dust like dry mist

fragile dust clouds,
broken and crumbled parts floating,
dancing, disappearing
like dry mist into pale sky

out of it we came
particles on top of particles,
tiny pieces knit together
when we got formed

from dust…

I don’t write much poetry anymore. Most poetry I do have reads like someone who wants to hear herself think in rhythms – seems so proud and silly now. But Patrick is encouraging me to weave words differently these days. He thinks it would help and he might be right – it might be the ambiguity that punctuated sentences cannot afford. I’ll keep trying.

We felt the first breath of autumn Saturday and yesterday morning it swooped inside our open windows to wake us from Sunday slumber. I wish the seasons wouldn’t change. I want this new absence to be as present as this moment – to always feel strange and wrong and deep. But the September sun is covering a new nook in the living room and I am reading with a cup of hot tea and a breeze around my neck. It’s that push and pull again. All the wonderful things about September are now hard things, too.

 

IMG_2357    IMG_2368IMG_2366

That’s my new favorite sun-bathing nook and the front of our new building and our bikes before we took them for a ride yesterday. We had no destination, but I knew we would be fools to not make one up. It’s September, the month that ushers in the best season.

There are apple trees in upstate orchards and farmer’s market Saturdays and favorite cardigans and pumpkin recipes for every meal. There are bike rides and football games and homemade versions of fancy hot drinks. There are these things in September and I don’t want them as much as I do.

He was born in September, but just barely. September 30th.

Missing and remembering well is hard work, because it will never feel less wrong that he is gone. It will never get balanced out in a slow fade, especially never in September.

 …to dust

our bodies passing by like specks,
caught by shafts of light at dusk,
floating without consequence
or weight.

I’ll keep trying and writing and praying. September is a hard month, but it is also beautiful.


Find all our grief notes at this link and join with my family as we mourn in hope.

observing grief

One of these days, someone will tell me I need to take better care of my eyes. And I will listen because that person will be right.

It is probably irresponsible to wear my brother’s old contacts – the ones that arrived in the mail on Friday, hours before the accident. But I love that he sent them, because “our prescriptions are close enough” and he didn’t need them after lasik surgery. The conversation went something like this…

WN: Care! What’s your prescription?

CN: Uh, I don’t know… why?

WN: You can have my contacts!!

When we found out both Christina and I had equally similar prescriptions (and equally hazy memories about what those prescriptions were), he intended to divide the spoils fairly between his two sisters who do not have vision insurance. We love him for this… this being so typically “Will.”

I don’t know why I tossed that brown mailer package out, with his efficient and upside down scrawl on the label. He used to start his letters from the bottom because he didn’t like to waste pen strokes and now the last ones he wrote to me are on their way to a landfill in New Jersey. I don’t know if he was still starting all his l’s and i’s from the bottom… I’ll have to ask Grace, she would know.

I paid full price for a copy of “A Grief Observed” at a snobby bookstore in Grand Central Station after taking the train over my lunch hour to find out the largest used bookstore in the city didn’t have it. But my eyeballs were burning from these free contacts and I am observing grief. It felt urgent; I knew C.S. Lewis’s hazy combination of intellectual and emotional fog would make me more normal.

Pancake Mondays only gets better and the joy is almost painful. We moved around in that sliver of a kitchen, chef and sous chef-ing that packed out Monday night like the apartment restaurant owners we aren’t. Our MacGyvered cold brew coffee sat in the freezer and six batches of batter rested in the fridge while our test pancakes were devoured with plenty of time to cook the (coconut) bacon to perfection. The neighbors came and the friends came and the strangers came and they all came through that open door and my face got confused.

This is still joy and it feels both welcome and wrong. I push against it and every emotion that distracts from this new, awful reality. But I am drawn to it, because joy is the only emotion with any strength in it anymore. There are a lot of emotions, but just joy has strength in it. It is made of the same stuff that allowed Jesus to endure the terrible tragedy of the cross, scorning the shame that would be our salvation.

“For the joy set before him…” There is something very “set before us” about joy. It is something far off as much as it is something near, like muscles making our bones dance toward a sunset.

