First, a word from April.
Grace is a warrior. The transformation journey inevitably includes pain. I wish it didn’t, but it does.
Sometimes that pain guts you. Sometimes that pain looks like a caterpillar liquifying in a cocoon and coming out an entirely different thing. Sometimes pain is a guide toward more wholeness. This has been Grace’s story.
I humbly asked if she’d be willing to share about the deepest pain of her story because 1) our whole story matters and 2) pain is often the process where our power is transformed into something supernatural.
May her pain guide you toward increasing wholeness.
We had never taken a vacation with one child and not with the other. To go somewhere just the three of us seemed awkward, foreign, incomplete. We had been a family of four, reduced to a broken family of three. If Dragon couldn’t be there, I didn’t want to see beauty. I didn’t want to acknowledge sunshine. I knew that going anywhere would be painful, that it would be hard to make new memories without our son.
I thought back to the last time we had all left home together. It was in late August two years ago earlier. We had gone camping after a busy summer during which Dragon had spent mostly away -- summer school at Johns Hopkins, summer camp in the Angeles Mountains, water polo qualifiers. Now, we were finally together as a family, on a camping trip to Yosemite, a place our family had visited many times and that we loved. Dragon had invited his friend Justin to join us -- the first vacation for which we had allowed him to invite a friend. The two boys pitched their tent next to our big family tent. That first night in Yosemite, after a dinner of barbecued steaks and salads and s'mores, we said our goodnights and the boys went to bed. At 4:45 that morning, while we were sound asleep, a massive branch from the Black Oak next to their tent broke off and dropped 1,000 feet and crashed into the boys' tent. Dragon and Justin were killed instantly.
My Dragon. My first born child. My son, and my sun. My funny, smart, sarcastic, handsome, sweet 14-year old son. Gone.
To keep living felt unbearable. During the following days and months, I faced the seemingly impossible task of relearning how to wake up, and stay up, in a world that no longer included Dragon.
Every place had become forbidden: if we had been there before with Dragon, then all I could think about was what it was like when we had been there with him. If we hadn’t been there before with Dragon, I didn’t want to experience it without him. Why should I get to go on living, experiencing new things, seeing beautiful places, I asked myself, when my son could not? It was easier to stay at home, where the stabs of pain passing by his room were predictable and familiar. Plus, if we didn’t leave home, maybe no one would be killed.
The wildflowers in the desert love the water, but because of the drought, the spring bloom has been sparse. This year, the rains finally came. This year, they said, it would be a Super Bloom.
I’d always wanted to see the desert wildflowers. I live only two and a half hours away from Anza Borrego, a wide and shallow desert valley surrounded by mountains, and one of the best spots in California to see this springtime spectacle. But I’ve never made it out there, never made the time to step away from work or the kids’ sports schedules or even my homebody laziness. Even last March, hearing that the wildflowers were on their way, I thought about it for a moment, then remembered that Dragon wouldn’t be with us. I refused to think about it again. So, when I heard this year that Anza Borrego was expecting its biggest bloom in a decade, I didn’t expect to be tempted. I thought I had put away my adventure hat. But for some reason, this year, when the desert called, something within me responded.
I convinced my husband, Daniel, and our daughter, Hannah, to go with me. We left home early in the morning. When we got out to the desert, we were met with fields of yellow, purple, and white. We admired the teddy bear cholla. We wandered among the sand verbena. We hunted for magenta cactus flowers. I brought my camera and Hannah brought hers, and we photographed first the landscape and then one another. Awed by the desert in her beautiful dress, I sat down among the flowers. Daniel came and sat down behind me. Yellow desert sunflowers carpeted the entire valley and nibbled the bottom edge of the distant foothills. Together, we marveled at the abundance and beauty bursting forth from this dusty land. Together, we missed our dead son while enjoying the wonder of our living daughter.
Later that afternoon, driving around the little town of Borrego Springs, we stumbled upon a meadow of gigantic, wrought-iron statues. We found ourselves face to face with a fire-breathing dragon who had made his home in the desert sand. And here, standing in front of this iron dragon, I felt our Dragon with us, in spirit if not in person. New memories started melding with old memories in this once-barren land. When I later texted my friend Mary a photo, she texted back, “Perfection. A Dragon rising up out of the earth. So meant to be.” It was a magical day -- elemental, full of heat and sun, fire and water, sky and life.
Driving home, we passed grazing cows in a grassy field. Their black and white bodies beckoned. I instantly thought of Dragon, how, during our road trips, he never failed to open his car window when we passed by a field of cows. He’d pop his head out and moo at the top of his lungs at the grazing bovines: MOO! MOO! MOOOOO!
He did it for years. It made me laugh every time.