This post was very difficult to begin writing, but once I started, I could not stop. I apologize in advance for the lengthiness. Please know I could have written much, much more.
I could not post yesterday, although I intended to do so and had the time available. You see, this week is probably the hardest week for me every year, and what is on my mother's heart these days is tough to put into words. This Saturday, my beloved husband and I will celebrate eleven years of marriage! We were married on a Saturday, so this year it is particularly easy to remember each day leading up to our wedding.
Now, do not get me wrong. My beloved husband and I are very happy together. We have a wonderful marriage. These eleven years have been full of great challenges and great rejoicing, but we both know the same as we did when we began our friendship that we are called to lead one another to holiness. The Lord has most certainly given us many opportunities to do so, beginning with this week eleven years ago.
That week, my husband switched careers. I lost my grandmother who was living alone in Pennsylvania suddenly in a tragic accident on Tuesday evening. Living in College Station after both graduating from Texas A&M University, we were intimately involved in the horrifying Bonfire Collapse on Thursday. And, after all that, we still
My beloved husband's first love was being a police officer. At the time he was looking, however, hiring was limited, and he took the job he could get, working midnights in the county jail. So, part of my marriage discernment was whether or not I could be "a cop's wife," because that life has its unique crosses. Obviously, I had agonized over this but eventually concluded it was God's will I marry this man.
Then, he surprised me a few weeks before our wedding with a job opportunity at our university student center. Easier hours, great pay, and he wanted to serve God in this way. My beloved husband is a convert to Catholicism, coming into the Church at the student center just months before we began our friendship. On fire for his faith as most converts are, this was his chance to give back to the community that had brought him home to Holy Mother Church.
He announced the job change to our friends and family at our wedding reception, as the details had only been finalized the past few days. This huge, life-altering decision happened rather quickly amidst all the wedding preparations. At the time, I left it up to him, because I had already discerned to accept the harder road. This change would just make it easier for me, I thought. Regret is probably too strong of a word, but there are times, I know, he wishes he never made that career switch.
On Tuesday evening I called my mother, as planned, to finalize her trip down the next day to help me with remaining wedding preparations. My father answered, clearly sobbing, only the second time I remember such open emotion from him. He was confused why I was calling, because he was in the midst of phone calls between his only brother in Florida and the police in Pennsylvania (he lives in Texas).
Apparently, Grandma, physically in pretty good shape for her age but suffering from other issues for many years, had run into the street at night while unloading groceries from her trunk. The police speculated that perhaps a receipt or her hat blew into the street, and she chased it. There was no time for the car to stop, and she died instantly.
I only was able to get a few details from Dad before he had to get off the phone to allow the police and funeral home to call him back. My fiance and matron of honor sat with me, as we prayed and wondered if the wedding should go on, could go on.
It was not until late that night, I believe, that Dad called me and said I still had to get married on Saturday, that it was what she would have wanted, for me to be happy. They arranged to wait until the following Monday for the funeral. My family flew directly from my wedding to Pennsylvania. I went on my honeymoon as planned, too, honoring my new husband and leaving behind father and mother. It was what everyone else wanted me to do, and it was right but not what I would have chosen.
Because of Grandma's instability, she no longer traveled and was not planning on attending my wedding, but I was her favorite granddaughter (okay, I was her only granddaughter, but she certainly treated me like her favorite). She and I always had a special connection, even before the scary afternoon I saved her from choking to death when I was a teenager. So, a small part of me believed and still believes that the only way my grandmother could attend my wedding was in spirit, and with her physical body and mind no longer holding her back, in death, she was with me in the church on Saturday.
Every Aggie still close to Aggieland, remembers where they were when they learned Bonfire fell. For us, it comes close to "Where were you when the Challenger fell?" but, of course, is only a faint whisper to "Where were you when the towers fell?" My phone rang early, before seven, I think. It was for my matron of honor, who was staying in my guest room down the hall. I found it odd, her study partner calling at 6AM, but I stumbled down the hall and told her the phone was for her. After a few minutes, she came and climbed into bed with me (not weird, best friends do that) and told me Bonfire had fallen. and. people. were. trapped. inside.
She had already called her husband and parents to let them know, but they were out of town. I remember holding my breath, but not knowing why, while I waited for my fiance to pick up the phone where he was staying across town. Later, I would learn he had decided after saying good night to me around midnight that he would stop at his temporary home to change and then go out to Bonfire. He had never been to "stack" before (that's what they called putting all the logs on the tower), and he was inspired by the imminent loss of his bachelorhood to do something uber-manly.