One night last week, Tam moved the furniture around my glazed-over figure in the dusk light of our common space. Chairs got pushed to the walls, the rug got adjusted to make more space, and the clutter got cleared enough away for our legs and arms to be free. And we danced in that summer dusk light. Each separately working out whatever it was we needed to work out on the poorly refinished wood floor – separately stretching misery and mercy with untrained movements and with (for me) little grace.

The “joy set before me…” had settled in to all my knotted muscle groups, its presence pushing like thunder against my ribs but escaping like mist with my breath. Joy.

I am pushing against it. How is there still joy and why is it the thing that is strong and brings strength? It seems best and most appropriate to step into sadness and lock the door. But even then it seems joy pursues me and lives inside locked rooms, too.

I got a card from my grandparents, with one of my Gram’s flowers printed on the front. A lily, I think. Will’s fingerprints are all over their house – the shingles, the support beams on the addition, the wood shop, the storage shed. There’s the smallest knick in their living room where he missed a beam with the nail gun. They are remembering.

For the joy set before us, camped around us, living in us… this, we endure. There is no sense-making of it. We are on this side and he is over there. And the joy set before us is the same.

All I know is, a small package arrived on Friday, August 2nd and now my eyes burn like the fireballs Dad used to hide under the seat of his Chevy pickup. And I’ll let them burn until someone tells me I need to take better care of my eyes. Meanwhile, I’ll be hitting the Visine good and hard.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

when you meet people like us | guest post from Christina

This is a guest post from my sister, Christina. She has good things to say and I’m glad to have her say them here. Read this if you don’t know what to say to someone who is hurting or read this because you want to understand our hurt a little better. 


Caroline, as I’ve said, is the wordsmith.  So much so, that while greeting people at the visitation, I accidentally received many compliments for her beautiful writing, by people who hugged me while saying some version of , “Oh Caroline, I’m so sorry!  And you’re such a beautiful writer!” and I hugged them back, “Oh, you are sweet! But I’m Christina!”

But grief is this weird thing, this weird thing that completely takes over your personality and your world, and you start thinking, “Hey, whatever works.”  Maybe this whole “writing out your thoughts thing and publishing them to the world” helps.  Too many quotes? That’s just the kind of classiness that you get with this brown haired sister.  My beloved sister-in-law and I were talking the other day and I mentioned that I was going to write a blog entitled ‘World’s Least Spiritual Griever.’  This is that blog.

A portion of you who read this blog don’t know us, or at least don’t know us well. And some of you we consider ‘our people’ and you are struggling to love us through this. This post is for both of those groups.  For those of you who don’t know us, read this and keep it in your back pocket for when you meet people like us, people drowning in a sea of sorrow and grief.  For those of you who know us well, the ones we consider ‘our people,’ this is for you too.

To our people: We’re sorry for being weird.  For not calling or texting you back.  For zoning out when we’re talking with you.  For probably waiting too long to send you a thank you for the home-cooked meal you brought over to our homes.  For ruining our conversation with you with our new-found perspective, trying in the softest of ways to let you know that your problem isn’t a real problem, because in your problem everyone is still alive.  We’re sorry that our emotions, the things that upset us, and our demeanor change a million miles a minute. We’re sorry that we won’t commit to plans. We’re sorry that there are only a few people that we can tell the whole story to (because re-living the worst minute/hour/day of your life is something you just can’t do very often). We’re sorry that it’s hard to engage with us, even though you clearly love us very much.

And the things that are probably just me… I’m sorry I almost passed out on my porch when you brought me a meal last night.  I’m sorry I can’t stop apologizing for this new personality that is so radically different than my old one.

We can’t explain why all these things are true, and it’s hard for us to not know when we’ll feel ‘better.’ But I’m afraid it’s going to be a long time.  And that terrifies me.

If you want to help:  Even making this list makes me feel like such a needy person, such a diva.  “Here are the things I need, please do them!” But I have to believe that there are a few people who truly are ‘in this’ with us, awful as it is here, in this place. Assuming I’m correct, this is a list for these people.

