Six Years

We were walking in the park today. This is our lockdown normal, to do big walks together on a Wednesday and a Sunday, and we can all chose on the other days. You would've hated lockdown, by the way. It would've been like living with a caged animal. Fortunately for this chapter, the kids have become more like me in the last few years and are all handling the introversion really well. Sorry about that. 

I have moments where I look at our lives and give myself permission, just for a few minutes, to imagine what it would be like for you if you suddenly stepped back into it. It gives me a buzz to imagine you looking at your four kids and how big they are and how much they've changed since you last saw them.

I was watching the two oldest ones in their trackies and t-shirts with their hands in their pockets, heads together discussing something and laughing, thinking how crazy it is that they are making their own decisions about the next chapters of their lives right now. Of all the stages of their childhood, this has been the weirdest one for me because I can't get in the heads of teenage boys and figure out what makes them tick. Working out the line between how much to still guide and how much to let go of is way more complicated than when they were younger. I'm pretty sure if you were still here there would be huge clashes of will between you and them, but I'm also sure they would have so much more life skills right now because you were so active all the time and so determined to find practical solutions for things. You would definitely have taken them more places and they would've experienced way more stuff. You were so good at opening up the world for people and helping them experience more than they knew was possible. 

I was thinking about our twelve year old who is so confident and friendly and emotionally mature and how you would be bursting with pride at how well he is facing every challenge life throws at him. He's so much fun to be around, with the best sense of humour and a fantastic instinct for how other people are feeling.  He's at a prime age for adventure and wanting to experience new things - you two would be having a blast putting some of his ideas into reality. You'd be telling him every day to keep making great choices and not to be like you but to stay on track and not get persuaded by anyone to do stupid things. And he'd be listening too. 

And if you knew your daughter now, you would learn a lot about yourself. She would mirror back to you your compulsiveness, creativity and what it's like living alongside a whirlwind. You'd love it. She wouldn't have you a pedestal any more, mind you - it's easier to be the perfect parent when she only remembers the good stuff and you haven't been the one trying to harness her energy in the right direction for six years - but I think she'd still have you wrapped around her little finger. And you'd back me up when her brothers complained about her singing because you'd love the sound she brings into our house and how much beauty she radiates in the middle of the chaos she's created around her. Maybe you could tidy up after each other's unfinished projects.

And looking at Barkley makes me laugh because of all the times you asked for a dog and told me about puppies you'd seen at the farms where you worked, and even pretended you'd brought one home with you. I kept dashing your dreams of a bulldog that sat in your van next to you every day for work, because I said I had enough responsibilities to think about already, and you were always doing spontaneous day trips and changing our plans at the last minute and talking about us moving to another country, so what would we do with a dog in the kind of life you wanted to lead? In the end, getting a puppy was both an acknowledgement that the pace of my new life was unrecognisable from the old one, and a huge bribe to distract the kids from the life I uprooted them from when we moved. So really, it was you or the dog. I could never had had both.

It's not easy to think about all of that, but it does make me take a big breath in and think about how far we've come. We're doing okay. It's not always fair of me to imagine a world where you are still here, because in my head that world is near perfect and I know in reality it wouldn't be. I'm sure things would be better if you were still here, but you're not.

So after I've had my little indulgence of seeing the kids through your eyes, which makes me treasure the moment and see them with a new perspective, I tuck that thought away again. I think of the twelve, and ten, and six, and four years you had with them and how much of yourself you invested into them. Those are apparently the most important years anyway, and you absolutely bossed it, filling their emotional tanks up to overflowing. I couldn't have asked for a better start for them. And I also think about how without the 39 years you did have, they wouldn't even be here. Imagine if you'd never turned your life around. Imagine if you'd never trusted your future to God and we'd never met and got married. Or imagine if you weren't so determined to make up for lost time after your dark years - we might have made sensible decisions like waiting before having children, or stopping after the first three like we almost did. Those are the kind of shoulda woulda couldas that make me smile instead of cry.

And I think of where you are now. That's the best thought of all. While it seems unjust that you're missing so much of your children's lives and who they've become, I know that there's something even more incredible that you're experiencing. Our human brains cannot yet comprehend it, because we can't imagine anything greater than the gift of people we love. But I have absolute confidence that when we pass from this life into the next one, our breath is taken away at the unfolding of wonders we could never have imagined. I think it will be like waking up from a dream where what has just passed seems fuzzy and smaller and less painful and less wondrous than it seemed at the time and our minds will comprehend that everything is different than we thought it was. We will know completeness and joy and perfection that will both make us forget what has passed and finally make sense of it all at the same time. And so I can't regret that you're not here, because in some ways you are experiencing life, and our children's life, and my life, more completely than you would be if you were here. Honestly, I can't wait to be there too. 

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
1 Corinthians 13v12


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