August 21, 2023

The Shadow

Today marks two months since we lost Chrissy. An eternity. An instant.

There's an old narrative trope familiar to anybody who's seen more than one or two horror movies. At some point there will be a character (or characters) just going about their business, happily doing their thing. Maybe they're humming or whistling a cheerful tune. A teen couple laughing as they sneak off to make out. A little girl picking flowers. Whatever it is, the light-hearted scene will draw on just long enough to give the average viewer a sense of peace. And then, inevitably, there will be a subtle shift in lighting. A dissonant note in the scoring. A shadow moving slightly near the edge of the frame. Something to make you, the viewer, say to yourself: "uh oh." 

And that's been my experience of grief so far. 

It's the night after Chrissy died. I'm in the kitchen. It's been a surprisingly productive day. I've done all the hardest ADHD tasks. I've been to the mall, which I have steadfastly and happily avoided for a decade, because that's where I can quickly get my suit hemmed and taken in. They gave me a claim ticket and a time to pick up the suit, and I've returned at that time with the not-lost claim ticket. I've filled out multiple overdue forms for summer camp. I've helped plan her service. I've hacked into dozens of our shared online accounts to make sure our bills are getting paid. I've sorted through several returns I need to make. I'm proud of myself for what I've been able to accomplish. And there I am in the kitchen, keeping the productivity momentum going. I'm putting up tupperware. (At the edge of the frame there's a little shadow that moves just enough that you're not sure if you actually saw anything.) I have the thought that I'll probably get rid of a lot of our mismatched, seldom used tupperware. (In the background music, a subtle discordant note plays.) I have a thought that I'm going to have to be in charge of cooking the meals now. (The shadow moves again, slowly but less subtly, towards me. No worries, our hero is being so productive, whatever this thing is he can take it down easily.) I get an idea. It's the perfect solution to the meal prep problem. (Our hero sees a door through which he can escape the shadow. It's labeled "family cooking classes." It's a big strong door, and he's got some distance from the shadow. He can easily get to the door in time, get through, and lock it behind him with the shadow on the other side, and he'll be safe and secure.) What a great idea! It'll help practically and I'll be able to involve the kids and teach them useful life skills! I reach for my phone to google local classes. (He reaches out and grabs the knob. He turns it.) I'm so proud of myself. And I know who would absolutely love this idea if she were here... ([click.] The latch disengages, and a writhing horde of shadow monsters bursts through the door from the other side, enveloping him and dragging him to the floor in the fetal positon) THIS IS THE KIND OF SHIT YOU SHOULD BE DOING WITH CHRISSY FOR FUN AS A MOTHERS DAY PRESENT!! NOT OUT OF DESPERATION BECAUSE SHE'S GONE!! ALL THOSE HALF-ASSED BIRTHDAY AND CHRISTMAS PRESENTS YOU GAVE HER WHEN THIS IS THE STUFF YOU SHOULD'VE BEEN DOING TOGETHER ALL ALONG!!

This scene has played out again and again. Different settings, different jump scares, same Shadow, same grief. 

The Shadow shows up in different forms. It loves to sneak up on me while I'm mowing the lawn (though I did successfully mow the entire yard today without weeping a single time. Small victories). The Shadow can very often be found in the kitchen, like when I was cleaning out the fridge a few weeks ago and came across some fresh mozzarella that had gone bad. I stood there and sobbed because Chrissy had bought it with the plan of making caprese salad, one of our summertime favorites. Suddenly the moldy cheese became a totem of so many plans we had, now headed for the garbage can. 

Last week The Shadow showed up in an automatically generated playlist I was streaming while driving. I'd chosen a southern rock playlist, which is great driving music on a hot summer afternoon driving through rural farmland. Until that playlist gets to Jason Isbell's "If We Were Vampires." That led to an uncontrollable sobbing fit that, according to my fitness tracker, was intense enough to get me into the cardio zone for four minutes:

I know in my head that, over time, sunlight will find its way back into most of our lives, and there will be fewer and fewer hiding places for The Shadow to wait in ambush. But it'll never be completely gone, and we will have to find a way to live with that. 

I have tried and failed several times to type an uplifting ending for this post. It's not coming to me. I'm sorry to be a bummer. This is hard. It hurts so badly. That's not to say we are surrendering to this Shadow. We do have hope and we are finding moments of joy, and I know it will get better, eventually. But right now, The Shadow is very much a part of our lives. And that will be the way it is, until it isn't. We'll get there. Eventually.