Friends, please let us talk about him, and what happened.  Please don’t avoid us because you aren’t sure what to do.  If you are not sure what to do or what to say, can I make a few (more) suggestions?
“How are you doing/ feeling today?”
“This is terrible. I’m so sorry.”
“Sometime I’d love to hear about William”
“What’s one thing I can do to help you/ love you today?”

Let us feel happy and joyful when we have those moments and act normal around us, but gentle.

Let us tell you stories about him and our life with him and make us feel safe doing this, like it’s not weirding you out to hear about this thing that happened, or about him. He was an incredible man (the best I’ve ever known, honestly,) and one of my favorite people in this whole world. I like talking about him.

Invite us to things but don’t be offended when we don’t come. Text us and don’t be offended when we don’t text back.  Call us but don’t be offended when we let it go to voicemail.

Have I mentioned that (if you are close to us) please please ask how we’re doing, and ask about Will? Of course, don’t ask these questions as you quickly pass by.  That’s the worst.

You know what else you could do?  If you really want to step inside this dark cave of terribleness with us? Read about grief a little.  C.S. Lewis’ book ‘A Grief Observed” is incredible.  Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff‎ is also a perfect depiction of grief.

Crazy, unhelpful things sometimes burst out of people’s mouths.  We have tons of grace for this… sometimes.  Flippant comments about different things making it ‘worth it’ or different reasons why we should be thankful, those are tough to hear, because we are living in a nightmare and nothing is a fair exchange. Some things you will try with good intent and those things will go very wrong.  But please still try them?

One thing you can assume…

We are not ‘doing well.’ We are not ‘handling it.’ We are not confident of anything right now.  We’re losing it and at least this grieving sister has spent multiple hours in the last week considering vintage motorcycle and/or treehouse tattoos and searching online for girl baby names that start with the letters ‘Will.’

So, that also happened.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

this is our story

I sat at the front desk with a temp worker named Chelsea two days ago. We exchanged high pitched pleasantries and filler words about college and travels and restaurants in the city. Then the Senior Director waved me into his office and told me with kind eyes that our company is a family. He wanted to know “the story.” I fumbled the details out and my vision blurred. Three sentences felt insufficient, so I added halting additions in an attempt to introduce my boss to Will, “He is…ahem was an engineer… He works, um.. worked for a conveyor company out there.”

And, when I couldn’t keep my face tidy anymore, I just nodded as I walked out with pursed lips and squinty eyes. I dabbed my face back at the front desk while I told Chelsea (the temp worker) the “story” in one sentence. And I hate that story – that final story I keep telling about my brother Will. The final story I’ve smashed irreverently into one memorized, mechanical sentence that sounds more like a news report than anything else… the story I feel obligated to follow with the words, “It’s okay,” and “We are fine…” because no one is comfortable with death or grief or sorrow. Everybody shifts uneasily when absence happens like that.

And everyone wants to know the story.

Sometimes, my urban life plays make believe. New York City dresses up in everyday routine, and it almost almost feels like my life on earth isn’t altered forever, like it is “just another day” where taxis have road rage and college students are hung over and teenagers buy too much at Forever 21.

But then I am walking toward Bryant Park on 42nd Street and there are too many people, all of them strangers and none of them Will. He has never been to Bryant Park, but his absence follows me around like a shadow hovering over all the spaces he is not.

We are a weathered lot. Dad calls often with a shaky voice and as many questions as answers. We talk about “how things are going” and “getting better” and “benchmarks,” but there is no good news, only words to put in quotations because we don’t know what else to do with this grief. We want to honor him with our efforts and to love the God who gave us 27 beautiful years. But we are all hiking fumbles in office buildings and front porch swings and backyards. We are all shrugging shoulders and breathing sighs and letting the pain sink to our depths, because it would be wrong not to.

This is our story, stretching out like a rope between mourning and hope. All the threads intertwine, connecting what feels like opposites on either end.

There is peace, yes. And there is pain.

But our faith is not simply pragmatic. Our minds, knowing Will’s salvation, cannot tell our hearts, knowing Will’s absence, to “move on.” Nothing in quotations works in real life. We can’t “make progress” or “get better” by some mental acrobatics. Our minds and hearts are meshed together in constant, internal marathons – chasing reason and running from emotion or the other way around.

