You may have noticed I haven’t written much lately. That’s because 17 days ago I received some terrible news. A girl from my youth group had passed away overnight. It was a shocking and tragic accidental death. The family have been in China less than a year, and she had been in my small group at youth group since about Christmas.
I enjoyed her sweetness; I was encouraged as she shared her thoughts in my bible study group; I was amazed by her beautiful singing voice; I was humbled by her genuine heart for serving others, especially orphans. She was a beautiful girl, a beautiful person, and she will be missed.
I was able to attend a very small funeral service for her last week, at which I began to grieve the tragedy of losing her. Then last night I coordinated a public memorial service attended by over 150 people. I didn’t feel much; I was too numb with tasks. That was partly deliberate – I was afraid that unless I kept myself busy, I wouldn’t be able to get through the song I was to sing during the service. As it was my voice was quite shaky at the start, but I looked up and saw her mother singing the words from her seat in the front row and I remembered who I was singing for. I feel such a burden for her mother and brother as they begin life without her. In some ways, there’s a sense that with the memorial over there is a measure of closure – but I know that for them, life will never be the same again.
As you can probably tell, it’s been a very long fortnight for me.
On top of the shock and the grief, concern for her family, and making arrangements for the memorial, end-of-year busyness has continued. I have been saying a LOT of last goodbyes, to a lot of people – friends, coworkers, students from youth group. People who have meant a great deal to me for years. I’ve been to several graduation celebrations (including one in another city, meaning 7+ hours in the car) and said final goodbyes to graduates I’ve known since they were in primary school. I’ve had a sleepover with my middle school girls. I’ve spent time with a wonderful intern who (unfortunately for her) arrived in the middle of all this. I’ve caught up with college kids returning to visit during their summer holidays. Oh, and somewhere in there I also turned 32. My birthday disappears most years, sandwiched as it is among all the end-of-year events that happen here, but this year… I didn’t even have it in me to care.
I have been exhausted – mind, body and soul.
The worst part of that exhaustion is that many lovely things that have happened in the past few weeks have been hard to really take in. I’m too tired to feel much of anything. I have been trying to file away the encouragements, compliments, gratitude and sweet moments with teens – so that I can revisit and enjoy them later. But even if I can’t totally process everything in my rundown state, these things have kept me going. A friend bringing me food; several unexpected and generous donations toward my studies next year; a student inviting me to edit her amazing fantasy novel; my best friends and sisters (four girls in four cities – in three countries!) saying just the right thing, over and over; the opportunity to really sing at church – and sweet responses from people who didn’t know I could really sing (I’m rarely in the main service on Sundays, let alone in front of a mic). I was particularly touched by a few gifts I’ve received, for my birthday, or as a farewell. I’m terrible at gift giving so I’m always blown away when a person somehow knows the perfect thing to give me.
Next week I am going away for a few days – time and space to rest, reflect, feel. I hope to catch up on sleep (which has been elusive over the past two weeks), and also to start writing again. I’d love to get back to work on my book (which is nearly finished!) and to finish some of the many half-written blog posts I have lying around. But I’m not going away to be productive. I’m taking time to just be.