A beat-up pair of brown leather boots has been a staple in my closet since 2010, the year I lost my best friend and the man I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with. The same boots got me through general-assignment reporting in the foothills of southern California, early-morning roundups in a New England submarine plant and even helped me muster the chutzpah to resign from a compromising media job.
Every time I slipped them on — especially in those early days — they served as a tangible reminder of the best counsel I received in the wake of Josh’s plane crash: “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Hold your head high! Keep your eyes on the Lord and in his word! March forward!”
These words came from a woman I had never met but who also lost a loved one in a tragic accident. Her words stuck with me as I adjusted from one city to the next after the crash, juggling jobs and grief around those who knowingly or unknowingly said hurtful things.
Her words stuck with me when, less than six months after the crash, I found myself job searching with the same company I was working for at the time of the accident. The weather was dreary that day and filled with torrential downpours. The woman that interviewed me was aware of my history and asked point-blank if I was prepared to start a new job. “She went there,” I thought, unable to choke back my tears. I didn’t get the job that day.
But that’s OK. Sorrow is not something you can brush under the carpet. “Grief comes and goes. When grief comes to you, allow grief to sit down beside you. However, we cannot allow grief to stay long periods of time,” my friend said.
Her words stuck with me when, more than a year after the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board published Josh’s cause of death: “Multiple blunt force injuries.” Those four words rang in my ears as I tried to hide from my roommate the tears running down my face.
“Carolyn, you can face tomorrow! You WILL laugh again! God gave us many wonderful gifts. One of those gifts is time. Time is a healer.”
Her words again stuck with me when, two years after the crash, I found myself — on the anniversary of Josh’s death — at the home of a Christian college professor and his wife. Surrounded by strangers, I struggled during a game of Taboo to find words to describe “Hercules.” The irony of the word was not lost on me that night as I barely kept from breaking down in front of my hosts and their guests.
But that’s OK, too. “After a period of time, you may need to set aside one hour every day to be your grief time. That is the time you can cry, think about your loved one … That can help us function and help with our daily walk.”
Her words stuck with me when, four years after the crash, a simple interaction with complete strangers triggered a vision that shot straight to the heart. A small blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy and his parents passed me on the streets of Old Town, Alexandria. I chuckled as the trio playfully raced to the curb; then I saw a boy no older than what could have been. The bridal boutiques then to my right didn’t help, reminding me again of what could have been.
I remember her words late at night when no amount of Brian Regan, Key and Peele, Journey ballads, Sunday driving, casual date nights, or well-intentioned Skype sessions with friends can snap me out of feeling lonely or abandoned. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Hold your head high! Keep your eyes on the Lord and in his word! March forward!” And boy have I worn through those heels.