On Life and Death

Guest ColumnistCommunity News

by Cari Stone

For the past seven years, May 1st has held an elevated status on my calendar for all the wrong reasons. It’s the day that my brother David died.

But here’s the thing. May 1st, 2003 is also the day that dear friends welcomed home their second son. This little guy’s conception and birth were nothing short of miraculous. Our friends had endured a long road of infertility. Ashton’s safe arrival marked an end to a trying season – one that we’d traveled with them. The news of David’s death and Ashton’s birth came within minutes of each other. And at the time, the combination felt impossible to process.

Exactly two months later, our daughter Hannah was born. She too had been a baby we’d waited a long time to have for different reasons. Once David died, I found myself wading through two months of pre-term labor. Ultimately, Hannah came early. Her delivery was frightening and amazing all at once. The doctors and nurses called her the miracle baby and she was. As I held our firstborn in my arms I felt incredibly blessed. My heart also ached for the brother I no longer had.

Four years later, yet another little man made his way to the outside world. He’s the son of my college roommate and treasured friend, Janna. After days of labor (I’m confident this girl could excel at marathons based on her birthing experiences), Paxton Kai was born on May 1st. We celebrated his arrival with joy and relief. And if the truth be known, I also cried that day after getting off the phone with Janna’s mom.

As I sat across the table from a dear friend last night eating burritos, we talked about May 1st. We talked about the incredible odds involved in these births and David’s death lining up the way that they have. We talked about the incongruity of life and death and how they ultimately make very awkward bedfellows.

Following my daughter Hannah’s birth, I can’t tell you how many times people told me how lucky or blessed or fortunate I was to have her on the heels of David’s passing. For many this little six-pound colicky bundle became the proverbial ribbon that they hoped could wrap up my pain in a tidy package and send it away.

I understand the awkwardness that accompanies death. This seems especially true when the loss is unexpected, untimely, seemingly unavoidable or any combination thereof. What I’ve also come to understand is this: the thing I unknowingly longed for in those dark days was a simple acknowledgement of the incongruity of it all. That was it.

It turns out that life and death rub up next to each other in the most awkward of terms. I needed souls brave enough to sit within the heartache and the joy without trying to find cohesion between the two. My heart never ached so deeply. Still, my mind always knew that life and its goodness does (and ought to) carry on.

My grief demanded that I sit within these discrepancies and I suppose I wanted company. I had this at times in the most intimate of ways. Within hours of my horrible news, one friend was boarding a flight to come and be with me. Another friend was there within minutes. They held me close, cried their own tears, timed my inconceivably early labor pains, washed my dishes and somehow filled each daunting hour with their presence alone.  I’m forever grateful for those courageous individuals who didn’t try to fix it. Instead, they dared to live within those moments with the simple resolve of steadying my fragile soul.

In many ways, the past seven years have been a journey.  I needed to somehow locate a resting place within the paradox of life and death. I think I have. Come to find out, there are thousands of ways to navigate this terrain. At times I’ve tripped and fallen flat on my face. I’ve grown tired from the heat – finding myself parched with no water bottle on hand. More than once, I’ve meandered off course, having no idea which direction to go next. At still other turns I’ve found myself gaining momentum; there I’ve experienced deep satisfaction and an expansive view that moved my soul to an entirely new place.

In the end, God’s grace has proven to bridge this chasm of life and death in ways that nothing else has. It has provided me with a deeper understanding of how beauty and depravity come alongside one another with the ability to emerge from chaos into harmony. This grace is stout. It is unwavering and entirely capable of supporting deep aches right alongside the abundant joys that this world contains. It has gifted me the time to consider and the space to doubt. It has granted me the expanse to wander, and ultimately enveloped me with the assurance to return with a greater understanding and still more questions.

Grace. It is the essence of how I seek to live life alongside loss each day this side of May 1st, 2003. I think David would be proud of the path his little sister has traveled.