The Year of Jubilee

I miss Bryce. This is a post about grief and loss as much as it is a post about joy and celebration, so if you can’t handle that paradox right now, go ahead and close the tab and come back another time.

I ended 2021 right. I spent hours laughing so hard I could hardly breathe. Eight months ago was the hardest day of my life. In sixteen days I’ll mark my eighth traumaversary – the anniversary of the second worst day of my life. I don’t plan to post anything between now and then, but I’ll craft an inspirational message for traumaversary number eight. I consider that license for the emotionally ambiguous post today.

On New Year’s Eve, my friend Hannah spontaneously invited me for raclette, and I rarely turn down cheese, so I readily agreed. I also have a strong suspicion that Veronica has asked Hannah to befriend me and make sure I have regular human interaction while Veronica is in the States this year. I’m not complaining about this though because I am very fond of Hannah and have discovered that she helps me to be a better human and to love Jesus better.

This end of year dinner party had hours of laughter and dozens of stories shared from different years, time zones, and cultural cues. I joke that I only have six good student stories and four of them are about Brooks, but the truth is I have lots of stories about Bryce. The past couple of weeks there have been a lot – a lot – of openings for a Bryce story that I haven’t told.

Two weeks after Bryce died, I told a story about a goofball former student to my current class, and a curious student said something to the effect of, “Wow, what did that kid go on to do?” Which led to me awkwardly saying, “He died. It was Bryce.”

I’ve still told plenty of people Bryce stories in the past eight months, but all the openings in the past two weeks were different. They were holiday celebrations, and I had a wave of sadness smack me thinking about how to get the right details in that didn’t drag the party into my grief. I chose to let each opening pass on and told the story about Brooks swallowing a spoonful of salt instead. That story fits any situation.

When I return to school in a week, I’ll introduce my students to their final project. The example I use has an MLA heading by a student named “Bryce Sample” because I adapted Bryce’s final project that was done so well. A couple of students might catch it because they’ve read my blog post about Bryce’s death and know how close I was to him. More and more as I teach, students won’t know anything about Bryce. The thing is, more and more, students don’t know anything about Brooks, and I still tell stories about him all the time. I just have this different way of talking about Brooks or Julia or Maggie or Nick or a whole host of other students because I am still in contact with them and seeing them grow. The postscript to the story about Caylie piercing Nick’s ear before he flew home so his dad wouldn’t recognise him is that Caylie is doing grad school in London having profound and beautiful conversations about faith with new people and Nick and his wife are living as house parents at an orphanage in Guatemala. The postscript to my student example on this final project is different. Not wrong; just different.

Occasionally I talk about the two pairs of feet on my phone background. Both are the PDX carpet, but the lock screen is the feet of a student who is not walking with Jesus and the home screen is Brooks’s feet. These are reminders for me to pray whenever I use my phone. I frequently use the phrase “their story isn’t over” when I talk about my students in various difficult phases of life. Bryce is different. His story ends with him with Jesus, and that’s a happy ending for his story, but for me here, that’s tempered with my grief that his life was cut short.

So why is this post titled “The Year of Jubilee”? Well, as I said before, I’m coming up on the eighth marker of my traumaversary. Year seven in the biblical tradition for Israel is the year of jubilee; the land was given rest. Jubilee means celebration and happy things. This year has had a lot – a lot – of hardship for me (and honestly loads of people globally). I went into year seven looking for good things, and I also decided to be a part of making good things happen. I self-published my first book, and I received so many kind words about it. With those encouragements, I’ve also written three other books, two of which will be available for purchase early in 2022. I finally got my Caylie-designed bridge tattoo and get to share my heart for connections when I tell the story behind it. My cardboard Daveed Diggs has brought me immeasurable joy in this past year. There is reason to mark this seventh year as one of good things.

However, I’m processing the tension of those celebrations with not only my grief about Bryce but the grief that I still use a wheelchair, still need catheters, and still have to fight my insurance on a regular basis to reimburse me for necessary medical supplies and treatments. Year seven held the battle for the wheelchair payments which I publicly documented, but I left the saga of the unpaid botox bill largely out of my blogs as my insurance messed up yet another claim I filed and only paid me about $700 of a $4,000 claim. The final payment correctly settling the reimbursement landed in my bank account December 29 – but my fight lasted nearly three months.

I wish that 2021 was the year that I miraculously stood up and walked. I have hope that it could happen in 2022.

In the meantime, I have to grieve appropriately for the missed opportunities – the stories I didn’t tell about Bryce pale in comparison to the wedding I’m missing at the end of this month because travel is so difficult for me. I’m slowly, slowly, slowly rebuilding a callous on the bottom of my foot to protect it from future blisters, but I have to make sure not to overdue it in my eagerness to walk more and put too much pressure on my foot too soon. I’ve had to reframe progress this year because I ended walking less than I did at the start of the year – in one sense that’s a very clear regression. I have, however, started new balance and leg exercises that Anja taught me to improve my core strength and flexibility. I didn’t stop working when the blister showed up months ago; I adjusted and accounted for the care my foot needed and the other areas of improvement in my holistic bodily care.

The day I found out that Bryce died, another student who was a year older than him texted me saying he was struggling to be happy for his friend while he was dealing with a difficult situation. He hadn’t yet heard about Bryce, but I texted him a response encouraging him to hold the other person’s joy in one hand and his grief in the other. I’m doing that right now as I type this post sad on the one hand that Bryce isn’t alive but with such joy in the other hand about the four current BFA kids who stopped by at my bench just now on their way home from church. In fact, I was wrapping up this post when they tossed a pebble at my window to get my attention and came around to the bench for a chat.

It’s a jubilee moment for me when students stop by. It is still part of the year of jubilee to go through the messy process of grief.

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