I do not at all understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. ~ Anne Lamott
The thing is, I had forgotten about grace. For months before Tony died, I forgot. I was alone, I thought, devoid of grace and hope. I was watching the man I loved spiral into something neither of us understood. I was watching him drown, and I didn’t even know it. Things got bad, then worse, and somehow all of it became normal. It was my world, and it had no grace. It had only pain and confusion and frustration and anger and fear and shame.
I forgot about grace, but grace did not forget me. At the darkest hour, truly, of my life, grace met me where I was. Grace was my co-workers, one offering me a ride home when Tony did not arrive to pick me up as he usually did, one giving me his cell phone number just in case I needed it.
Grace was the 911 operator, keeping me calm while she dispatched the police to our apartment. Grace was my co-worker Sheri, staying with me while I waited. Grace was three uniformed officers, one talking to me while the other two broke into the apartment. Yes, grace broke the bedroom window and climbed inside the apartment and found Tony there. Grace broke the worst news in the world to me in the gentlest possible way. Grace went into the apartment to get me a blanket as I shivered on the concrete steps, and came out with the only blanket in the world that I would have wanted at that moment, a beautiful afghan my mother made for me. That was grace.
Grace, in the form of a beautiful blonde medical examiner, told me that I did not need to worry, that Tony could not have suffered. Because of grace, I believed her. In yet another guise, grace answered the phone in the form of my stepmother. That was not the first phone call I made, but she was the right person for me to talk to. She’s a therapist and was the one person in my life who could have done what she did, which was to go immediately into professional mode and offer me exactly what I needed at that moment, which was calm and loving guidance. Grace was my father booking a flight before he even knew exactly what had happened.
Grace was the crisis counselor, who sat with me in Sheri’s car and rubbed my back while I talked to grace in yet another form, my sister Laura. Laura, who would have come to San Diego that night, too, but there were no flights. Laura, who flew into Phoenix the next day to meet me and my father, four days before Christmas, leaving her kids in Seattle to come be with me because I needed her.
Grace was my other co-workers, who are now family to me, opening their home to me and going to the airport to get my father late that night, and taking us back to the airport the next day.
Grace was my sister, Stephanie, going out and shopping for me; not knowing what I needed and buying half of Target for me, everything from underwear to jewelry, because she wanted me to have pretty things to wear. Grace was my mom, and her unconditional love. Grace was my nieces and nephews, making me Christmas presents and finding ways, against all odds, to coax a laugh or two out of me.
Grace is my cousin Marcy, whose brother also struggled with mental illness, reaching out to me and opening her heart to me and somehow always knowing the thing I need to hear. She just did it again, just now.
It’s strange, the things that can strike you in the midst of tragedy. The things that can be the hardest to do. For me, one thing that has proven to be largely impossible is to write the thank you letters that I know I want to write. How do I thank someone for telling me that my husband was dead? For telling me that he didn’t suffer? For dropping everything to come get me? For loving me, when in my heart I felt I had failed because Tony was dead and I was alive? Where will the words come from? How can I thank grace, in its many forms? Grace, who sent me chocolate and lavender-stuffed teddy bears and soft blankets and sympathy cards and love. So very much love.
How can I thank Tony’s mother and sister, for the gift of him? What could ever be enough for that, especially when I feel that the thanks should be wrapped in an apology, because they gave him to me and I lost him? How can I thank the people I don’t even know, have never met? The internet friend who has somehow become a friend of the heart because she has been there for me in a way that I could not have expected, and yet doesn’t surprise me because I’ve been reading her blog for years and she is, herself, full of grace.
I know that I will write those letters eventually. Grace has worn dozens of faces since the day that Tony died. Grace has had countless names. Some of them I do not know and will never know. What I am realizing is that, too, is grace. The not knowing. The fact that people who I do not know and never will do things every day that I will never know about, and they, all of them, are grace.