The night before the memorial was the first of the panic attacks.
Confusion spun me around and shoved me face down into the floor. Panic took over and began to push me through the floor, it seemed, into a thick darkness, like I was falling without an end, a heaviness descending into an air so thick I could not breathe.
The morning of the memorial came. I put on a dress and mascara, wanting so much to be lovely that day, to be thought worthy of our honored man’s love and affection. But grief has a way of stealing one’s appetite and I had lost a lot of weight in the last eleven days. I hardly felt like a women, let alone, the role of the beauty in this story. I was a spindly skeleton swimming in a dress I had once filled out. My curves and soft features seemed to have disappeared overnight. I was just sharp bones and oversized, bloodshot eyes now.
Ethan and I had a conversation about funerals earlier that month. He had just gone to one and was processing his experience with me when I told him I had no doubt that many people would have a lot to say at his funeral. And with that adorable gleam he would get in his eyes that somehow assured me that I mattered more to him than just about anything else, he asked me, “would you speak at my funeral?” I smiled at him somewhat sadly, “Yes, of course.” I had said, never expecting we were talking about a reality that would unfold so soon.
I wanted so much to be lovely for him that day.
I kept imagining Ethan watching from Heaven, confident he noticed and loved every detail designed just to his liking.
I am proud of the memorial and the part I played in helping produce it. The design that Ethan’s sister and her husband developed for the memorial was brilliant. It was structured to be like the academy awards, moving through a series of Ethan’s lifetime achievements: imagination and adventure, cinematic arts, friendship, love, family, and faith. I had the love section all to myself. It was up to me to tell of the strength of love in the story of Ethan’s life.
I tried so much to be lovely that day, but my confusion was swelling and with it an anger that seemed ill-fitting for the representation of romance in this story.
Never to have a wedding with Ethan, I had tried to make the programs with all the love I had wanted to put into the wedding invitations. But the bitter irony of that kept turning me into a sobbing mess. Never getting to stand before God and say, I choose this man to love and respect all my days, I tried to say everything I wanted to tell him at the memorial service. But how does one do that? A funeral, after all, is a very different affair from a wedding. All I wanted to do was professes my undying devotion to Ethan for the rest of my life, when I was supposed to be saying goodbye.
I had felt such a distinct sense of mission and purpose with Ethan. I could not compute why God would ask me to give it up what He had commissioned me with it in the first place. I kept thinking, if only we had made something of value together in the world… it wouldn’t take away the pain, but it might ease the confusion I was in. I looked over the year we had spent together, all I could find was the building of something to come. I saw the thread of God in that year, training, building, planning, dreaming. How could the mission be over before it had begun?
The purpose that had been reiterated over my entire life had always come down to two words, love (particularly of the romantic marriage variety)and storytelling. But I grew up in a culture of Christianity that thought romantic love only made one weak-minded and less spiritual. That same Christian culture seemed to see novels and films as nothing more than escapism and therefore lacked any real eternal value. The culture I grew up in was pervaded with an undercurrent that taught me to think that those who really loved Jesus do not fall in love and write stories, they serve. The serious Christians who care about what’s really important become missionaries or a social justice workers—they do not write stories, and they never let a romantic relationship get in the way of the “real work” of the kingdom.
And yet, the LORD often called me a “a storyteller” for years before I was one and he called me a “bride” even though no one had ever made me his wife. This strange disconnect between the Lord’s words over my life and the lack of its substance in my reality often made me think of the way the Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and called him a “mighty man of valor” while he was still weak and afraid and saw himself as the least man of the weakest tribe.
For years, I kept trying to soften my heart to the Lord’s words “love and storytelling”, I tired to understand what my purpose was under the canopy of these words and I could never really grasp it, that is until Ethan came into my life.
Ethan confidently believed that storytelling was essential to God’s Kingdom work, often pointing out how central Jesus’ storytelling ability was to his life. And Ethan regarded romantic love leading toward marriage as the very important work of reflecting the image of God. With Ethan, suddenly the picture God had always been painting for me was starting to become clear, dignified, important, and possible. I could almost taste it, the kind of rich, Kingdom work that Ethan and I would do together, compelled by a shared calling.
That day, at the memorial, those two pieces, love and storytelling, were on display for everyone in Ethan’s life. Memorials have a way of showing what a person was like, what their life was about. Each section of Ethan’s memorial categorized to show what he really valued demonstrated how profoundly his life was about his fierce loyalty and courageously steadfast love that spoke of something deep within the heart of God. And no one’s memorial was ever more about storytelling than Ethan’s. As the epic film score filled the auditorium, and movie clips were pieced together to reflect his life (including many of his original work), and even as the squadron of stormtroopers marched down the center aisle as part of the proceedings, it was clear that Ethan’s life has been profoundly and vividly about storytelling. And somehow my business here was to say goodbye, not just to Ethan, but to the purpose I believed I was always supposed to have with him. Only that didn’t make any sense.
The touch of God upon my soul happened a handful of times during the service, but I was not in a trusting, listening mindset. Everything the Lord pointed out to me only made me more angry. There was one moment in the service when the pastor said, “Ethan loved a good story” as he went on to share the gospel story unfolding all around us as an epic narrative. Ethan often spoke of how all the best stories echo the archetype of the gospel. But in that moment as I sat there at his memorial, it enraged me. The pastor continued on, saying of the gospel, “Its a love story,” and the confusion burned hot and loud within me. Wasn’t that what we were doing God. Story and Love. This is where I fit. Epic Narrative and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Wasn’t all this why You brought Ethan into my life? How could this be over? We hadn’t done anything of purpose yet. Everything had felt like it was building to something of value and life and creativity—not this. Not this.
After the memorial, there was a reception that lasted for hours. It too, was perfect like the memorial. All the planning had come together in just the right way. Everything was right, it seemed expect me. I could not find that place of the lovely bereaved.
I thought again of how the grief cycle was “not for me”. Then show me, LORD, I pleaded, what in the world am I supposed to think and feel about all this?
Friends and family greeted me with lots of love and support throughout the reception. Most of the people I talked to brought soothing balm to my soul, the most welcome of any conversation were stories of Ethan. I especially loved talking to Jordan and his girlfriend who had come down from Seattle for the memorial. Jordan was another one of Ethan’s lifelong friends. He shared lots of stories about Ethan from childhood and the post-college years when they shared an apartment, and even some of the details in their more recent conversations about me.
But sprinkled throughout the day of stories and remembering and delighting in everything we loved about Ethan, there were also the warnings from well meaning friends about grief and how it only gets worse after the planning for the memorial is out of the way, and how so and so ended up in the hospital due to panic attacks and did I have a counselor or support group to walk me through the grief cycle?… my head began to spin with each shot of fear administered in these well-meaning words.
Again, I cried out, “Lord, show me what to think and how to feel.”
And instead of giving me an answer I could wrap my mind around, all I kept thinking about was the reel of love scenes that had played during the love portion of the service. The montage of classic movies showed several scenes where long lost loves were reunited, all the romantic scenes culminating with the scene from Aladdin, where he reaches out his hand to Jasmine and asks, “do you trust me”. There seemed, in some strange way to be some kind of invitation from the LORD for me there, though I struggled to understand exactly what it was. Trust Him? For what? It was all over now, wasn’t it? There was no magic carpet ride anymore. No more love. No more story. And yet… and yet, it was as if the Lord’s tone about Ethan and my purpose together had never changed. But I couldn’t even begin to imagine what the Lord had planned, or what He was inviting me into.
If you would like to watch the memorial you can find it here.
Thanks for sharing my journey with me.