And Sometimes It Even Shines

It was February. Perhaps the second day after Chris had returned from Nevada after his dad passed away. The dog had gotten me up way too early and I couldn’t go back to sleep. It was still dark when I went downstairs, popped on the fire, sat in my green chair, pondered, and decided.

When Chris hobbled in (his ankle injury) and hour or two later, preparing to leave for work, I told him my plan.

Charlotte would have spring break. My annual work conference was earlier than usual this year (end of March instead of mid-April), liberating us to actually go somewhere. And our favorite beach (North Carolina) had some great pre-season deals.

I showed him the tiny beach cottage I wanted to rent. I showed him the bargain rate.

“We need to get away,” I said. “And not for another funeral or work or dying loved one. Just for fun. I don’t care if it rains the whole time so long as we have an ocean in front of us.”

(I’m very much an ocean girl. The character of Moana speaks to me.)

Chris is almost impossible to convince when it comes to doing things out of the ordinary. But I was certain. We needed this, and I was prepared to fight for it.

“After everything . . . we can just sit. Be together as a family. Process crap. Unwind. Heal a bit, even.”

Chris looked at me. “Okay.”

Wait . . . what? He agreed? So quickly?
I was stunned---but not stupid. I had the place booked within 15 minutes.

As you know, dear readers, this has been a tough winter for us. January through mid-April is always my worst time at work, and this year was especially brutal. Of course, my grandmother died in January. Meanwhile, Chris’s dad’s health continued to deteriorate, which is an unbelievably stressful thing—a state of limbo that has no good ending in sight. We lost him, as you know, in February, and formally marked it in March.

Oh, and Chris had that awful ankle injury and wasn’t exactly mobile.

In Reno last month, the weather was strangely warm and sunny. The day of my father-in-law’s celebration of life gave us perfect weather. It was like a big fat reminder that the sun would shine again. Yes, Chris’s dad’s absence was excruciatingly obvious, but the family held tight. Hofmanns came through, stronger probably. More patient. We all made plans to return in July for our annual trip. My mother-in-law made plans to travel to DC and then on to Germany. The sun rises, and sometimes it even shines. Life goes on.

Somehow all of my (work) book projects went to press on time. I successfully worked an exhausting annual conference (and centennial celebration) and . . . suddenly . . . we were through it.

Spring break was here.

Chris repeatedly said how glad he was that we had an early beach trip planned. (We’ll do our “real” one in August.) It gave us something to look forward to, a way to really celebrate coming through all the crap of this past winter.

I get it. We were very lucky. Aside from Chris’s ankle injury and a few colds, we were remarkably healthy. We had good bosses that let us put family first, and workplace policies that gave bereavement leave—in my case, TWICE within a very short time period, during the most critical part of my department’s work cycle.

While Chris was away, we had good friends who helped with our kids when I couldn’t get home from work in time for x, y, or z, or needed to make an airport run or whatever. We had a church family that cared deeply about this icky time.

We had a stable life to spring from as we tackled our challenges. Genuine love. Bills paid. Having our most important needs met, I think, gave us space to get through, get through, get through. And not lose our minds, or our hold on each other.

But still, it was hard! Four long stressful months.

We made it.

And now I’m sitting in the passenger seat of the truck (yeah, we got a truck—I call it Chris’s “grief purchase”), driving south to Carolina. We made it. We made it!

I’m giddy—more with relief than excitement. We made it. The beach has always been a balm to our souls and we’re so ready to just take it all in.

Yes, we’ve brought our stacks of books, but in the meantime, we’ve been reading. Here's what's going on bookishly:

The whole family has been reading the next Narnia book, The Horse and His Boy, and Lorelei is often the ringleader—“I want NARNIA!” she cries out.

Lorelei is struggling to read and wants desperately to read, but she’s just not there yet. She says she’ll read this or that book to me and makes up the words. I let her. Sounding out the words is just not happening yet and I’m not going to be the one to kill her joy of books.

Charlotte plowed through another Nancy Clancy chapter book and she’s genuinely retaining the entire story of complex, multi-chapter books as she goes along now, which had been lagging behind her overall reading ability. Watching her read to herself and crack up or get totally absorbed in a story makes me so, so happy.

She has also discovered reading on my kindle and downloaded an Amelia Bedelia chapter book from the library. Naturally, she now thinks she needs her own kindle.

I finally finished Life After Life, which was quite good if long. Toying with past vs. future is always literary fun, no?

As if reading C. S. Lewis’s entire Chronicles of Narnia wasn’t enough of Lewis, I also read A Grief Observed, for obvious reasons. It was a mind-blowingly brilliant work in which he processes the death of his wife. It’s the best writing on death and grief that I’ve read.

I’m definitely looking forward to getting in lots of reading this week.


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