It’s been 21 days since the police showed up at my door to tell me our 5th child and twin brother, Jared, died in his dorm room as a college sophomore exactly two weeks short of his 20th birthday.
21 days without his bright light, his “I love you, Mom” texts, his wild and beautiful life on this earth.
21 days of unbearable grief.
21 days of barely being able to breathe.
21 days of finding no apparent clues what took him under that deeply that morning when everything in his life was forward-looking, connected, and living and leading in his areas of passion.
21 days of “WTF, Jared!”
21 days of hearing hundreds and hundreds of stories of the way he impacted people’s lives in profound ways even though he was only 19 years old.
21 days of despair.
21 days of “how in the *$^!&$(!(! will we ever be able to live again?”
21 days of worrying about our other 4 young adult kids who live in other states and the hard work of healing they are having to do to grieve the loss of their beloved brother.
21 days of wave after wave after wave of too many emotions to count.
21 days of feeling so deeply held and supported by an incredible network of people who know pain and are acquainted with grief.
21 days of somehow God being with us in unexplainable and simple ways that defy language and remind me of how grateful I am to have untangled myself and my family from so much harmful theology over the years.
21 days that are beyond words.
Yet, here I am today trying to use a few.
Because there are a few words swirling around and I wanted to share them today, to help me, to help people who are reading near and far know about what’s happening with me, with us, in the midst of the darkest season of our story.
Two hours before my doorbell rang on October 28th I had a wonderful conference call about the launch of my newest book—Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World—releasing February 18th 2020. I was feeling so thankful and had a day of quiet and administrative work ahead of me. Right before my doorbell rang, I was working on the finishing touches of a blog post I’d been working on for a few months called “The Pervasive Patriarchy Problem.” The last blog I had posted was months ago and was called mortality, with the reminder that “life is fragile, people.” All of the irony is just too painful. I haven’t thought about patriarchy once in the past 21 days.
However, I have thought a lot about what a gift it is to be part of my beautiful eclectic egalitarian faith community, The Refuge, who have carried and will carry Jose and I and our family so well and pulled together the most lovely celebration of Jared’s life on November 3rd. People from all areas of our lives came to share amazing, funny, tender, transforming stories about our baby. Standing-room only, overflowing outside, it was full of tie-dye, rainbows, all his favorite foods, his phenomenal music playlist, kendamas, and so many incredible young people who give me hope for the future. We laughed, sobbed, swore, created beauty, and experienced healing that comes from collective and raw vulnerable grief. That gathering embodied the paradox of Jared, of life, of my heart, in countless ways.
It was holy ground.
Three days before October 28th I told two of my dearest friends and Refuge teammates that the past 18 months have been the first time in 27 years of parenting that we could breathe a little easier. That empty nesting was so sweet, that all the kids were in fairly stable places and super connected to us, but because we are parents we never knew when a new wave might crash in.
This tsunami was the last thing I expected. That kid falling off a mountain while he was climbing or hiking or getting eaten by a bear because he forgot his tent on a solo overnight, sure. Killing himself on a Monday morning after a normal “have a good day” to his roommate, no. We are left with no note, no clues–only connected, forward-looking texts and emails to his classmates, us, his siblings, and friends, planning his Halloween costume and a birthday trip with his brothers and sister a few days later and how good it felt to declare his double major and minor in all his areas of passion.
And yes, we talked regularly about mental health, about real struggles and pain, all.the.fucking.things that my husband and I know how to do as people who have worked in hard places for over two decades.
If you knew Jared in real life, you also knew that he somehow wasn’t “of this world”, either. That the systems, “the Man”, the inequality and the ugly, was something that Jared could never accept and was always pushing against in such brave ways. That he was paradoxical, with a bright light that shined wherever he went and challenging philosophical ideas that mesmerized and engaged others around campfires, under the stars, and in his brilliant journals. Freedom was Jared’s highest value, basic dignity and care for all humans and the earth his passion.
Now we are left with wrestling with three of Jared’s favorite words that were tattooed on his leg (and now on my husband’s)—“I don’t know.”
I don’t know.
We don’t know.
We’ll never know.
But we do know this: Grief has no rules.
As we crawl our way forward we will just do what we can how we can when we can the ways we can.
We will learn to live with “I don’t know.”
We will hold our heads high.
We will lay on the floor in a crumpled mess.
We will move forward on bringing Practicing into the world in a few months.
We will go to work when we can and skip things when we can’t.
We will sometimes have words and often times have none.
Grief has no rules.
And, damn, I desperately miss that wild and beautiful kid more than a lifetime of words could express.