Somewhere in the midst of this day, I lost her. I forgot my daughter's 18th birthday. It wasn't until 5:10 in the evening, while working in the cafe at my church, that I realized the date. A pastor of our church came in and wanted to put his apple turnover and iced tea on his tab. I opened the book to record the amount and when I asked "What is the date?", the words, "the 26th. June 26th."-- sharp as a sword stabbed me in the throat.
And time stood still.
Ouch. I cannot breathe. I am standing here and I need to smile because if I do not smile, and if I speak, I may explode. And when the explosion erupts every painful, fearful, awful part of me is going to flood this whole cafe. I turn away and I move on to the next task.
Then, a college girl comes in to buy a bag of bar-b-cue potato chips. She smiles and asks, "How are you holding up with everyone being gone?"
Oh...the trip. My husband is on a trip.
I look at her and I whisper. "I forgot today was the birthday of our daughter who passed away. And, I just remembered." My eyes are welling up and the poor girl doesn't know what to do. She is full of compassion, but she is unsure of how to respond--why did I do that to her?
Voices are intruding. "What kind of mother are you?" Push it down. "Do you even miss her?" Get something to drink, wipe a table, make a panini--do something for Heaven's sake. But, do not talk, again.
10 minutes later. I am calm. I am living in the full knowledge that there is hardly anything that the voice can say that would make me feel worse than I already feel at this moment. But, I know that I have to battle the voice. Letting the voice win just gives the voice ground. So, I want to argue my case with the voice---"I am concerning myself with the living. This is a good sign! This is a sign of healing!"
The voice acknowledges my plea, with a quick quip. "This is a sign of forgetting."
I have forgotten her birthday. This happened once before; I showed myself grace for it--and now it has happened again. How long until I forget her all together? How long until I feel nothing?
And then, a customer distracts me from the voice's snarl. A 20-something woman orders an iced coffee...and she has a gentle disposition. I am drawn to her as we talk of coffee habits. As the conversation unfolds she realizes who I am and she says she knows my husband. She goes on to tell me that she prayed with him once.
I listen to her and I think about how much I miss him tonight and how it feels good to hear from her. Then she says, "It was a year ago and I was having a really hard time because my nephew had just died, my sister's son. He wasn't even 3 years old and he died of leukemia. And I was having a hard time, and then he talked about your daughter that died and I knew I needed to talk to him."
I cannot breathe again. She sees my eyes filling with tears, and I feel guilty because I know she thinks I am sheddidng tears for her nephew--but really, all I can think about is my baby girl and how I want to go back and hold her again. I am overwhelmed and confused because I cannot imagine her as an 18-year-old...an adult...and so, I hold onto the memory of her as tightly as I can. The memory of when she was here and she was mine. And somehow, I do all of this without breathing and without dying. And I don't know how I do that.
Then, she stops talking. And we stand there. And I don't know what to say. So, I ask, "How is your sister doing, now?"
She goes on to share about how her sister is involved with doing fundraisers to help fight cancer. She says that her sister is having a hard time because the anniversary is coming up and she has a hard time with dates. And the whole time she is talking, I am thinking, "This is really bizarre. I understand you love me, Lord. I get that you watch over me...but really? Is this really happening?"
Then the young woman asks, "Can I ask, what happened with your daughter?"
In this moment, I hold my breath and I walk to a corner in the cafe and motion for her to follow. I am sure that she thinks I am insane, and I then I say. "Today is her birthday. And, I just need to tell you this because I want you to know how awesome God is. I cannot believe that we met today and you shared your nephew's story with me."
The tears are coming now, and I don't think that I can stop them, but I want to stop them, because there are things that need to be said.
"And, you can tell your sister, that it does get better, in fact, even today, I was so busy living life and being involved in the lives of the people who are here, that I actually forgot about the date on the calendar."
Later, I stood and starred out the window of the cafe. And I thought to myself, "I can't believe I forgot." And, I swear, I heard a voice. But, this voice was the voice of the Lord, and he said, "Yes, you did. But, I didn't."