We thought we had weeks, maybe even months. We scrambled to try to figure out one last adventure, one last time together. Weeks ended up being mere days, and we were too late. Just like that, she was gone. And here we sat, Elizabeth’s “Sock Sisters” as she named us, spread all over the country trying to figure out what to do now. How to move forward without our sister. How to lift up her family, her children, how to be there. There was such grief in the knowing that Elizabeth was gone, and another sadness still as many of us realized that traveling to her funeral in North Carolina would be impossible, all of us with families, children big and small who needed us at home.
In my home, we all felt perhaps most strongly the heartbreak of Larkspur, because truly, there isn’t another word for how this loss has affected my sensitive little girl who loved Elizabeth so much, because Elizabeth first loved her. Whose body heaved with sobs as I uttered the words she dreaded to hear. Those two, they had a special connection, one that I think will affect Larkspur for the rest of her life. Mark my words, if this daughter of mine becomes a serious knitter, it will be because of the influence of Elizabeth Dehority in her life, not mine.
It was Jonny who came up with the crazy plan to get us there, one that covered the bases at home, and would ensure that almost our entire family could be present for Elizabeth’s funeral Mass. I packed one big suitcase for all of us, a hodge podge of our Sunday best, and clothes for the drive home. And I cast on two knitting projects, matching hats for the girls to work on. Projects that they have been begging me to get started for them for months, and I never had the time until now? I tucked both little projects into bags I sewed years ago from fabric that Elizabeth gave my girls. Larkspur gathered her memories and tucked them all into that bag, right next to her knitting project.
I could hear Ann’s words in my head, an attempt to help us rally our courage, “One last adventure for Elizabeth.” Only as we drove hours into the night, it didn’t feel like an adventure. When your friend is gone, it feels like the adventure is over. Last time I traveled to Charlotte it was for a girls’ weekend, a real adventure. Elizabeth Dehority, Elizabeth Foss, Ann Voskamp, and me, sharing laughter and hope, talking baby names for the tiny baby that I didn’t yet know for sure would be our Job. Two years later, driving towards Charlotte that Thursday night in the darkness, the flashing of lightning and the pelting of rain, I felt the cumulative grief of the losses of this year and of my whole life, beginning to overwhelm me. No, this wasn’t an adventure, it couldn’t be. It felt like something awful. Death is awful. It’s horrible and I hate it. And yet, it’s this inevitable part of life that each of us must contend with, must learn to somehow, live with.
And if I’m honest, I have to tell you that after my friend Sarah died last summer, for too many months I almost felt like I had one foot in the grave. It wasn’t a wish to be there, but a sort of pull on my heart, a longing to be near those that I love who aren’t physically walking this earth with me anymore. I failed sometimes to see the living as I struggled to release the dead. There has been so much grief and even fear, and I have found it difficult to wade through it at times. To keep my chin up. To wrap my head and my heart around what feels impossible to accept some days.
Last Friday, with the rising of the sun, there was hope within the grief. I believe that Elizabeth had a message for me and for all of us, that shone right through her funeral Mass: one of love, of a love without bounds. She battled for her life for years despite great suffering so that she might continue to love her family here on earth for as long as possible. Her message served also to remind me that she isn’t truly gone, only gone from this world, waiting for all whom she loves on the other side of the veil. She’s still with me in a mysterious way that I can’t understand. And so is Sarah Sanborn, whose name brings both a smile and tears to my eyes, seventeen years later. So is Brandi Dillon. So is Sarah Harkins. So are all my beloved family members, including my stepmother, who have gone on before me.
As I listened to her priest give his homily (you can find his words here), and speak of how Elizabeth fought to be here for her family, a battle that I witnessed, I felt the message that was meant for me in the face of all this loss. There is no room for “one foot in the grave” when you are surrounded by the living, the people who need your love here and now. I cannot allow grief to steal my joy and thus my ability to love well, to love in the present.
In the spirit of Elizabeth, that day of her funeral I believe we all did our best to love each other, beginning even then to share her legacy. We told stories and we shared tears. We even shared yarn. Elizabeth would have liked that, she would have loved it.
Afterwards, I went back inside the church for a few moments before we began our drive home. I raised my eyes to the ceiling and read familiar words there, the very words I needed to read. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus….” Hebrews 12: 1-2
Yes, I will persevere, and I will do so joyfully, because that is who I am at my core, and this is what I am called to do. I can feel the prayers of my beloved dead, my cloud of witnesses, helping to hold me up. And as spring unfolds around me, I truly and deeply feel the return of great joy.
Elizabeth Dehority, you changed our lives. We will never be the same. We will do our best to hold our heads up, our hands out, and love bravely. No guarding our hearts, only giving them.