Dear Sean

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It’s been a year since you were here.  I kind of can’t believe it’s been that long…  SO MUCH has happened this year that I wish I could talk to you about.  But I think this whole year I’ve been reflecting backward- thinking back and processing the time that we were together, the time that you were sick, and all the feelings about it.  Looking forward makes time go slower, I think.  But looking back and being continually, constantly, consistently present to what’s going on in my mind and in my heart makes me not think about the passage of time as I normally do.  So…  it’s been a really full year.

I think about you all the time, Sean.  All the time.  Sometimes I wonder what you would do in various situations.  Usually, I conclude it’s probably the opposite of what I would do.  I think about all the things.  When I’m driving, I think about where we went in the car together- the songs we sang, the arguments we had, the music we listened to on our occasional roadtrip.  When I’m getting groceries, I think about the snacks you liked and the sour gummy things you ate.  The baby coconuts you loved that bent our knife and left debris all over the kitchen floor.  I think about you when people talk about their dream wedding or when they celebrate anniversaries.  I think about the shows we watched together.  The ideas you had.  Your hoodies. How you hated getting your hair cut and made me learn how to do it for you.  I could listen to Lorde or Freelance Whales all the time because they make me think of you.  I think about you every time we sing at church.  I miss you singing next to me.  It makes me wonder what you’re doing now.

Everything is different now, Sean.  On so many levels.  I sometimes feel like a totally different person.  And I think in a lot of ways, I am.  A lot of people have told me this year that you’d just want me to be happy.  And while I know you’d want me to be happy, I know that what you would want even more for me is to be challenged and grow.  You’d be really proud of me.  I care a lot less what people think of my decisions and don’t require so much approval from people I know.  It’s your dream come true!  I’ve done a lot of really hard things.  I haven’t done everything perfectly, and that’s helped me learn a lot.  I’ve come to understand that I’m really strong and resilient.  I’m grounded and compassionate.  I’m willing to take on hard things and grow from them.  Maybe you knew these things about me already- I’ve only really understood this now.  There were experiences this year that I really wished you were there to protect me from.  Or to help me figure things out.  To make decisions with.  But in your absence, I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I knew myself to be.

Sean, you were a loving witness to my life.  That’s a role that is sorely missed.  God has graciously brought people into my life that have walked with me and seen this year with me.  Who have provided a safe space to work things out with.  I’m so thankful for that.

The snitties are fat.  And still really cute.  In a weird way I wish you were here to help me take care of them.  But, let’s be real.  You only ever cleaned the litter box once (it’s okay, a compromised immune system is a valid excuse).  I never wanted to own two cats for myself, but I think they have been an unexpected provision for me now.  Also, I wish you could see the apartments they put in Hayes Valley where the garden used to be- they look ridiculous (and kind of awesome).  Also, there’s a new installation in Patricia’s Green.

You are still getting views on your Youtube videos and your Vines.  I watch them all the time.

I miss you Sean.  I miss you with a depth that will never apply to anyone else.

-The opposite of two sniffs on your cheek.  –

I Have Dreamed of You So Much- Robert Desnos

Shadows

I have dreamed of you so much that you are no longer real.
Is there still time for me to reach your breathing body, to kiss your mouth and make your dear voice come alive again?

I have dreamed of you so much that my arms, grown used to being crossed on my chest as I hugged your shadow, would perhaps not bend to the shape of your body.
For faced with the real form of what has haunted me and governed me for so many days and years, I would surely become a shadow.

O scales of feeling.

I have dreamed of you so much that surely there is no more time for me to wake up.
I sleep on my feet prey to all the forms of life and love, and you, the only one who counts for me today,
I can no more touch your face and lips than touch the lips and face of some passerby.

I have dreamed of you so much, have walked so much, talked so much, slept so much with your phantom,
that perhaps the only thing left for me is to become a phantom among phantoms,
a shadow a hundred times more shadow than the shadow that moves
and goes on moving, brightly, over the sundial of your life.

To age a lifetime

I started this blog exactly three years ago with this post.  Re-reading what I wrote at 25 makes me pity my much younger self.  I wholeheartedly still agree with the things I wrote.  But- of course I wrote those things.  Of course I was thankful for my life and hopeful for the future.  Of course I was excited for the ways that I thought God would continue to shape me in greater freedom as a person.
I had never experienced life-altering heartache.

Birthdays can be difficult for a multitude of reasons.  Maybe there are unmet expectations.  Maybe it augments loneliness.
For me, today was a reminder that where I feel most at home- most comfortable and most like myself- is in the memory of someone who is not here with me.
That’s a really cold embrace.

Now, I can express the same sentiments I wrote three years ago:  that I can see the ways God is continuing to help me grow into deeper freedom.  That he has brought loving people into my life that I am so thankful for.  That he has been faithful to me and continues to teach me about life in a gentle and patient way.  The feeling of these expressions, three years later, is much different than when I originally wrote them.  But they remain.  Twenty-five year old Sarah, you didn’t know you would age a lifetime by your 28th birthday.

