“Let me share a secret your nana has learned: By inviting heartache to do its transforming work, your life will grow richer, more meaningful, and more marked by both beauty and joy–not in spite of, but because of the pain that has seasoned it along the way.” Pg. 280
So writes September Vaudrey to her granddaughter as she passes on one of the hardest learned but most valuable truths to be taught.
Rhonda and I met September at the Storyline Conference in Chicago back in December 2015. It was a bonus day at the end of the conference for those who were interested in learning more about the art of telling a good story. So people like writers and pastors and other creative types were in the room. We were intimidated. Donald Miller was facilitating and at one point asked the ~300 in attendance to turn to the person next to them and answer the question, “If you were to write a book tomorrow, what would it be about?” September’s answer was easy: “Actually, I just finished writing one – a memoir about losing my daughter, Katie, who died of a brain aneurysm.” In an instant Rhonda pulled me over and introduced me to her new friend. I had lost a brother 15.5 years earlier to a ruptured brain aneurysm.
I don’t care who you are – if you lose a loved one to a brain aneurysm, there’s going to be a connection.
Our meeting was brief but beautiful. September gave me the rundown of her daughter’s story. I gave the run down of Geoff’s story. She was 19. He was 24. She was driving in a car. He was riding his dirtbike. There was a tense several days of waiting and uncertainty and ultimately futile hope for recovery in the hospital for her. We waited 2 weeks with what also turned out to be futile hope for recovery. She had her organs donated. He had his organs donated. In many ways it was not an easy decision for either family to make, but in both cases it was the right choice. Needless to say I’m sure we could have spent hours sharing more about our stories of loss with each other but time didn’t permit it.
This is why I was so grateful to receive an early copy of her memoir, Colors of Goodbye. I wanted to hear more about her story. To meet the Vaudreys. To meet Katie. Even to enter into their pain with them. And perhaps more importantly, for me, to enter into their healing.
Aside from my own parents, I’ve met a number of folks over the last few years who have had to bury their child. Each time I interact and hear their stories I’m always drawn to learn more about their healing journey. Grief is a fascinating thing in that it pours out of us in so many different ways – and I dare say from my limited vantage point that child-loss grief is it’s own special kind of terribleness – I can’t even wrap my head around the experience of having what is the absolute most treasured and cherished and protected relationship suddenly ripped from you without as much as a goodbye. It makes me feel hollow just thinking about it. Anyway, this is why I’m curious to track with people in their healing journeys. Just the question: how? How is it even possible to live again after this?
The truth is, in hearing the stories of others’ child-loss, I selfishly try to project how I would handle the loss of my own and I simply cannot comprehend dealing with this depth, this magnitude of grief. It’s like I just don’t have the faculties to do it. And so I am always amazed and in awe at the resiliency and fortitude of grief survivors.
In this way, September’s story inspires me. Especially because she so powerfully captures the intensity of that parent-child love dynamic she shared with Katie. The reader better appreciates the kind of soul-kicking intense pain that September endures because the almost reverent bond between mother and daughter is so beautifully expressed throughout the book. There’s no question about the worth Katie (and all of the Vaudrey kids) have in the eyes of their mother. And it’s precisely because of this special relationship that I could not keep it together on almost every page of the first half of the book. And yet the inspiration I get from September comes as I consider how this severed bond between mother and daughter somehow still yields the kind of beautiful redemption and healing that September’s story moves toward. It’s just incredible.
And really, for me, this is the greatest take away the book offers which, come to think of it, is maybe the intent actually. That is, September lays down the reality that this loss, this grief is utterly calamitous, it’s obliterating – the reader can’t help but walk away with that truth – and yet her trust that God is good seems to carry her through even the darkest and hardest moments, serving to deliver her out of the depths of grief. This in no way comes across cliché. Trust me, I’ve read enough of that stuff. This is the beauty of her writing, and evidently her faith as well: September actually trusts God. I love that she chooses to see God’s goodness through everything. This is not a guarantee, and I’m certainly not shaming anyone who endures this kind of trial and comes out with a different take on God, by the way, but I see in September’s story this steadfast conviction that God is good. Not that she understands him. Not that she agrees with him. Not that she’s happy in any way with this outcome. None of that. Just… God is good. And she’s going to trust him. And she does. And as a result of framing her life around this conviction, her story is beautiful and full of redemption and restoration and recreation – all the things God’s in the business of doing.
I could only hope that, despite my own doubts – both in my own abilities and, if I’m honest at times, in God as well – I’d respond with a similar kind of grace and peace in the face of such tragedy. Because it really seems that to get at an adequate answer to the question above: “how?” You need to somehow start with the conviction that God is on your side. That he grieves with us in our brokenness. And that despite the ugliness of it all, if you let Him, he’ll paint something beautiful out of all of it. September’s journey through her daughter’s loss demonstrates just that.
Anyway, you should read this book ;)