|Jim and me on our honeymoon June 1981|
Life's a bit like that too. Sometimes you're dealt lousy hands and it's up to you to make the cards work for you.
As I've mentioned other times on the blog, September 10th, today, is the anniversary of my husband's death. Jim was killed in 1989 in a chemical flash fire where he worked. With third degree burns on 98% of his body, he lived a horrific 23 hours at the burn unit at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh. He was 34. I was 32. Our children were 7 and 5.
He died at 1 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I clearly remember driving home from the hospital (yes, I drove. It was one thing I had control over as my life was falling apart around me) dreading the task of telling my children their daddy was dead.
I crawled into my empty bed and slept for a few hours before the phone rang around 7 a.m. It was my friend, Trudi, who was devastated by the news. I remember trying to comfort her, assuring her I would be okay. She was the first of many for whom I did that. No one had to worry about me, because I would be alright. I was strong. I was resilient. I was a Haatainen girl after all, and we had the right genes.
A couple hours later, I walked into my daughters' bedroom and sat down on the bed to do what no parent should ever have to do... I told them their daddy was dead. Even now, as I write those words, tears flow freely. It was one of the worst moments in my life. I can see Jessi's sweet little face... her confusion. Her tears. And Bethany's staunch resolve... she didn't cry about it until 9 years later. I had my challenge laid out before me. My cards were dealt.
It is now 23 years later. Somehow during that time, the cards got shuffled and re-dealt again and again. There have been lousy hands, just okay hands, and some pretty darned terrific hands. I'd like to think I've played them well.
Through it all, Jesus was at my side, comforting me, cheering me on, and chastising me when I started to play the wrong card or simply skipped a turn. He was my coach and my hero. Most of all, he was my friend.
Did I ever question him on why this happened? A thousand times. I yelled at him, screamed at him, shook my figurative fist in his direction. But I always knew it was okay to do that, because he was God, after all, and he could take it. When I was done with my rant, he would gently nudge me to let me know which card to play next. What a gentleman.
Even so, I struggle every single year when this anniversary rolls around, although I must admit, the past few years have proven to be easier and easier. Watching the man I loved die one of the most brutal deaths imaginable is something I will never get over completely. The sight and smell of burnt blood dripping off the sheets into puddles on the floor overtakes me still at unforeseen moments. I suffer with little snippets of it from time to time. I believe that is God's way of protecting us when we're faced with horrendous realities, for if I'd grasped it all 23 years ago, it surely would have killed me.
Time moves on. Life continues. Change occurs.
Shuffle the cards. I'm ready for the next hand. I can only hope I'll play it well.
For more about this story, read:
Tears in a Bottle