For everyone, life sometimes brings shipwreck moments.
Ours happened when four friends woke us one beautiful May dawn to break the news that our 25-year-old married daughter Krista had died 7000 miles away while volunteering in Bolivia. Our hearts shattered, much like the shards of her bus that plunged over a mountain cliff. Aaron, her husband, was injured but alive; their puppy Choclo, held on their laps, was now missing after this terrifying midnight moment.
As any parent knows who loses a child, life then takes an irrevocable turn. “Your life will be forever changed,” said many. “Most marriages end in divorce,” warned one scientist who also lost a son. But I didn’t want all of life to change.
Married for over 30 years, I loved my husband and didn’t want to lose him too. Nor did I want to lose my career as a writing professor, and a community of friends and family I needed, or a love-infusing faith which gave meaning.
Within a four-year period, however, we lost not only Krista but also three parents. Earlier, I had lost my only sibling Larry at almost the same age as Krista through a car accident. Sorrow abounded.
So I started interviewing others going through loss, and they spoke with candor and openness, trusting me not because of my experiences as a writing professor and researcher, or free-lance writer and national speaker. Nor am I a grief counselor.
Instead, they entrusted their stories because, as they said, “you know.”
What Gives Resilience?
I began asking where they gained their strength and resilience? Who helped them, and in what tangible ways as they entered their own pilgrimage through loss. I grew to respect how individual loss becomes, and the importance for each person to trust themselves. I also saw the power of compassionate companionship, both from friends, families, clergy and professionals.
I have a long interest and astonishment at the strength of perseverance that people demonstrate. My last book, Bold Spirit, originally researched for my Ph.D., narrates the true story of a mother and daughter who walked 3500 miles across America in 1896 on a $10,000 wager to save a family farm. Her pilgrimage is filled with both courage and tragedy.
It’s now been 15 years since Krista’s death. Some of life did change significantly. Friends and family helped us launch the Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship (www.kristafoundation.org). This encourages other young adult leaders engaged in global and national service. As director, it became apparent after a couple of years that I needed to quit my position on the faculty of Whitworth University. I simply couldn’t do both. Fortunately, the same husband shares this passion!
After a year, Aaron returned to Santa Cruz, Bolivia and developed a micro-enterprise project for women. He met Gabriela, a wonderful Bolivian woman, and their marriage has restored his joy. We continue to be “family” and his two young children Thiago and Ava are our “heart-grandchildren.” After attending Harvard’s Kennedy School, he has worked with World Vision, traveling to over 30 countries in his career in international development. He provides significant leadership to the Krista Foundation, including initiating our Global Citizen Journal.
When I barely wanted to get up in the months after Krista’s death, the garden became my therapy. I first discovered the healing power of gardens during an earlier recovery from breast cancer. Seeing a blue delphinium emerge and grow strong, or the tender bud on a Peace rose burst into yellow flame left me in awe of on-going beauty. Now patio pots abound with the nourishment of fresh vegetables too.
Proof of living with hope? I’m also an irrational Seattle Mariners fan!
I’ll look forward to meeting you on the pilgrimage. Thanks for visiting!
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