For her Family.
For those she loved.
This coming Monday, March 9, 2015 marks the one-year anniversary of the day we lost our beloved husky, Trace, to cancer. I spent a lot of time on this blog, documenting the two-month long process of his surgery and recovery and ultimately his passing. In the midst of that there was a close friend, Erika, who I have known for many years, who reached out to me. I was trying to sort out whether or not to put my dog through surgery and I was at a loss for words and overwhelmed with emotion. Erika was helpful in just listening and being compassionate about the situation because she too had a four-legged loved one: her 17-year-old sheltie, CJ. Our stories paralleled, as on March 1, 2014 Erika had to let go of her sweet CJ. We had a conversation about her loss, and the pain she felt after letting go of her lifelong companion. I felt for her. Erika is family to me, as I am best friends with her brother and I spent most of my summer days at their house during high school and college when we both lived in Ohio. As a matter of fact CJ was our “mascot” at cross country meets in high school. Erika, a few years younger than I, was always there, with her dog.
A week after she had to let go of CJ, Erika was so gracious in consoling me after the loss of Trace on March 9. We shared the emotion and the pain. But eventually we both acknowledged peace would come, and it did. A few weeks later, Erika adopted a new puppy sheltie and she named him, Kairos, which can be loosely defined from Greek as, “God’s timing.” Over the course of the last year, scattered throughout her Facebook posts, you’d see these joyful pictures of Erika and her new dog. They always seem like two peas in a pod – just like with CJ. She displays the kind of relationship anyone would want to have with any animal companion. Erika and Kairos seem like they are all heart. And Erika has that kind of effect on people too. After high school I moved to Indiana and she moved to Kansas, so we have had some time apart but we have kept in touch often. But I can imagine many people know her kind heart much more than I do. She’s the kind of person anyone would be drawn to. Her kindness and free spirit lifts a room up, at least that’s how I always remember her. She has so many friends and I won’t attempt to assume how they feel, but I imagine there’s no friend of Erika who feels like their relationship with her was/is fake or shallow. She’s just that genuine and sincere and I will always remember her as playing a significant part in being there for me when I was in pain.
This past Sunday, March 1, I was flying home from San Diego and I remember in the afternoon flying over the state of Kansas. And for a moment I thought of Erika because I noticed the change in geographical texture from Colorado into Kansas and eventually seeing the outline of the Missouri River. In a fleeting moment I wondered, “what is Erika up to?” I looked out the window at 37000 feet and observed the beauty of the vast, expansive blue sky, and the sun shining so brightly. It was a peaceful site to see. I woke up the next morning (yesterday) to find out that my sweet friend and sister Erika had passed away. On Sunday afternoon, Erika was walking her dog next to a frozen lake and he got loose and chased after another dog that on was on the frozen surface of the water. Erika went after Kairos and they both fell through the ice, neither to make it out alive. The rest of the details don’t matter as much as the heartache so many are feeling now. I was initially met with the typical feeling of disbelief and shock. I got to work yesterday morning and had a few moments of rest and then it just hit me. We weep for you Erika. It feels like someone has reached inside and constricted our hearts. Heaviness. Nausea. I cannot fathom the 10-fold intensity of these emotions and feelings that must be going on in her family and her boyfriend and those who were close to her on a daily basis. My soul aches for you.
And the questions that arise in the mind, oh how they are so unanswerable. The way the mind imagines images of something like this. Unbearable. You hope that she didn’t feel pain for long. You wish for her spirit to be somewhere safe and sound (and she is). You try to put all sorts of things into logic but you quickly find that there is no magic equation that solves a problem such as this. I believe this is because the human spirit doesn’t operate on that level. The human spirit is infinite in its many forms.
I can imagine the feeling Erika must have felt when her beloved dog ran out onto that lake. Erika was all heart and I have to believe she acted on her heart, which had to be filled with love and compassion. There’s just no other way to slice this other than a tragedy, and tragedy isn’t something we can sort out with our minds. It is something we must embrace with heart, just the way Erika embraced all of us with her heart.
I hope the nature of what I say next does not sound insensitive. Erika’s family is my family, and I hope they find some kind of honor in these words. And I by no means claim to be any closer to Erika than anyone else who had the privilege of knowing her. If you are reading this and you live with a dog (or any animal), surely you can identify with the bond Erika had with her Kairos. Some people might feel like, “oh its just a dog.” But to look your dog in the eyes, to look ANY living/breathing being in the eyes, you can’t help but see the love and affection reflected back at you. You are tied at the heartstrings, just as you are with the humans you love in your life. Some might disagree here, but for me it is a bittersweet notion to consider the potential serendipitous nature of Erika and Kairos, transforming into the next life together. They went together. Despite the awful, horrific circumstance, they were not alone. They were not alone. Two sentient beings full of love, tied together through heart and spirit, were with each other. And to me it strikes so hard to know that even in the end, they found Erika because they found her companion.
And we weep again.
This heart pours out to Erika, her parents and her brothers and her extended family, her boyfriend, her friends, and all those children she ministered to. I hope this is not too soon to say but if there is anything I have learned from losing my Grandmothers in 2004 and 2013, I can still hear their laughter, feel the warmth of their hugs, see the jewels that were their eyes. If there is anything I have learned from tragically losing my former youth pastor in 2007, I can still hear his guiding voice, see his gentle smile. If there’s anything I have learned from losing my Trace in 2014, I can still feel the texture of his fur in my hands, still smell his lifelong puppy scent, still feel the energy of his presence. With that, I pray that you all will sense, for as long you are on this earth the following:
I pray that we see Erika in the beauty of the blooming Spring flowers,
That we feel her warmth from the sun in the sky,
That we catch her in the clouds passing above,
That we embrace her down-to-earth company in the warmth of a cup of coffee (oh how wonderful it was to catch a cup of coffee with her :)
That we hear her encouragement in the tears we shed,
That we mold to her gentleness in a hug or a caress of the face,
That we see her smile in those that we serve, because she had the pure heart of a servant,
That for those who were so close to her to smell her scent in the soft breeze no matter the season,
That we feel her free spirit dancing in the jolly prance of dog who passes by,
That we hear her laughter in the company we keep with those we care about,
And that we see Erika in selfless acts we commit for the betterment of other human beings.
As I have said before, the relationships we form with others are sacred. There is something sacred in the spirit of Erika that indwells us. We are better human beings for having known Erika. And in a very expansive sense, I believe Erika is still very much, very very very much, still with us – all you have to do is look in to the eyes of someone you love – and right there, in those gems, is Erika.
One of the best ways I know how to express my heart is through words. And so I pray to God that Erika can read these words we all have to say, that she can hear all thoughts we have for her, and that she can feel the love we continue to pour out. I hope that those who have read these words can take them as they will and I am sorry if I went too far with my words, but they came from my heart and this is how I know to grieve.
Time is only a human concept. Healing begins when we are ready so there is nothing to rush. Others might disagree but there is only the eternal sense of NOW. Beyond this life is a Heaven for sure, but as long as we live on this rock there is always the unfolding of the moment-to-moment experience of our lives. This is only part of what I learned from Erika. I hope and pray that we take after Erika’s life; that is, to live it fully, with no regrets, no preoccupation or worry over what may or may not come, and that we appreciate the joy of here and now just as beautifully as Erika did.
Peace be with you all.