The Other Side Of Tragedy
[Our friends] Karen and Reggie had been planning to visit their daughter in Ireland but had delayed their travel plans because of the accident. After Maria’s memorial service, though, Steven and I insisted that our friends go ahead on their long-planned trip.
We stayed at [their house] a few days after that, but then the day came… we knew we had to return home and face one of our scariest scenarios.
When we had been home the day after the accident to pick up some clothes and Steven found Maria’s artwork, we felt like God had given us a huge gift. We had chosen to see it as a message; it was time to put one foot in front of the other and return to the place that held seventeen years of memories, good and bad.
In short, it was time to begin our “new normal”—whatever that was.
But it was still awful. Part of me wanted to have friends clean out the whole house, then hire movers to pack it all up and have the Chapmans start over somewhere else. It seemed inconceivable to go back and live in the place where Maria had died. How could I walk on the driveway every day where my daughter had taken her last breath?
As we approached our house, the morning was gray. We turned into our neighborhood. Then, as our tires hit gravel on the unpaved surface of our cul-de-sac, the skies opened up and started pouring rain . . . as if Jesus was weeping with us while we came back to this place.
We went first to our barn, which is up a hill not far past the house. Friends and family were there, and they had brought tons of food. The little girls played with friends. The rest of us watched the children, none of us saying what we were thinking: someone was missing. We made small talk, and then it was time to go to our house.
We drove down from the barn and up our driveway. There was a baby magnolia tree near the girls’ playground. We never paid much attention to it, and it had never bloomed before. But as we rounded the corner, we saw that little tree, so near to the place where Maria’s earthly life had ended, and there was a huge, fragrant, blooming flower on it. Just one.
We could almost hear her laughing from heaven, “SEE?”
Counselors had told us that there were some things, in terms of our grief, that we would just have to push through. Our back door was one of them.
We had lots of bags and had to make many trips from the car to the house and back again. It was amazing . . . somehow, God gave us the grace to go in and out of the back door, over and over. We put our bags down inside and tried to do normal things, even though the quiet was so loud without Maria giggling and running and bouncing around everywhere. We got some laundry started and put our stuff away. We were mostly focused on Shaoey and Stevey Joy, trying to make things as normal for them as we could… as if that were possible.
As we survived, breath by breath, moment by little moment, we began to have other feelings besides the terrible flashbacks of Maria’s loss. Of course those awful memories were part of this place. But if we left our home and started fresh somewhere else, we would also leave behind so many wonderful memories.
Our house was not just the place where Maria had died. It was also the place where Maria had giggled and washed dishes and swam naked in the pool, nothing on but a smile and some swim goggles! It was the place where our boys had learned to ride their bikes without training wheels, eventually advancing to four-wheelers. This was where the boys had that painting party in the basement—with oil-based paints—with Grandma and Grandpa in charge. This was where Steven, while warming little Emily up for a softball game, batted the ball that whacked her right in the nose.
This was the house where Emily got her first puppy at Christmas… where the kids had caught Old Gus, the granddaddy catfish, in the pond… where Tanner asked permission for Emily’s hand in marriage while kneeling on one knee in front of Steven.
This physical place, with its flowers and pond and monkey bars and bedrooms and blankets and warm kitchen and family room fireplace, had been a taste of heaven for the Chapman family. It was the site of squeals of laughter, rich music, sweet prayer, great fellowship with friends and family, Super Bowl and March Madness parties.
“I love it when my whole family is together!” Maria often proclaimed with great gusto. Maria was now in heaven, and though we felt her absence so acutely we sometimes couldn’t breathe, we still knew the reality that we would see her again.
In these long, strange days of our new normal, though, I had to choose to believe that. It didn’t come naturally.
Mary Beth Chapman and Ellen Vaughn, Choosing to See, Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2010. “Used by permission.”