Waves of agony have become our new reality over the past seventeen days. The waves vary in size, intensity and duration, but they continually come. Thankfully from the very beginning, intermingled within the waves of agony have been waves of grace. Grace to enable us to breathe when we were certain we could not. Grace to do unthinkable tasks. Grace to continue to parent our other three daughters as we grieve the absence of Sarah. Grace to still see good in the midst of the terrible. Today was an exceptionally difficult day, for me on some level it really rivaled the intensity of the pain in those first couple of days after she left. So I’m sitting here now, more for myself than anyone else, remembering some of the grace that has served to help us keep our balance in the midst of the staggering waves of agony. A testimony to myself and my children, and anyone else who needs it, that though He allows the agony to continue to flow, He is faithful to send grace in the midst of the agony.
Seventeen days ago the tsunami hit as Sarah abruptly left us to go home to our Lord. That same night a wave of grace rushed in as we read her last journal entry and text message to her cousin, and realized they were God’s grace filled gifts to us. More grace rushed in through precious friends who drove and flew to be with us and minister to us that night.
Sixteen days ago a wave of agony crashed down upon us as we prepared to leave Atlanta without Sarah and then struggled unnecessarily with the powers that be to have her released to Huntsville. Then grace washed in through precious friends and family who rallied around us again. Some drove over an hour to the hotel just to drive us twenty minutes in our own vehicle to the airport, because we just could’t do it. Another flew us home in his personal jet so we didn’t have to endure the four hour drive, another joined us on the flight just to be there for us despite his fear of flying. Another agreed to drive our vehicle home from Atlanta, and then two more picked us up in Meridianville and delivered us home, then sat in our kitchen alone praying for us as we took some time to grieve together as a family.
Another wave of agony washed over us that day as we walked into our home the first time without her, knowing she would never be here with us again. My heart was shattered as I longed to hear her singing and laughing again. She was constantly singing, singing loudly and joyously all the time. How can I endure never hearing her sing again? It was a crushing feeling sitting in the den and glancing at the door to her room, longing for it all to be a big mistake and for her to come around the corner singing once again.
Yet another wave of agony hit on that same day when Scott told me we needed to write an obituary for Sarah. I was paralyzed at the thought, how does one write a synopsis of their child? Where do you begin and how can anything less than a book suffice? But then a wave of grace followed in the middle of the night as I was lying there unable to sleep. I felt the words coming to me, so I got up at 4:00 AM and started typing. God in His graciousness poured the words out of me that I believe appropriately honored our precious Sarah.
Fifteen days ago another tidal wave of agony hit as we as a family went to the funeral home to make all the arrangements for Sarah. We had agreed that Sarah needed a white coffin representing her innocence and purity. A secondary wave of agony hit as we stood in the middle of a coffin showroom and learned a white coffin might not be available. We huddled together as a family between the coffins and prayed that God would provide a white coffin. It still takes my breath away to say it, we prayed for a coffin for our daughter. We waited for the funeral director to come back for what felt like a very long time, though I don’t know if it really was. She finally returned and brought with her a wave of grace as she told us they were paying to overnight a white coffin to us for Sarah. I’m pretty sure she had tears in her eyes as she told us, her empathy received as more grace. We rejoiced over a coffin for our child that day, proof, as if any was needed, that our lives had been turned completely upside down.
Fourteen days ago a huge wave of grace rolled in as we discovered Sarah had recorded herself singing on her iPod, we got to hear our little girl sing again, a tidal wave of grace. But then as sure as the rising and setting of the sun, that night another wave of agony washed in. This time in the form of someone sharing details of the accident that I did not want to know and that Scott had worked vigilantly to keep from the girls and me. The words created an image in my mind that still painfully lingers. As I tucked one of my sweet daughters in that night I prayed with her that God would guard our minds from the enemy during the night. Nighttime had been unbearable to this point, so we prayed we would not see those terrible images but would instead be flooded with sweet memories of Sarah. A ripple of grace came in that night as our thoughts were stayed on sweet memories of Sarah rather than images of those terrible last moments.
Thirteen days ago a wave of agony rushed in as we prepared for the funeral, it was compounded by a now gripping fear that the girls and I would be bombarded with details about the accident that we did not want to know. But then another wave of grace washed in as I felt the Lord providing words to share in a post on social media to address it, “When you see us”. Once again I felt as though God poured the words out of me that would serve to protect our girls and me, but it turns out they also encouraged many others. Countless people shared how much the words helped them as they prepared to come to the funeral that day, freeing them from worry about what to say to us. Person after person spoke the words I asked to hear in that post, telling us they loved us, were hurting with us and praying for us, a gentle wave of grace.
The days between then and now have been a steady and constant flow of waves, in and out they roll, grace followed by agony and agony followed by grace. Today was a larger than anticipated wave of agony as we prepared to go to church for the first time since Sarah’s departure. We knew it would be hard, but our imaginations failed to prepare us for how excruciating it actually was. The wave washed over all five of us simultaneously, taking us to our knees. We huddled together and prayed again, and then went to church without Sarah. Our hearts ached the entire time, but a wave of grace came in the form of sweet friends to walk beside us physically and spiritually. Together they prayed fervently for us before and during church, and walked beside us at church distracting and encouraging us through the daunting wave still bearing down on us.
I’m told the waves of grief will gradually slow, I certainly hope that is true. In the meantime we press on, choosing to rejoice that despite the relentless battering of the waves of agony crashing over us, the waves of grace continue to roll in as well.
Artwork: Sarah Harmening