SGLY: The tree of life

By Tiffany Chartier
For the Anna-Melissa Tribune

You cannot hurry grief. It moves at a pace unmatched by time, rationale, and best intentions. It wears many masks — resentment, avoidance, dejection, to name a few. Grief shouts and whispers and seems to remain in the background like an unsystematic sound that never fully fades. And in its hum, our rhythm is altered. We flow, but we flow differently.

“Differently” looks different on everyone. Years ago, I held a position where I helped the police with crime victim’s crisis intervention. I assisted in areas ranging from death notifications to remaining with loved ones until their family member’s body was removed from the site of death. In training I was told that I was helping people live through their worst day. I discovered, however, that their “worst day” was often piecemealed into many days, years and longer, being absorbed like a slow drip IV.

Each December I would stand in front of a microphone and call out first and last names—names that the survivors of murder victims sitting in the audience recognized intimately. One by one a loved one would rise as the deceased name was called. They would walk down the carpeted aisle with an ornament in hand. Finding an empty branch on the Christmas tree, they would hang their memorial ornament. Much too soon the tree looked as weighted as the faces in the crowd. Death is not discriminatory nor is the pain for the living.

I would linger in the lobby after the service, speaking with people I remembered being called out to when their loved one was killed. The evening was an unexplainable mix of hurting and healing. None reminded me of this more than an encounter I had with a man by the lobby’s water fountain.

I had excused myself from a conversation and headed to the water fountain. My throat was dry from talking and trying to maintain my composure. As the stream of water stopped, a voice arose behind me.

“Excuse me,” he said.

I moved out of the way so he could get to the fountain, giving him a faint smile. I did not recognize him, but there was something in me that he recognized.

“You have the same color hair as my daughter,” he said. His slight smile did not extend to his eyes. I could tell he was worn out, sad, and hurting. The fact that he spoke of his daughter in the present tense did not escape me.

“Tell me about her,” I replied.

He looked at me like I had just given him a gift. He wanted to talk about her. He wanted to share her as if his daughter were standing beside him, bragging about how proud he was of his little girl.

Now his eyes smiled. “She… she was funny. God, that girl could make me laugh. And smart. She could run circles around kids her age.” He shook his head. “And stubborn. She took that after me. She even got me to agree to get my fingernails painted—she ordered me to sit still

while she painted my nails red. I had a heck of a time getting that polish off before work the next morning,” he said with a laugh. I laughed too.

This man didn’t need a drink from the water fountain. He needed the freedom to speak about his little girl—to love aloud no matter if she were standing beside him holding his hand or standing by Jesus holding His. In my opinion, his daughter stood in the middle of both her fathers, holding a hand of each regardless of what my physical eyes saw. I felt her there. I felt Jesus there. In this stranger’s speaking of her, I envisioned her spunk and spark. And as he continued, a part of me fell in love with her as well. I was blessed to have met his little girl through the adoration and stories told by her father.

Returning to the podium to collect my purse at the end of the evening, I looked down the carpeted aisle to the Christmas tree once more—where living hands put up ornaments to represent loved ones who are no longer physically living. The present tense did not escape me: ornaments carefully hung on living branches. A beautiful display of lives lived and the lives who continue to love them. In this view, I was reminded that genuine love is incapable of being contained in one lifetime—it flows from one life to another. In this, our rhythm is altered. We flow differently. As much as we cannot hurry grief, we cannot stop loving. Nor would we want to. Nor will we.

SGLY, dear reader.

(Smile, God Loves You.)

Tiffany Kaye Chartier

Tiffany Kaye Chartier is a Christian author and opinion columnist. Submit feedback and connect for more soul lifts on Facebook: Tiffany Kaye Chartier; Instagram:@tiffanysgly; and Twitter: @tiffanychartier. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.