As newlyweds, Greg and I joined his extended family for an early Christmas celebration at a home deep in the woods. We had a long drive there and for some reason I was driving, which was rare in our early marriage. As we got closer to our destination, we had to cross a train track that cut through a stretch of wide open land. Unfamiliar with the protocol for crossing train tracks with no crossing gates or flashing lights, I was unsure of what to do and slowed to a stop - right on the track. The train was visible at a distance and I figured I had time to consider if I should try to cross the tracks or back up off of them. Greg, far more accustomed to how trains can look far away and then suddenly be upon you, screamed out, "GO!!!" His yell shocked me out of my indecision and I stomped on the gas pedal. Our car hurtled off the tracks just in time for the train to pass behind us. It was a close call.
Thirteen years later, Greg's death came like that train.
Since the day we found out he needed a heart transplant, the possibility of his death loomed at a distance. Most people die waiting for a heart transplant and the rates of survival post-transplant aren't that great either. Still, he was just 24 when he got the diagnosis and there was always hope that somehow he would beat the odds.
When his life-saving transplant came at age 25, there was talk of a second heart someday - one that might enable him to live into his forties or fifties; far longer than one transplanted heart would last. Death loomed, but it was at a distance.
Even in the last months of his life, death seemed far away. Greg was having a lot of concerning symptoms and we feared his heart was getting worse - but this had happened before. There'd always been a different medication, new procedure, or another specialist that could either fix the problem or at least bring relief. Things were uncertain and doctor's weren't able to get rid of Greg's symptoms, but there was no indication that death was imminent.
And then, like a train that seemed far away but was moving far faster than we could comprehend, death came. It was there before we knew it: crashing into us, obliterating our lives, and taking Greg with it. Without warning, Greg was gone.
Three years later, it's still hard for me to comprehend how quickly we lost him.
I sat on a train with my son today, exactly 3 years from the day that we buried Greg. His small body leaned against mine as the train hurtled through a dark tunnel and lights flashed through the dingy window. As I tried not to succumb to my queasiness caused by the train's motion, my mind went back to the early days of Greg's death.
When Greg's death came like a train, it took us from the life we knew and sent us hurtling into the unknown through a dark tunnel of grief. The tunnel was long and sometimes it felt like we would never make it out. Many days, I wondered if we would survive. But just like the train we rode today eventually emerged from the tunnel and into the light, so have our lives. We don't live fully in the darkness of grief like we used to. We're still on a train that could be labeled "Grief". But sometimes grief takes you up into the light too.