Twenty-eight year old Sarah, somehow you still feel like a nine year old trying to awkwardly figure out the nuances of life.

Sean, I miss you and I’m thankful for the one month of my 27th year that you spent with me.

Living in the “and.”

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I was reading John 11 recently, and grappling with some of the narrative of Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life after he died from an illness.  I’ve had my share of questions about this story, and I think there’s a lot I don’t understand about it, but one thing in particular stood out to me.

Jesus travels to the town of this man who died, and his two sisters (Martha and Mary).  When conversing with the sisters, they both say the same thing to him- “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

To Martha, he says, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

And then, with Mary, he weeps.

I’m positive there’s a complexity to this interaction that I haven’t grasped yet.  But what I do see, is Jesus expressing two honest sentiments at the same time.

I’ve been learning that real life exists within several layers of complexity.  There is rarely just one side or one emotion.  There’s a depth there-  an opportunity as we move along, each on our own journey, to simultaneously grasp different facets of an experience.  Life isn’t just one thing.  It’s not just happy.  It’s not just confusing, or difficult.  Or whatever.  It’s not just.  Most of the time, it’s and.  At least, that’s where I’m at now.

I’m actually not speaking of life in general, but of each experience we come across.  More and more, I’m coming to notice and to acknowledge the and in the events and experiences of my life.  It’s so difficult to dwell in the and.  How can I simultaneously acknowledge the pain of Sean’s absence in my life, and the peace of knowing he is with Jesus?

And.

It’s tempting to want to reside in one place or the other.  It’s easier to either feel the intense pain or the comforting peace.

There’s a tension, and a freedom, in acknowledging the honesty of both sides of my experience. Together.  And.

A definite loss exists in my move to the apartment I’m now in- I deeply experienced the ‘letting go’ of the life I was supposed to have, as well as the excitement of new possibilities in my life.

Loss and newness.

There are too many emotions in the last nine months to recount here.  But, I know that this is a truth I will grasp for the rest of my life, and continue to acknowledge in the experiences I encounter.

Love and sorrow.

Growth and exhaustion.

Loss and freedom.

Confusion and comfort.

Fear and vulnerability and beauty.

It’s difficult to dwell in the tension.  But the honesty is freeing.

Dreams

Beauty underwater

I’ve had three dreams about Sean since he died.  I want to write them here so I don’t lose them. The first was a while ago… maybe five months ago.  I remember that I had moved my bed to another corner of the room because it was getting difficult to sleep in the same place that Sean and I slept together.

In this first dream, it was some ambiguous amount of time after Sean died, and we were having a second memorial service for him.  We asked Moose to speak again during the service.  It was in the same place, at First Baptist.  Only a handful of people showed up, and everyone was in black.  Our family was there, and maybe just a handful of others.  Moose spoke, but it was about something else- I don’t remember what.  It wasn’t about Sean at all, and I was infuriated.  I was so angry that people were moving on and not giving Sean the honor and memory that I thought he should have.  I didn’t know what to do and ended up just being so angry and upset about it. The dream really stuck with me when I woke up, for obvious reasons.  I was also aware that I Sean was dead even in my dream, and I was kind of envious of other people who had dreams where Sean was still alive.

The second dream I had about Sean was a little while after that.  He was alive this time in the beginning, but really sick and I was helping him get around the hospital.  He was cheery and positive as always, and I was running around from doctor to doctor, trying to talk to everyone and coordinate what he needed.  I got a wheelchair for him so he could get around.  Then he died.  I didn’t see it happen in the dream, it was just something that kind of happened.  So he was there and then he wasn’t.  And I was at the hospital with him, and then without him.

The third dream I had was sort of recent, maybe a month ago.  We were in a rainforest for some reason…. me and the whole Trank family.  Sean had died but was alive again and there with us, except he was different.  He forgot a lot of things, and wasn’t really himself.  It really resembled how he was when he was sick and kind of delirious.  I was ECSTATIC though to see him and to be able to hug him, and just kind of attached myself to him and didn’t want to let go.  We had to get to Rina’s birthday party, though, which was all the way up a river.  I’m not the strongest swimmer, and although Sean used to love the water, in his resurrected state he didn’t know how to swim.  So I put him on my back and tried to carry him up the river.  I couldn’t do it, and we were both sinking together.  I called out to Aaron, who was ahead of everybody, leading the way.  He put Sean on his back and successfully brought Sean and the rest of us to the party.

All these dreams were so vivid and the kind of dreams that really stick with you when you wake up.  I wish I had dreams that provide a space for me to interact with a normal, healthy Sean.  But I know each of these dreams have been a reflection of different stages of my processing his death, and events surrounding that.  They each reflect deep thoughts and feelings and I’ve dealt with and will probably continue to deal with.  So… just wanted a space to write them down and remember the process.

