Work took me to the Indianapolis area Thursday and Friday of last week. The old stomping grounds. Where Leslie and I first met, dated, were married, lived... We still have many close friends and family there. I decided to bring TJ along with me on Wednesday night, and we made a little mini-vacation out of it and stayed through the weekend. When I wasn't working, I got to spend some time with old friends-- some of whom I hadn't seen in over a year. TJ got to spend a day with his cousins Tori and Jonathan, as well as some quality time with other friends of his in the area. It was just all so good.
Since moving to the Chicago area, whenever visiting Indy, we had always stayed with Leslie's dear friend Anna and her husband Rob. TJ and I saw no reason to change up our accommodations this trip, and Anna was pleased to have us invite ourselves over for the stay, as we always would have. TJ has always just felt at home there, and now Anna and Rob have a 1-year-old of their own, whom TJ was excited to play with (he LOVES being with other kids). Leslie and Anna used to talk about how they'd get their kids together and play for a weekend here and there, once they both had kids to share with each other. Last weekend, the two friends got to live their dream. TJ and William hit it off wonderfully. TJ was very "gentle" with "Baby Will", and Will got a huge kick out of TJ-- giggling his 2-toothed baby belly laugh at TJ's antics.
Anna's family is no stranger to loss and suffering in their own right. Anna is one of 5 sisters. One sister, Sarah, is now partying in Heaven with Leslie, having gone before her about 3 or 4 years ago, after completing her own war with cancer. Leslie walked with Anna through Sarah's sickness years ago. At Sarah's memorial service, I experienced grief and emotion and tears like I never had before. I was almost embarrassed, because certainly I'd been to other "funerals" before, and here I was, bawling my eyes out, literally brought to my knees in seemingly unbearable pain... and I hardly even knew Sarah. I only knew Anna, and her only through Leslie, really. I was just so overwhelmed and shocked by my own response. I know now that God was weaving this family into a special place in my heart. Years after that day, Anna walked with us through Leslie's battle with cancer. Anna and Leslie had their own language-- were so similar in their spirits, personalities, and hearts that they could seemingly communicate with each other the depths of their own souls without hardly saying a word. To be honest, I used to be jealous of Anna, in this regard... I had to work so hard to understand Leslie... and to be understood by her. Anyway, Anna was such a blessing to Leslie, and Leslie to Anna, throughout the life of their friendship.
As Leslie got sicker, Anna and her family were remarkably encouraging to us-- and to me, especially after Leslie died. I know now that God was cutting into my heart, that day of Sarah's service, making a place for this family, that they could speak into me and encourage me the way they have these past few months (a period which has also been difficult on their family-- not only losing Leslie but dealing with the death of a dear grandpa, amid other trials). TJ and I got to hang out with Anna's whole family this weekend-- sisters, parents, brothers-in-law-- and it was a truly wonderful time.
A friend of mine had tickets to the Colts game on Sunday-- a 35-3 mauling of the Cincinnati Bungles (not a typo)-- so Rob and I were happy to fill a couple of seats there with some other buddies. And on Saturday night, I got to meet up with bits and pieces of the old "crew" in Broadripple-- where Leslie and I used to meet up with friends in the area. It was a new experience, to sit around a table with familiar faces without her at my side, busting my chops and loving on me all at the same time. It was encouraging and heart-wrenching to look into the teary eyes of people we once loved together-- some of whom had not seen Leslie or myself in years-- as I recounted bits of her story. As we shared tears and beverages and laughter and hugs and stories and memories. It is just so surreal to be reminded that these are people who are grieving Leslie, and they have not really had the daily experience of "living without her" to help them along their way. It's like it was almost as therepeutic for them as it was for me, to sit there and listen as I spilled my guts and wrestled out loud with the thoughts and events of the past year-plus. Crazy...
This is just so much different than I expected. I never thought it would feel this "normal" to just sit around a table at the Broadripple Brewpub or Ambrosia, or at Anna's house, or wherever with our group of friends and/or family, minus Leslie, and just remember her... to talk about life and death and God's love and suffering and how it all somehow makes more sense now, when piled all on top of itself. It is odd to look across the table and see tears as I share stories with friends who I have not talked to in months or even years, who miss Leslie dearly... It is beautifully heart-wrenching to witness their grieving of my wife, whom I am learning to live without. That's what this is, you know... Living. Certainly, without her... But living, nonetheless... Living all the more. Carrying her with me. Telling stories. Sharing her legacy. Partaking alone of the cup we once shared. And somehow... enjoying it...? It is just all too... perfect.
Indeed, one cannot fully experience life until one has experienced death. One can only know joy to the full extent that one has fully known suffering. One has not lived by faith until one has experienced true trial. Those words of Paul, of Jesus, of Job, of David, of Solomon, of Peter, of John... that Truth has never been truer... My faith has never been stronger. Life has never been fuller. Now that I'm home and back to work, with those memories of beautiful moments and conversations of the last several days in Indy fresh in my mind, I again praise God and give Him thanks for Leslie. I've said this before, but each day it is even increasingly so... She taught me how to love. She taught me how to die. And she is teaching me how to live.