I walked into the copy room today and found five guys hanging out where there is room for two. To their silence I said, “Is this a secret meeting?” They side-glanced with smirks that looked like they were hiding a freshly painted “boys only” sign behind their backs. “Yep, top secret meeting,” one said. I chuckled at their mischief, “I know what’s going on… I have three brothers.” The words stung my eyes.

This is our story of peace and pain.
And there is still much to be written.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

Will | a remembrance from Christina

This is a guest post from my sister, Christina. This is the remembrance she wrote to share at the Celebration of Life service last Friday. Please know that we are all still available to talk about anything you may have questions about. Also know that the memorial fund established in his name is still accepting donations that will go to three different ministries where his legacy as camp counselor, handyman, and mentor will touch youth with the message of hope in Christ.

Anyone who knows me knows I talk about my brother William like he is a superhero. I think maybe they thought I made him up or was a little overboard in how I spoke of him. The way he could fix any car (in fact, when he moved to CA I was SHOCKED at how much it costs to get your car fixed. Because I’d never paid) the way he’d leap on a sofa and sing and dance to Newsies at the drop of a hat, the way he knew how to do everything. Everything. The way was speaking with Grace a few days ago, and she was telling me how he would speak of me to any who would listen… in much the same way. That I was the real deal, that I really ‘got it’, that he was so proud of who I was and what I was doing. And that meant so much to me, but I wasn’t necessarily surprised. Because as Grace said, “he loved you guys an insane amount.” Anyone who knows any of us knows, that’s true of all of us. We love each other an insane amount.
And so it seemed fitting for us all to share with you some thoughts.
There’s a Phil Wickham song that says “if you’re the sun, I want to be the moon, I want to reflect the light that comes from you.”  And that’s what was true of William. In William’s love for Christ, he was made more like Christ every day, and reflected such wonderful things about Jesus to each of us. In this beautiful transaction of accepting Jesus Christ’s payment for our sins and becoming part of his forever family, we also give him our whole selves. And William gave Jesus his whole self. And Jesus made something wonderful out of his beautiful life. William was a sinner. But through Christ, he lived his life as a forgiven, redeemed man. And every part of his being lived like he was absolutely determined to make the most of it.
Will was someone who loved incredibly well, who seemed almost overtaken with glee to talk to you or be with you after it had been some time. He showed me a picture of the immensity and immeasurability of God’s love. For in his friendship and care, I never felt insecure to ask something of him. In fact, my last 100 or so text messages with him are from car dealerships and while reading craigslist ads, asking for his gracious advice.  That’s what Jesus is like.  His love for us is immeasurable and immense, and we never need to be insecure about asking for or needing that.
Will was committed to and passionate about his marriage to his Grace. He picked an amazing, Godly woman to spend his life with, and they loved each other fiercely and did the hard work of marriage in order to make it great. That’s what Jesus is like. It says in Scripture that Jesus is the groom, and the church is the bride. He loves us fiercely and will not let us go for anything. I have seen this in action in the body of Christ this week.
Once you were important to William, you didn’t fall off this list. And he was your absolute biggest fan.  And that made people, including me, feel infinitely special. To have, to quote Patrick “the coolest guy anybody knows” think you were important, that felt so special. In that, you believed you could do that big thing, you could get that job, you could do better. That’s what Jesus is like. He cleans us up from our sin-filled hearts, and then sees us as clean and lovely! Then he is on our side forever, not only rooting us on but giving us the power we need.
I hate so much having William gone from us. And while I have infinite Will stories, I’m heartbroken that I won’t have more. And I don’t understand God’s plan. BUT. I believe that when William trusted Jesus Christ with his whole life, he gave over the reins of his life to Jesus to do with it, whatever he wanted. I, and we, have done the same. So his life, and mine, they are for God to use however he pleases. And I know that He is good. And that William is now so much more alive than he ever was on earth, finally sin-free and basking in the glory of God.  “We mourn, but not as those who have no hope.” And if you feel like you have no hope in these moments, please talk to one of us on this stage. Something that we keep saying is “William loved his Jesus and his Grace.” And I know without a shadow of a doubt that he would want you to know them both.
And Grace, we love YOU an insane amount. And we will forever.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

 

Will | a remembrance from Sam

This is a guest post from my brother, Sam. This is the remembrance he wrote to share at the Celebration of Life service last Friday. Please know that we are all still available to talk about anything you may have questions about. Also know that the memorial fund established in his name is still accepting donations that will go to three different ministries where his legacy as camp counselor, handyman, and mentor will live on and touch youth with the message of hope in Christ.


