time to look at the pictures and reads the statistics of the suffering that so many are experiencing by the damage that these storms have caused.
When we think of our own lives, then we can reflect on what storms that we have endured whether they have been actual physical storms or if they have been other forms of trauma and tragedy in our lives. While I have experienced physical storms in my life and shared on an earlier blog about the small tornado that caused some slight damage to our home years ago, I also consider the deaths of my son and husband as different types of storms in my life. It has been terrible to lose my husband and for my children to lose their dad. My heart hurts for all of the moments that he has missed and for how many moments that my children wish that their dad was there with them. The pain of losing my only son is difficult to describe in words for me.
This past weekend as the girls and I were doing our emotional check in, Kylee shared how she had been personally battling with fear and anxiety. She shared that she has realized that sometimes she backs off from future planning or relationships because of a “feeling” that she has had that she would be the next one in our familly to die. She has noticed that this fear affects how she thinks about her future. She is working on battling this fear and overcoming it. MiKayla shared her battle with fear and anxiety with losing Kylee or I or both of us. I have also battled this fear many times of losing my girls or not being able to raise them and be here for them. We talked about how several years ago in our family trauma based counseling how one of our counselors talked to us about that fear of losing each other and how we were living in it. I have described this experience in an earlier blog. This is where the therapist was having the three of us stand in a circle and then she would remove one of us and ask us to picture the one that she removed had died. I was shaking and angry as she was trying this exercise with us. I remember asking her through my tears, “How could you do this to us? We have already lost both of our guys. How could you ask us to picture losing each other.” I was so upset with her. She looked into my eyes with such care and concern and said, “This is how you are all living Kristi.” I immediately knew in that moment that she was right and that we all three were battling this fear and anxiety.
As a mom, I wish I could just reach in and take away both of my daughters’ pain and battles with fear and anxiety. I know that I can’t. Quite honestly watching them hurt then that pain might even be greater than having to deal with my own. I am thankful that both of my girls continue to learn how to express the emotional battles that they experience and hopefully as we continue to pray and heal emotionally then this fear and anxiety will continue to decrease as we continue to press on and attempt to do the best we can in our lives individually and as a family. These storms of both of our guys dying so young and so close together have definitely had damaging effects.
A couple of weeks ago as I was driving MiKayla and a group of her friends home from a football game. Some of the girls were laughing at pictures of their dads and what they used to look like and what they look like now. I watched as my baby girl withdrew into an emotional shell. She was sitting in the front seat of the vehicle next to me, and I am pretty sure her friends were oblivious to what was going on with her. As she listened to the laughter and comments then I could see her emotional retreat. It hurt my heart. She wants her daddy too. She will be 18 this January and has been without him since she was 11. This is definitely a storm in her life to have lost her daddy and her brother when she was so young. The pain is still there. The longing is still there. The grief is still there. She misses them and wishes that they were still a part of her life just as her older sister Kylee does.
When my only son was instantly killed in a car accident at the age of 18 in June 2013 then I knew that was probably the worst storm of my life. I had always heard that losing a child was the worst thing to experience. I am a believer. Burying my son and missing out on all of the years of his life that I was so looking forward to brings a pain that is difficult to put into words. I have used words like heart ripped out, a piece of me gone, etc… it is very difficult to put the pain into words that you experience when your child dies.
As I shared earlier, my roots have been deep in my Christian faith, and as I have shared before when I heard my son was dead then I knew that I was in for the faith battle of my life. I had prayed for my son all of his life. I could not get past the why. I had people tell me well he was protected from bad things coming in the future. I can share with you that when your son is killed and you have to bury him then it does not feel like he was protected. I had people tell me that it happened for a reason and that I would see all of the good coming out of his death. I can share with you that when a parent has to bury their child then it is not comforting for them to be told that it is for good. Please know that doesn’t mean that I have not seen good come out of it, I have; however, this is not a comfort to a mother who had to bury a child. A parent who has had a child die wants their child back. No one can do that for you.
I have often felt like the trees with the roots exposed and laid bare that the girls are pictured with above. I have also felt like the tree below that looks like it is going to fall over and is barely hanging on. One of my goals on this grief journey has been to get my roots well anchored again and to get the nourishment that I need from my roots again. I have tried to be at peace with the why question. There is no answer to that question that I am capable of understanding. As I have shared quite a few times before, I seek the peace that passes understanding. I seek to still live my life in faith even though I am incapable of understanding what has occurred in my own life. I want to be well nourished so that I may continue to grow as a person and in my faith and hopefully be a comfort to others who are in pain and are battling their own individual storms.
The girls and I will continue to do our very best to heal and grow. A friend of mine who has a sister that recently became a widow told my friend that she doesn’t just want to survive but that she wants to thrive. This is most definitely my hope and prayer for the girls and I.
We want to thrive, not just survive.
We will continue to learn to dig our roots down deep in our faith and to grow and heal. We will continue to work on being here for each other and repairing the damage done from our storms. We will continue to learn to live in love and joy. We want to make the most of each moment that we do have. Thank you for traveling with us on our journey.