Stumbling Toward the Light

"We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly" -- Madeleine L'Engle

A collection of thoughts and messages I wrote after my daughter died May 17, 2000. Primarily this blog is concerned with grief, bereavement, the death of a child, hope, courage and a tough faith journey.

Location: Kansas, United States

Husband, father of four, friend, dog owner, owned by a cat, Episcopalian, last liberal Republican left in the U.S.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Last week "Basement Man" unexpectedly called...

"We can fit you in tomorrow, Bill. Are you ready?"

"Sure!," I said (fingers crossed) .

I rushed downstairs and looked at the mess. Within twelve hours construction folks would be showing up to dig a deep ditch around the outside foundation of our house on three sides. They would set up I-Beams on the inside of the basement holding up the walls which would be straightened and patched. A plastic sheeting would be affixed to our outside walls to help keep moisture out.

Diana's and my part of the job was to move everything in our basement and yard at least four feet away from the foundation to allow the workers the space they would need to prop up the house, dig deep and set in order that which was crooked and broken.

The "mess" I spoke of above was the accumulation of 25 years of marriage.... Plastic storage tubs full of memories, Christmas decorations, old dishware, cherished possessions from our own childhoods.... The outward signs of inward graces. Our basement had slowly filled with these tubs the past many years with no real order to it all.... ergo, The Mess.

We worked 'til midnight, cursing Basement Man for "fitting us in" on a moment's notice and wondering aloud why we even wanted to deal with all of this. The mess was OK.... if we ignored it. The basement walls did their job... other than the water that gathered on the floor during rain and snow, the winter winds that blew throught cracks and openings, and the multi legged fauna that wandered inside during summer. Yep. "Everything was fine, just fine!" We mumbled this lie like a seething mantra as we worked through the evening moving our lives to the center of the basement.

Basement Man came, did his thing, and left after three days. While our house and yard were being ripped apart we drove over to a home improvement store and bought six large shelving units... an expensive but wise purchase. We've set them up against the basement walls and have started going through the plastic tubs, rearranging, weeding out and relabelling... A slow and painful task, this "order out of chaos" thing.

This whole process of propping up our basement and adding stronger support to our house reminded me of an old hymn we used to sing at church when I was young... "How Firm A Foundation." One of the verses says:

"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress."

Getting through deep waters and rivers of woe involves a lot of sloshing and grunting.... and grumbling and yelling.

Six years ago this month my wife, Diana, and I were trading off three days at a time between our three older children at home and our youngest child who was undergoing a bone marrow transplant in a children's hospital 70 miles away. From Rachel's diagnosis of leukemia in August, 1999, until May, 2000, we lived this nomadic existence struggling to save our daughter's life. And then she died.

Much like the work on our house I have been reconstructing my life from the ground up these past several years... Digging into the foundation of who I am and what I believe, filling in gaping cracks with new cement, setting up beams to straighten and hold up what had been made crooked and broken.... Dirty, messy work that I know will take a lifetime.

It helps having a Basement Man.... Someone who knows how to build foundations and can be there for you through the messy stuff.

Another verse from "How Sure A Foundation" tells me:

"Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand."

I've never lost this God, but I have come to be dismayed and even refused his aid. I have sat in in the ruins of my own soul's dark "basement" unaware that his hand was holding me. I have cursed him in the blindness of seering pain not stopping to listen to his still small voice. I have closed my eyes to to his glaring "eye-beams" set out to steady and guide me along the way.

But slowly within the past few years I've stopped yammering and begun to listen more, glad that he's continued to listen to me. Squinting my eyes at my new surroundings I have stood up and moved toward creating a new foundation.

This journey has not been been easy. I have often stumbled over past regrets, future fears, present difficulties... not to mention anger and deep sorrow. But Basement Man/God keeps nudging me on.

So along with thousands of others I've decided to put what I hear, discover, feel and think down in print online. I don't know if anybody will read this stuff. I don't know >why< anybody would read this stuff! But it will be a nice way for me to store my thoughts for me as I stumble toward the Light.

Many of these thoughts/writings I will store here were written within the past few years as I was working things out... most of them contributions to an email list for parents who've lost children to cancer. I will date these entries as to when they were originally written with comments from the present on how things may have changed since the original writing.