When I left for Michigan to go to college, William was my kid brother.  He was still very much a boy.  The boy that he was, in many ways, is everything I hope my children to be.  Energetic, trusting, hard working, problem solving, up for anything that was William as a boy.  Subconsciously, I think that is who he will always be to me.

The boy that jumped in the back of the car and wrongly trusted me to drive him down the road to feed the cattle.

The boy who took my love for building tree houses to a whole new level (figuratively and literally).

The boy with whom I spent hours of scaring cityfolk at the state fair with the famed spider.

Great stories of our youth aside, today I would much rather tell you about the moments that assured this protective older brother that William was heeding my mother’s daily petition to “remember who we are and who we represent.”  That is to say that he was acutely aware of his legacy as Nichols’ and more importantly our individual and collective identity in Christ.

One such moment was evident in the way he dealt with a bad situation and subsequent football suspension.  Instead of watching from the stands, William decided to practice his 9th grade season knowing that he would not play a down.  His character grew so greatly through that experience as did his willingness, or even desire to hit opposing players and even referees really really hard.  More importantly, his teammates would forever be altered by the strong, quiet leader that emerged from that adversity.

The following year, William visited me in Michigan to attend a Fellowship of Christian Athletes football camp.  While there, he found himself as the one white Iowa boy in a bible study of inner city football players.  On the ride home, we spent three hours discussing the opportunities William had throughout the camp to share his faith through the avenue of football.  This experience noticeably softened his heart to the needs of others while helping him put sports in proper perspective with life and faith.

Later in high school, William’s ability to lead on the field and on the wrestling mat converged with his faith as he built a cabin on our back 40.  I remember William excitedly calling to share how the cabin served as a place where his teammates and friends have clean fun.  William felt so blessed by God to be able to use his natural gifts of building, leading, and getting stuff for free as a means of living out his faith.

As William’s world widened so did his desire to “remember who he was and who he represented.”  During our bi-monthly road talks, I remember being humbled by his desire to know how my wife and I did everything from devotions to finances.  He desired with all of his heart to be Godly husband that Grace needed and deserved and I have always been in awe of his willingness to serve her so selflessly.

That said, what I treasure most about those conversations is the openness with which William was willing to share his struggles and his heart for the people around him.  William knew, better than anyone, that he was a sinner in need of a savior; an imperfect vessel that God was using to do his work.  He believed wholeheartedly in the truth of the gospel and that his hope was in Christ alone.  It is that same hope that enables me to stand here both missing my brother and rejoicing that he now present with and praising our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

the day I met grief

Before my mom could finish her sentence, I felt my body crumble and heard my voice wail. I was prepared for bad news because of her urgent text, but I wasn’t prepared for this. I didn’t know grief until yesterday, not like this.

“William was killed in a car accident…”

A new gravity crushed my limbs closer to the earth and a new sadness stretched my soul straight apart. And somewhere, I could hear Patrick still on the phone with my mom on speaker and I think she said, “We are praying for you both.” In her wisdom, she refused to tell me the bad news until I was with Patrick. She insisted that Christina, James, and Carly drop all plans to meet our parents in person to hear the news. All sorts of scenarios played out in my head in those hours before I was with Patrick again. None of those scenarios was this.

The silence hurt as much as the sobs and both felt like poor efforts to make anything “better.” That’s the finality of death, I guess. It can’t be made any different than what it is.

William’s joy for building projects and free car repairs and being everyone’s biggest fan was something that challenged the idea of a “man’s man.” He wasn’t too strong to be sensitive or too confident to ask questions. He was the best bargain shopper I know (maybe only second to my dad), but he was also one of the most compassionate and generous. I always wondered if part of the motivation for a better bargain was because it made him better able to be a benefactor.

