Just below the surface of Upper Sandusky lies an underground group of people who, I believe, will someday just up and leave on September 30th to fly to some Caribbean island, only to return after the safety of November holds them in its arms. Though surviving is involved, it would not be for a million dollar prize.
This weekend climaxes the October-hating for myself; just 5 years ago I experienced my first deep loss of someone other than a grandparent. You know, one of those who “wasn’t supposed to go just yet.” A character that puts truth behind the sentiment that the “good ones go young.” A cult following still misses her ability to breathe life into you through a brief conversation.
Because so many loved her, I didn’t mourn well. Her role as wife and mother took precedent; then came her hundreds of third-grade children and the teacher-friends beside her. She made a priority of her partners in crime, friendships formed early in her career and life in Upper who walked beside her through the regularness of life. I believe Anna has so many strong friendships because of the way her mother modeled it.
I was simply a youth director at her church, the third of which her daughter endured. She handed over the van keys without question and supplied a constant stream of Death by Chocolate and White Trash. When I moved to town she tried to set me up with a friendship with another recent college grad who was new to town; I must say her knack of helping people connect and feel included should be bottled and sold for steep price.
She influenced so many that I thought perhaps I was magnifying her significance in my own life. Little old me wouldn’t make her list of top 100 and our Sunday lunch gatherings probably lacked importance in her own personal formation.
But finally, I’ve decided: I don’t care. I don’t care that others loved her longer or saw her more frequently or knew more about her. She would tell me in her own words to “build a bridge and get over it”, that these levels of significance are my own way of shutting down and turning off rather than letting myself hurt and heal. It’s much easier to tell yourself that it “probably didn’t matter anyway” than it is to grieve.
Professionals say there’s a tendency to “perfect” those who have passed away- to only remember the good, to make them saints and forget their faults. But in Vanessa’s case, it was her acceptance of her own faults that made her so beautiful. She’d be the first to tell you that she loved to bake, but she didn’t cook. She gave me permission to not be perfect. One time I took a student on a retreat who was known to be a “problem”. She told me that he had caused her to cry every night for a year when she had him in the third grade. She gave me permission to know that loving a student isn’t easy and sometimes takes everything out of you.
She provided me the foundations of what I believe to be true about being a wife and mother; she once said, the most important thing a father can do for his children is love their mother. She told me that the week after I got engaged. So I married a man who personifies that piece of advice.
If I really want to honor her, I’ll acknowledge that her presence had meaning in my life. I’ll put myself in the place of privilege and say she changed me. I’ll give myself the gift of being a brighter light for having known Vanessa.