One father. One mother. Two sons. Two daughters. And a void that could only ever be filled by a twenty-something-year-old daughter.
We’re all still working through this loss. It may take us quite a while to find our ‘new normal’, yet we’re navigating toward it. One of the most important aspects of finding our healing is to keep communicating with each other.
On the day Yvonne left us, one of the immediate things we took care of was contacting each of the rest of our adult children. It was difficult. Every one of us was stunned by this death.
Some of us found it difficult to say or express anything, only shedding the mantle of silence and disbelief in small swatches at a time. Some of us were angry, spiraling the situation in ever smaller circles, yelling words as if to chase the bad thing away. All of us cried. Some more freely than others. Some with bowed shoulders and hitching sobs. Others choked and hesitant to open the floodgates, for fear of never stopping.
As each call was made, I recognized we had to draw closer, not pull away. We had to be there for one another, otherwise, we’d come apart at the seams. The phone calls, the one-on-one conversations, the reaching outward to see who we’d missed—all of it built stronger connections than we’d had in a long time.
My wife and I had been married almost a quarter century when this happened. In that time, we had consolidated four children from three marriages. Ian and Ryan came from Angela’s first marriage; Brittany from her second. Sarah came from my second marriage. My wife and I worked together often to guide and direct them, to show love and encourage them to their greatest potential.
Four years into this life-long journey, we had the opportunity to have another child. Angela was forty and I was thirty-eight when Yvonne was born at Keflavik NAS, Iceland, my last duty station while in the Air Force. We joked about how it was almost like having our own grandchild; there’d been eighteen years since our oldest was born, so that’s equivalent to a generation.
While in Iceland, we had all seven of us living under one roof. The Navy provided accommodations renovated from two apartments to form one double-sized unit. We all grew close during those two years, and Yvonne had the benefit of four older siblings to learn a wealth of information. We played music and read to her; she came bundled along in a papoose style backpack on hiking excursions; she was the focal point of our attention, adults and kids alike. She was the junction point of the pieces we’d cobbled together to fashion a whole family.
As happens, though, even as we were building the structure of our family, we began to see the other kids peeling off to form their own lives. Sarah was the first to leave the nest; not as an adult, but to go live with her mother from my previous marriage. We hated to see her go, yet it was her preference. Our sons, Ian and Ryan, both started making their own way when we returned to the States, settling in Saint Louis. They had a bit of a rocky start, but we saw them through it until they got their feet under them. Brittany stayed with us through our moves to Columbia, and when we decided to put down roots in Fulton. She was like a little boomerang, moving out to try life on her own or with friends, only to come back and stay with us some more. Of all our kids, she was the most constant companion for Yvonne, even as she helicoptered in-and-out of our lives.
So in the teen years of our youngest, she was most exclusively with us and the small cadre of friends she developed in this hometown. We watched her blossom and grow in skills and talents. She played several musical instruments: recorder, piano, harp. Yes, harp. We bought one for her and she learned to play beautifully. Voice lessons also featured prominently in her repertoire, so that she was well prepared to join the high school Chamber Choir, the youngest member in decades. Her angelic voice provided many opportunities for solos, and her performances made people sit up and take notice. She stayed with the Chamber Choir all throughout high school.
One of the things she never mastered in her life was riding a bicycle. I blame myself for that. When she was old enough to start riding, we lived on a gravel road. After a couple of tumbles during her initial attempts, we all agreed to wait for a more suitable opportunity. When it finally came, she was already past the point of wanting to pick it up. I’m thankful that we did enroll her with the Fulton Fins swim team, and she became a proficient swimmer, placing with good marks at the competitions.
As Yvonne moved into the venue of high school, she was that slightly eclectic individual not too many people understood. She joked about being “a girly girl,” so much different than the rest of the kids who opted to wear ‘just whatever.’ Her fashion was to wear a dress and fancy shoes every day of school, ensuring she was primped and preened before walking out the door. In that respect, she took care of herself.
Conversely, in the socialization aspect of her life, she became the ‘bathroom counselor’ of her peer groups. So many of her friends used her as a sounding board to work through young adult life issues. She helped quite a few folks move away from bulimia, anorexia, cutting, and—more than once—drew her young friends back from the brink of suicide. Yvonne had a heart for reaching out and a gentle understanding demeanor that prompted people to heed her advice.
She held only a small handful of jobs in her lifetime. Yvonne’s first foray into the working world was for a veterinary clinic, as an assistant to surgeries, recovery, and clean-up. She then interned for a full summer with a local chiropractor, manning the front desk and organizing client files. In an effort to cultivate a regular paycheck, she linked into a nationwide pharmacy chain, the store a scant half-mile from our home. There she worked her way up in three years’ time, from stocking shelves, to being a cosmetology consultant, to becoming a certified Pharmacy Tech.
During those last three years, she learned to drive. It afforded her more mobility and she occasionally toured around with some of her close friends. She even managed some long-distance highway driving to Saint Louis, to Kansas City, and to Springfield. Not bad for a girl who never learned to ride a bike.
In the last few months Yvonne was with us, we were helping her move out to her own apartment, a duplex she would share with Brittany when she returned to Fulton. We had made arrangements with the landlord to provide an entire years’ worth of checks for the monthly rent, and we worked details about repainting certain rooms and hanging items on walls. Things were moving along in what appeared on the surface to be a promising path to her independent adult life. But then, looks can be deceiving.
I don’t choose to be overtly candid here, but rather, will provide a fleeting glimpse at some of the factors that weighed heavily on Yvonne’s heart. On-going inconvenient medical problems. A portion of her history relating to DFS involvement with our family. Rocky relationships with boy friends in her mid- to latter teen years. Alienation by a core group of friends after a mistake. A supervisor’s admonition to work faster, rather than be diligent. And all the world’s crazy stupid problems. It all came to a juncture where she made the decision to leave all this, because she could no longer bear the pressures.
All of us either missed the telltale signs, the little clues she dropped into conversations, or thought it would be alright for her in just a little bit longer. However, our daughter made some decisions and planned a very gracious exit to this life she was leading. She ensured every member of our family received a short ‘love letter’ encouraging each of us to carry on forward with our lives. She did the same for a key friend she trusted, as well as something for her workplace. She even went so far as to leave a note for the EMTs to let them know what she’d ingested to put herself to rest, that she didn’t want to be resuscitated, and to apologize for any inconvenience.
So… How do we let go of such a dear wonderful child? How do we live without her now? What do we do to fill the void where she used to be, talking, laughing, singing, dancing, debating, playing?
We don’t yet fully know. We take each day at a time. We come in contact with things that remind us of Yvonne and we cry; long and loud, we cry. And when we have spent the tears, we remind each other this is only a temporary thing, this life. We’re all just passing through. We remind each other that God raised his only begotten son, Jesus Christ, from the dead, and that he will do the same for all of us who come to him. Because God keeps his promises. We will see our dear child at a future time, when there will be the ultimate comfort.
Revelation 21:4 (KJV) And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
We had seven people in our family. Now there are six. In that future time, all of us who walk with God will be one big family, so there will be an abundance of joy and rejoicing. Until then, we wait…