  1. ❤️💔❤️‍🩹

  2. You aren't obligated to post something uplifting. The Shadow is insidious. I think being caught by it is your only true defense.

  3. Robert, you’re doing such a good job for your girls. And all those presents: they happened. Y’all made memories all the time for your family. You didn’t waste a minute. I know Chrissy was behind the planning, but you were 100% in with the execution. Your all-in was the gift: there are so many couples who don’t work together that way. Y’all were a witness to everyone who met you of the power of all-in love, and to the power of Christ who gives us joy. As you are grieving, please try not to think that you *ever* were not good enough. No human being is perfect, but you were all-in. You really were, and you really are. I have no doubt that Chrissy considered herself profoundly blessed in your partnership and companionship.

  4. As hard as this post is to read, I cannot begin to imagine how hard it is to write and live out. The ebb and flow of grief... sneaking up on you when you are not expecting it...HARD!!!! This is not the companion you want and yet, there it is on occasion. You are ENOUGH for Clara and Eloise and you are moving forward, doing what needs to be done AND making special memories even as you help them hold on to all of those memories you shared as a family of four. As you journey, know Chrissy adored you and is surely proud of you and how you are taking on each day, shadow lurking and all. And know you have a village who daily prays over each of you and is willing to step in as needed.

  5. You explained grief perfectly! I’ve had those shadows the last 9 months since losing my husband, 52, just 54 days after his cancer diagnosis. My shadows seem to more the longer he’s gone. I guess maybe because we are realizing it’s really real…he really is gone. Wrapping you and your family in lots of prayers.

  6. Continuing to pray for y’all! Such poignant thoughts , Robert!

  7. I'm sorry for the Shadow, because it does come at the most inopportune times, but over time I believe that shadow will be overtaken by the good memories, when saying or hearing Chrissy's name won't be a punch to the gut, but a curling up of your lips in a joyful reminder. I haven't been through a loss like this, but I know for our family, who lost my niece Zoe, that's how it worked. And dude - that song nearly had me sobbing. I don't know how anyone could listen to it and not.

  8. Praying so hard for you and your family! Losing a loved one is not easy but God promised us the morning when we would again find joy after the dark and weeping nights.

  9. Amazing how you can express your feelings so clearly. Still praying for you and your family.

  10. As a kid I lost my Dad suddenly , I
    Know not the same as a spouse but I was 6 and my sister was 2, And I had a Mom who managed to make it every day. Eventually you are right joy, happiness, hope come again with the shadows of grief that continue to get you sometime as you least expect it. Reading this post made me remember how it was for me as a child. It hurt then and if I think about it it can still make me sad. You are doing your very best for your girls by just being there and being their support. I think of y’all often and continue to pray for y’all.

  11. Thank you so much for your sharing. Your writing is beautiful and such a good reminder about the real parts of life. Praying for you and the girls. - Emily (Liz's friend)

    1. One day, you'll see her there with a white sheet to cover that shadow. And then you'll laugh together and have joyous memories and embrace each other virtually everyday

  12. sending my love and prayers ❤️

  13. You are an amazing writer. I feel like a bug on your wall who went through it all with you..... but I know I didn't. You are as strong as a pine knot (my mom used to say this to me when I experienced the worst crisis in my life)... and you are too Robert.

  14. Don't worry. I will pray for you. And for the soul of Chrissy.

  15. What God's word says:

    My son, shed tears for one who is dead*

    with wailing and bitter lament;

    As is only proper, prepare the body,

    and do not absent yourself from the burial.

    Weeping bitterly, mourning fully,

    pay your tribute of sorrow, as deserved:

    A day or two, to prevent gossip;

    then compose yourself after your grief.

    For grief can bring on death,

    and heartache can sap one’s strength.

    When a person is carried away, sorrow is over;

    and the life of the poor one is grievous to the heart.

    Do not turn your thoughts to him again;

    cease to recall him; think rather of the end.e

    Do not recall him, for there is no hope of his return;

    you do him no good, and you harm yourself.f

    Remember that his fate will also be yours;

    for him it was yesterday, for you today.g

    With the dead at rest, let memory cease;
    be consoled, once the spirit has gone.


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