Well, thanks to God and to Mike, he picked up that phone in the morning and told me he was on his way, finally, out to "stack." But, he was not going to work, as he had planned. Mike had been home when my beloved stopped by, and they started talking. And fortunately, the unlikely happened. They gabbed until the wee hours of the morning, and my beloved never made it out to work on "stack." They remember hearing the sirens, learning shortly afterwards about the tragedy.
My beloved still went out to Bonfire that day, but he went to work security. Even though he had switched careers, he still maintained a reserve capacity and went to lend aid. Mostly, he worked the perimeter, keeping onlookers out of the way of the emergency crews. The things he saw that day and into the next night as the experts worked to rescue whomever was left alive under those enormous logs were horrifying. At home, we kept the television on, rejoicing as they recovered the injured Aggies and crying as they released the names of the deceased. My bridesmaid's luncheon was surreal as we gurgled wine at a local winery, wearing maroon and white ribbons to honor the fallen.
I know most of my readers will not understand why a big bonfire was so important. At Texas A&M, Bonfire was one of those things that holds people together. If you have ever been to some sort of survival, team-building, or leadership seminar, conference, or retreat, you have a taste of what bonds can be formed by such work. Bonfire united Aggies to a common purpose, one that externally seems sophomoric, but one that strengthened each individual who took part in any way. So, when stack fell, it was more than just a tragedy where lives were lost. It was a devastating blow to the strength of each Aggie.
Yes, we still had to get married after all this, mostly because God said so. That's a post for another day, though, how the Lord put it on my heart to seek a friendship with this particular young man and made it so obvious to both of us we were supposed to get married. Anyway, we had to get married, because death is a part of life. Entering our marriage, we knew that no one is a stranger to tragedy. It is all around us, and it is unavoidable.
But, this week is still hard. I remember the awkward moments, trying to celebrate our new life together amidst chaos. I remember the terrifying moments, not fully understanding what was happening or why. Mostly, I remember going through that week in a fog until Saturday morning. My precious gift of organization was supremely important to even get us to Saturday morning. In fact, every anniversary when we watch parts of our wedding video, I am reminded of our priest's amazement at my preparedness.
I woke up early the day of my wedding. Who doesn't? And, I had everything done. Maybe not so common? There was no racing around at the last minute. Everything was on schedule, but I was early. So, I sat down at the computer and changed my hotmail from my maiden name to my married name and emailed everyone in my address book about the change, including Fr. Mike, who was at that moment preparing his homily for our nuptial mass and heard the "ding!" telling him he had a new message.
What he told the witnesses gathered was that I was the most organized person he had ever met and that he had never (yet) met a bride who had extra time to change her email the morning of her wedding. (Remember, this was eleven years ago, before Facebook and iPhones!) He thanked God for my gift of organization and the ways I had used that gift to serve our university parish. And, let me stress, dear reader, organization does come easily to me only because it is a gift from God, and with such gifts comes great responsibility. (another topic for another time - why I am more at fault for disorganization than the average person)
What Fr. Mike did not say was what I only now realize looking back on that morning. The extra time I had, to take a bath and change my email, was an opportunity for me to go from mourning to rejoicing, to put things in perspective and truly focus on the grace I was about to receive with my new husband in the sacrament of holy matrimony. For, I had gone to bed after seeing my florist scrambling to squeeze in my flowers amidst the dozens of requests for sympathy arrangements and gathering to pray a rosary for my deceased grandmother and those fallen Aggies. I remember tears on my pillow, but I awoke to a new day and a new life.
Our wedding day still had drops of sorrow amidst the joy. In the church, someone placed a framed picture of Grandma next to the white candle I requested be burning on a window ledge during the wedding. Our ushers wore maroon and white ribbons, honoring the fallen Aggies. Fr. Mike included a special prayer for my grandmother's soul during the Prayers of the Faithful. From the top of the tower where our reception was held, we could see the carefully dismantled logs that once were Bonfire.
In all this, as in everything, God was there. I was grateful not to have to ask where He was in all this tragedy. My faith insisted and many outward signs of friends and strangers indicated that he did not abandon us in our hour of need. And, he has continued to stand by me, no matter what. Despite my own sorrows, I have always felt a confidence in the continuing presence of God. I just know He is working through all things for good. He does not leave us. He walks beside us in all things and tries to pull us closer to Him and, therefore, to each other.
Grandma, I miss you. You inspire me to make my children's relationships with their grandparents a priority. To the Aggie 12, you will always be remembered. I will never forget you, even though I did not know even one of you personally. Dad, thank you for pushing past your grief to celebrate my marriage and insist I do the same. Mike, thank you for being a great friend to my beloved husband and unknowingly preserving him from harm.
My beloved, I love you more every day. Thank you for everything. Yes, everything.
May the souls of the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Grace & peace,