Ch 12: Red Sea Words

I sat in the hospital so long, not knowing what to do or how to make any kind of move beyond this moment. My mind went blank in the void until my phone dinged with a text message from my coat pocket and I got up to retrieve it thinking, I have to check that, it might be Ethan. And then reality crashed into me again. I would not be getting anymore text messages from Ethan. Not tonight. Not ever. And I suddenly felt like I weighed a thousand pounds.

I think that moment was my first encounter with grief.

After awhile, I started wondering why we were all still there in the waiting room and what we thought we were waiting for. Ethan was never walking out of that hospital. And so I got up to leave, but instead found Ethan’s family in the hallway outside the waiting room, his mom and his dad, his aunts and uncles and cousins lining the cold white hallway. I had no idea they were all here. Ethan’s mom grabbed me and the two of us women sobbed together over the man we both love.

I returned to the waiting room, but this time to be with Ethan’s family. We stayed for hours, but still, I struggled to know what I was waiting for. After all, this was not my family any longer. These people who I had wanted so badly to belong to and for them to belong to me, they were not mine and they never would be. Without Ethan, I no longer fit here. Or so the darkness seemed to taunt that night.

The darkness wasted no time. It went for my heart right away, maneuvering and pushing and prodding me toward isolation, trying to sever all ties I had made with Ethan’s people.

But this one thought kept fighting through the darkness: I need to be here when Cherise gets here. I need to be here for her.

Cherise is Ethan’s sister and she had been in OCS for much of the year, training to be a Marine, and on top of that lived far away so I had only spent a little bit of time with her, and yet our connection felt significant.

As I waited for her, I thought about the last time I had seen her on New Years Eve, when I shared a memorable day with Ethan and his family at the San Diego Zoo. A male lion was sitting a mere eight feet away from us, just on the other side of the glass. Both Cherise and I had knelt down beside the glass to get eye-level with the beast. The lion and I were staring each other down, “he is looking right at you” she whispered. And I nodded, wide-eyed, captivated, unwilling to break this terrifying eye-contact. The lion roared and it startled both of us a little. But we stayed there, held by something that told me, this moment mattered. An echo of some bigger reality that would be.

Cherise and her husband Scott were on a flight from their home up north to St. Mary’s Hospital in Apple Valley. We had been told not to share anything about Ethan’s fate with anyone outside the hospital before Cherise and Scott had landed and they could be called and informed. Somehow the fact that she had to wait longer than everyone else before she knew seemed especially unjust to me. I had to be there when Cherise came.

Hours went by, I grew nauseous, unable to think clearly anymore. I found myself again tormented by voices that said, these people are not your people anymore. They don’t need you. Just leave. And so I did.

I don’t remember leaving the hospital that first time, or the drive home, I just remember the horrific shriek of darkness celebrating my emptiness once I got home. This is my life. I thought. Alone, cut off. Empty. Void. The feeling in the pit of my stomach, the torment in my head was the sharpest, most terrifyingly searing pain I had ever felt.

And suddenly, I had to go back. I had to be with Ethan’s people as along as possible. I didn’t know if they needed me there or not. I didn’t know if my being there would matter to Cherise or not. But I needed them. I needed her. I needed Ethan’s family and friends for as long as I could possibly keep them. And so my mom took me back.

It was close to midnight when we arrived back in the waiting room. More people were there now, the hugs and tears of JoEllen and Robby, in particular, were a much needed, much appreciated embrace of connection once I arrived. They were some of Ethan’s closest friends, and I now found myself needing their friendship more surely then I remember ever needing someone’s friendship. Both of them bring a sense of heart and peace to the group. I didn’t know how much they meant to me until that moment and every moment since.

Sometime later Cherise and Scott finally arrived. They brought with them an abundance of heart and strength, even as their grief was expressed and worst fears realized. Cherise went around our private waiting room and hugged everyone who was there. Tears streaming down her face as she wept with each person. I was the last one to hug her and when our eyes met across the room, it was like she broke in two. The grief that was already there, exploded into something deeper. I wasn’t sure at first if staying for her was the right decision or a horribly wrong one. I didn’t mean to bring her so much pain. But when our arms locked around each other in an embrace racked with sobs, I knew it all mattered—this woman was my sister. With a depth of spirit I knew God had given me an ally I would need in Cherise. I needed her to be able to make it through this, and if I could be of any comfort or strength to her, I knew then that I would, no matter how difficult it all got.

Sometime later, we finally all left the hospital. All of us. Ethan’s people. My people. Everyone but Ethan.

I tucked myself behind Robby as our group moved through the madhouse of an ER hallway. I pulled out my phone and stared at the last conversation Ethan and I had had together.

“I’m sorry this isn’t easier,” I told him, having still been hashing out my fears of the future. He assured me he would do whatever it took to help me overcome my fears, confident that I would because God was on our side.

I let Robby be a shield for me so I didn’t have to look at the bleeding and broken, but still living people lining the hallway. I just looked at my phone, as the world passed by in a blur. The world gone silent, except for words from Ethan in a text message on my phone.

“God specializes in non-easy things” He had said.

God specializes in non-easy things. 

God specializes in non-easy things. 

God specializes in non-easy things.

I read it over and over and over and over as the chaos of the ER moved all about me. Like I was walking in slow motion, the rest of the world a blur, all my eyes could focus on were those words on my phone, Ethan’s words. It was like I was an Israelite walking through the Red Sea, parted for me. There was some mysterious hope echoed in that text, but I couldn’t see its shape or color yet, all I could see was the answer to every obstacle that would come my way, “God specializes in non-easy things.” It was the first time that night I had prayed anything of any real meaning, “I need you, God. This is not easy. I need you.”

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