March 2nd Edit:  I woke up yesterday morning from another dream.  Sean wasn’t really in the majority of it, but it was me navigating the hospital and making friends with the nurses, mostly.  At the end, I was trying to get into Sean’s room but he had just vomited or something and they didn’t want me to go in.  I got really upset and felt that he needed me with him there, and asked why I couldn’t be in the room.  The nurse reluctantly let me in.  Sean looked at me, and I saw his face so clearly in the dream.  He was slightly confused and asked what the hospital staff was doing.  He looked at me, thinning face and overgrown hair, and I just stared at his face and saw so clearly his bright blue eyes.  I sat next to him and tried to comfort him.  Then I woke up.

Growth & Perspective

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Maybe I’ve just never been as attuned to processing feelings before as I have been for the last year or so, but HOLY MOLY I’m learning a lot.  There’s always something else, something more to learn.  I will try to succinctly recap themes and opportunities for growth in my life lately.

For some reason, I have the desire to ‘prove’ to people that I am capable and can do this- anything- whatever it is.  In this season, it’s continuing life in San Francisco without Sean.  When I quit my job in August, I was worried that people would think I’m in the depths of despair and can’t continue living well.  Or that I was being unwise.  I don’t know why that continues to be an issue for me, but I’m coming to accept that people will make assessments about everything that everybody does.  If you’ve known me for any period of my life, you probably know that I tend to base my decisions on others’ approval and thoughts.  I’m learning to be ok with just being honest with myself, with God, and with the close friends and family I share my life with, and that’s enough.

Moving from a married person to a not-married person provides SO MANY DECISIONS.  Of course there were so many daily decisions Sean and I made together, but I recall usually being more willing to bend to his opinion.  One example that stands out to me is when we were moving for the first time together, and had different opinions about how the process should go.  I wanted to go through everything and get rid of things we did not want or need before moving and unpacking everything.  Sean, being exactly who he was, wanted to do get things done the quickest and “most efficient” way possible.  To him, that meant throwing everything in boxes and getting it over to the new place.  We quickly recognized our different processes about this, and I recall a specific moment when I realized Sean’s “no” in that instance was more firm than my “yes.”  I think this is how I’ve always lived, and it worked fine for Sean and me.

Now, however, it is just my ‘yes’ or ‘no.’  It’s weird the things that come up when your life dynamics change so drastically.  I’m learning to decide what I want in so many decisions- what to make for dinner, how to spend my time, where to live, etc.  And it is only me that is going to decide these things.  And it is only me that will communicate these things to family and to friends.  Maybe this is rudimentary for other people, but I’ve always struggled to identify my own opinions and confidently communicate them.  When you’re married, you make decisions together and communicate together (or at least have someone else to share the responsibility of an unfavorable decision!)  In a sense, I’m learning to be my own person. To identify my own thoughts and opinions.  To communicate better, allowing others space for their feelings without taking them on myself.  I haven’t mastered these things in the least, but I am taking hold of the learning process and I’m thankful for the opportunities to grow in this way.  And I’m thankful for friends and family who allow me the space to learn and grow.

I’m learning so much about who God is.  I’ve learned in a real way.  I’ve always ‘known’ that God is with me- you know, since I was a kid and was taught that.  But now I experience God being with me, in intense feelings.  In difficult and stressful situations.  I’m learning that I can express all of my thoughts and feelings to him, and I’m learning to listen.  I’m learning that I can continually trust him.  He has taken care of me in such an overwhelming way- both of Sean and me, and all of our family- that I have no other option than to continue to trust him moving forward.  I don’t know how else to say it, but God has been with me in every step and I can keep going forward in confidence knowing that he will be there with me.  I’m not saying at all that I’m happy or don’t have awful days, or that every time I’m feeling down I am comforted.  I just know that God is with me and will continue to walk me through hardship, and because of that I feel safe.  On that note, I’m learning that I need God.  A lot.

I wish I could say I’ve learned how to change a car headlight, but I hardly got started before needing help (thanks Aaron!).  Maybe I’ll continue working on learning this car maintenance thing.  …Or continue learning how to ask for help.  Hopefully both.

I’ve learned that grieving is HARD.  And it’s EXHAUSTING.  As someone that desires constant affirmation (another thing I’m working on…), I’ve learned that really what I want to hear is encouragement.  Maybe this is some window into my psyche, but “you’re doing a great job” goes a long way.  Because I really feel that I’m taking hold of this process and squeezing every feeling and every drop out of it.  Obviously God has helped me immensely and has used my family and my friends to help me.  I’m so grateful for that.

And: I think I’m doing a pretty good job.

I don’t think it’s said enough, and I really wish people suffering incredible loss would hear this:

It’s so hard and you’re continuing to walk through it.  Even though you’d rather be in any other place but here, you’re doing it.  And you’re doing a good job.

I’ve learned how to make Thai soup.  I’m learning how to parallel park better (sigh).  I’m currently learning a lot about filing taxes after your spouse dies.  I’m learning to communicate efficiently with service professionals over the phone (still working on that one).

There’s infinitely more, and I have a feeling I won’t be done anytime soon.  Or ever.  Right now, I’m thankful for opportunities for growth, and I’m also thankful I can see things with that lens.  I’m tired of learning, stretching, being uncomfortable ……..

but I’m learning that maybe I’ll never be perfect and there will always be something to learn.