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Two Years Later: What Aileen Is Thankful For

I have said a lot about Nick over the past two years. I have written a lot of articles and done quite a number of interviews and even published a book. And I have been aware all the while that I can only speak to a small part of our loss, for there were many people who loved Nick and many who lost him. Today is the second anniversary of his death and I asked Aileen if she felt ready to write something. She said she did, and so today I am turning things over to her.

When I was in Nashville for the Seasons of Sorrow book launch, Tim was asked several times “how are your wife and daughters doing?” It was asked often enough that, upon reflection, I think people understand that Tim has been nuancing the way he talks about my experience with grief as well as that of our girls. He has been very careful to only give voice to his experience of the last few years, and to word it in such a way that people don’t assume that the rest of the family’s experience necessarily matches his. I love him for this, and appreciate it very much. After all, Tim’s story is only part of the story. That’s because a dad’s grief is different from a mom’s grief. This makes sense. God has created each person to be unique which means each person’s experience of grief is unique. Each person’s relationship with the deceased is different as well, and this lends itself to differences in how each person grieves him. Adding another layer of complexity, each circumstance of loss is different as well. As we hear from people who have lost loved ones, I am continually struck by how different and unique each situation is, how grief shows differently in each person and each circumstance. This must be another example of how we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Tim recently asked if for the second anniversary of Nick’s death I would be willing to write something about it—something that may help answer the question of how I am doing.

I was told it would probably take about two years before I felt anything close to back to normal, and it very much feels like the end of year two is the beginning of a new season. Because of this, it feels appropriate to look back and ponder what I am thankful for.

I am thankful for God preparing me.

God has been kind. He gave us one of the hardest things and yet he also gave so much to help us survive. Looking back, I now see how he prepared me years ago to weather such a storm. He blessed me by giving me a bedrock of theology that in my weakest moment I had to simply deploy. I can see how he gave us what we needed moment by moment to continue to walk in faith through such suffering. When nothing felt true, when God didn’t feel kind, when he didn’t feel good, when he didn’t feel just, I had a choice: I could choose to believe what my heart and my emotions were telling me—that God was cruel, unkind and unjust—or I could choose to believe what my mind knew to be true of God’s character and trust that eventually my emotions would catch up to my brain. There are days when this is still a struggle, but I have learned not to trust my feelings. Emotions cannot inform truth. Rather, truth must inform emotions. God didn’t abandon us, he walked with us and prepared us. I had to choose to see his presence, but he was there. I am so thankful that in his mercy he prepared me.

I am thankful for God’s sovereignty.

God’s sovereignty is both comforting and terrifying at the same time. I think in the abstract I knew the Lord could choose to do anything he wanted in our lives. But suddenly, on November 3, I learned dramatically that he actually will do anything. Even so, I am so thankful God is in control. This situation would be only worse if God had no control over it. God had every right to choose this for us. I may not much like it, but I know he has purpose in it. As humans we seem to have a driving need to understand why things are happening. It makes us feel better if we can attribute a specific purpose to the hardships we are experiencing. But the reality is that in our human weakness and frailty, God has not given us that ability. We can guess, we can suspect, but we cannot know. God instead gives us knowledge of his sovereignty, and asks us to trust, by faith, that all things work together for our good and his glory. How this is true in Nick’s death I do not know. I don’t expect to ever know, on this earth, the full purpose of this suffering in our lives. But, I do know one day it will all make sense. I can wait, patiently, trusting in God’s character. I am thankful he sees the big picture, that he is in control of all things, and that nothing happens outside his will. I am thankful that God is sovereign.

I am thankful this is temporary.

I also know that as hard as this is, it is all temporary. Initially we divided the days up by doing the next hard thing. That might have been the call to the coroner or the call to the funeral home. It might have been picking out clothing or packing up belongings. But for a long while our life was divided into segments, defined by the next hard thing we had to do. As time has gone on those hard things have grown further apart. Even so, the reality is we will always have the next hard thing we have to do. Life in this fallen world dictates it. But one day, there will no longer be the next hard thing. I am so thankful that this world is not our home. Until that day, when the Lord calls me home, my job on this earth is not yet done. So I will wait patiently, enduring what I need to until one day there will be no more mourning, no more crying or pain, and every tear will be wiped away and death shall be no more. I am so thankful this is temporary.

Lastly, I am thankful I got to be Nick’s mom.

I have wanted to tell you all about Nick, but as I began to write this out I found that I still can’t. Another time perhaps, when the pain is a little less raw, when my heart hurts just a little bit less, I’ll be able to share a bit more about my firstborn, the one who first made me a mom. God in his mercy gave me a son who brought light and joy to my life for 20 years. Despite all the sadness, I am so very thankful I got to be a mom to my Nick.

A few days after Nick’s death I wrote to a friend of mine and I expressed my longing for the day joy would return. I knew logically that one day it would come, but looking forward all I could see was heartache and sorrow. These have been hard, hard days. But God in his kindness and mercy has sustained us. We have grieved and mourned and wept. But as the two-year mark draws to a close, I am seeing that joy return—joy that is less tainted by sorrow. I am thankful. God has been present. And I think I will end here as I have ended every note I have written in the last two years: God is still good.

Nick Aileen This is a special photo as it captured the first moment Nick began to respond to Aileen and ‘talk’ back to her.

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