His love for his wife, Grace, was rich with whimsy and deep with sweet service. They loved each other so well and we were excited to learn about marriage from them and with them. They both made the other better reflect the Creator and I so desperately want the same for our marriage. There are too many lessons to remember, really. How could William cram so much goodness into 27 years and how can it feel like I am already forgetting?

“He was so useful for the kingdom… I don’t understand… It doesn’t make sense.”
“It probably never will, Care….”

Everything got truncated and the day gave way to a long prayer walk in the park. We prayed and walked and prayed and walked and we didn’t try to figure anything out.

And still nothing is figured out in the thunderstorm underneath my ribcage, not really. Why don’t more people get to meet him? Why don’t more people get to know his generosity and compassion and heart of service? Why don’t we have the chance to get lost in laughter or get lost on highways or get lost in thought with this man one more time?

Why did I get to know this incredible man for 27 years and why don’t I get to know him on this earth anymore?

Yesterday was the worst day of my life, but God was not defeated.

Yesterday was mostly phone calls and sobs and silence and hugs and “I love yous.” But, yesterday was also something we would never expect so soon. We felt, so close and so sure, the absolute importance of Jesus Christ on the cross. Because before time began Christ conquered yesterday completely. He chose William before the foundations of the world to be His child and that means that my brother is now in his forever home.

In William’s death (even as I struggle to get these words out), we claim God’s precious promise that Christ has made him alive forever. The beauty of it shatters my soul where the thunderstorm rages underneath my ribcage.

riding bulls

All we know is that Christ is not less victorious because of William’s death. And William, one of the strongest men I will ever know, can now boast in a strength that defeated his grave. William is now in the presence of the Lord, where his strength is joy and pleasures forevermore.

It seems backwards and sideways and disrespectful to speak about joy when my brother/best friend from high school will never sit around another fire at family vacation or go on another backpacking adventure with his wife or offer to help whoever is standing in front of him in need.

But more devastating than even William’s death is the kind of eternal separation that our sin warrants. This is what the Israelites realized in Nehemiah. They understood, in the same place where the thunderstorm rages under my ribcage, the impossible chasm they had created by their sin. God, in His grace, gave them these words in verse 10:

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Yesterday, my mom left a message on my phone while she was on layover in the Houston airport. Her voice was clear and her tone was assured. She had met an angel, she said, a little girl who was singing about God’s love never changing and about “tears coming in the night but joy coming in the morning.” The Lord gave such a precious gift in this message (He even sent an angel with perfect pitch!). Then she told me that the verse I had texted her (Nehemiah 8:10) was the verse God gave her after my nephew Isaac died. She had wrestled that joy and finally understood that strength comes from being in the presence of God because that’s where joy is found.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)

If you do not know how to get into the presence of the Lord, this is the most important question in your life today as much as it is mine. We need His presence for joy because we need His joy for strength. There is nothing more pressing, no work more important, and no task with more priority. Concern yourself with joy and there you will find strength.

I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel. I’m probably not supposed to be writing yet, either. I guess I’m supposed to be getting to know grief and that takes awhile. But I don’t know who makes up the “supposes” and I could only sleep about four hours last night because of all these words rumbling around in my soul.

All the commotion that summer stirs up in the city gets silent on a Sunday at 6 am when it is raining. But then, the rain stopped and the clouds parted and the light came in through the stained glass at church with the sounds of the train. Why did the rain stop, I wanted to say, doesn’t it know that William is gone? Why did the clouds part, I wanted to ask, don’t they know that William’s perfect witty remarks won’t be the reply all in the family email chain? Why did the light play with colors on church windows, I wanted to whisper, doesn’t it know the world feels less beautiful without him here?

We took communion through tears – the bread and the cup that symbolize that Christ conquered William’s death and death altogether. We recited the Apostles’ Creed together with our church and I choked out the last lines, “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.”

Because it is good to remember the resurrection on days like today. It is good to remember that there is a place prepared for those who have been called in Christ, those who have responded to God’s offer of ultimate love in His Son.

Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.