By Elanor Joy Straight
It was a happy Saturday. Andrew flipped pancakes in the morning, and I went to my prenatal yoga class. Our two year old daughter was taking a nap when the phones started ringing. My 64 year old father had suffered a heart attack. He was being helicoptered to the nearest hospital but that was all anyone knew. As we realized how serious it was, we quickly packed bags, made our arrangements, piled in the car and headed to my parent’s home in Westcliffe, CO. We spent that night in Dallas, picking up my oldest brother. The next day, somewhere off of Highway 64 in the desert of New Mexico we got another call; the call telling us that dad had passed away.
It was a sudden, heart-rending grief. Dad had retired five short years before. Three years after retirement he and mom had finally bought their dream home in Colorado. I was 20 weeks pregnant and my husband and I were looking forward to the birth of our second child in a few short months. So suddenly the world would never be the same.
Grief is a curiously narrowing experience. You survive the few moments in a hospital room, alone with a corpse. A week goes by and you’ve stood at a grave, laid a pale rose on dark dirt, returned home. You operate one day at a time, one task at a time. The world around you seems to shrink to here and now, this sadness, that memory. Part of grief seems to be a necessary self absorption, a forgetfulness of others and anything that might be more than you can handle.
Our son was born in June, two weeks after the first birthday my dad would never have. Through those first few weeks of sleep deprivation, while my body changed to a new normal, and my heart ached for the grandfather my son would never know, my world narrowed still further. Thankfully, in my loneliness I was never alone. God used all the people in my life to show me his love and his mercy. Speaking gently into my heart, he reminded me that the loss of my earthly father could never make me fatherless.
It was a time of great receiving for me. Friends came to my door carrying dishes of food, bags of bagels, and books for me to read. They stopped by just for a chat, or took me out to lunch. The grief that I was in and the grief that they had already travelled through united us in a new community I had never experienced before. I read Ann Voskamp’s inspiring book One Thousand Gifts, and began to see the sorrows and struggles of this world in a new light. I also read an inspiring blog by Ann Dunagan about the importance of teaching our daughters to wail for all the injustice in this world.
With her advice fresh in my mind, I saw a friend’s link to Venture Expedition’s bike ride for the Just+Hope campaign and immediately wanted to learn more about this crusade for awareness and ride for justice. While browsing through Venture’s website I came across the 5 Summits Colorado hike, and quickly realized that it was taking place down the street from my mom’s house. As members of the hike, we would each raise $1,000 for World Vision’s campaign to end malaria by 2015, and then we would hike to the summit of 5 mountains over the course of 10 days. We would be hiking the same trails I had hiked so many times with my dad, but doing it as a way to seek justice for those without hope and without a voice.
The more I learned about World Vision’s ACTS to End Malaria campaign, the more shocked and motivated I became. How is it possible that 2000 children die every single day from a mosquito bite, from a disease that we have completely wiped out in the United States, and not only had I never done anything about it, I never even knew it was happening? As a young mom I do everything I can to protect my own small children and my heart broke for the fear and tragedy that consumes so many mothers and children every day. It is a curable epidemic with a defeat-by date, and my husband and I knew we wanted to be a part of the solution.
Over the next few months we applied and were accepted to the Expedition team. We wrote and sent out our fundraising letters and began taking every opportunity to share about our upcoming adventure and the desperate need that had inspired it. We made and sold homemade citronella candles to help raise money. Our three year old daughter began zooming around the house with imaginary swords declaring that she would fight Malaria to the death!
The whole process has been unexpectedly transformative and we haven’t even gone on the hike yet. Between losing my dad and giving birth to my son my world had become so small. But by choosing to give and become uncomfortable for something so much greater than myself I received the gift of perspective and connection. I realized that my grief, while necessary and important, was just some small portion of the grief experienced by 2,000 women who lose their children every day. We are a human body spread across a vibrantly varied globe, so let us wail for each other’s grief, give to each other’s need, and celebrate the great glory of our salvation.