5 Years - The Beginning
I can't believe it's been 3 years since I posted any writings. To say that life has been busy would be a major understatement. My family and I have gone through some major transitions including:
a continuing pandemic
learning about being a grafted family
birth of a grandchild
kids moving out
kids going to college
new frustrating medical diagnoses
And the list just keeps going. I have to remind myself that it's not irresponsible to miss writing and posting. There's been a lot going on! But that voice in my head that tells me I could always be spending my time better is hard to silence!
What finally broke through today was the thought that it's been 5 years since we were informed that Joni's treatment options had been all but exhausted. It was the beginning of the end. We didn't think of it like that, of course. We held on for a miracle and believed it would be possible even when things looked the most dire. In hindsight, that October 2018 appointment really was the start of Joni's final steps toward Heaven.
And here I am five years later feeling like it just recently happened. I've said it before: grief is no respecter of time. I remember my friend Thomas telling me about his grief for his mom popping up 6 years after the loss and feeling like it had just happened. Our family grief counselor said the same thing.
By some accounts, five years is a long time.
"Whoa! I've been with the company for 5 years!"
"My last kid moved out five years ago."
"I'm in high school now! Just five years ago I was in elementary school!"
"We went on a trip to Hawaii five years ago."
But for other things, five years is nothing. The amount of growth and healing that my family and I have experienced in that time is nothing short of astounding. We wouldn't be where we are without the love of friends & family, an amazing counselor, and our faith in Christ. So credit where credit is due. And without minimizing that experience, it still feels like our loss was so recent.
It's true: things that used to make me cry when I thought about them frequently make me smile now. Those little memories that are so precious. But I still cry. It's especially hard this time of year. Whether the grief exists in our awareness or not, our nervous system remembers. My body and subconscious will feel the change in seasons - the temperature getting colder, the leaves changing, the Halloween decorations showing up. My heart will be melancholy sometimes for no reason. My temper might get shorter. These are all things that are tied to our experiences. Just like how we feel like watching movies, reading books, or playing games during certain seasons, so too does emotional response appear.
I started watching season 11 of The Great British Baking Show recently because it felt cozy and comforting. In this season is a contestant (Tasha) with a cochlear implant who has a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter. She's doing really well so far and I just keep thinking about how proud Joni would be for her. Joni loved American Sign Language and was actually rather fluent, although she always downplayed it...because of course she did.
If Joni were here she would be watching, smiling, cheering, and probably tearful at Paul Hollywood's praise. She would also be raptly watching the interpreter to see how he was signing different words or phrases, comparing them to ASL, and deciding whether or not she would have interpreted the word correctly even without hearing the audio. "I could probably carry on a conversation in ASL with someone who spoke BSL, sure!" (If you knew Joni, you know exactly how she'd say that.) I have gotten tearful every time the contestant, Tasha, does well and I realized it was because of that sign language connection.
With the horrific recent attacks on Israel, I know Joni would be grieved. She and I both had/have a special place in our hearts for Israel and the Jewish people. To see these atrocities would have left her speechless at first, then outraged, then motivated to action. She would figure out what she could do to help and make a difference. Not just where she could donate clothes or money, but really personalize it. "How could I raise peoples' awareness and get them thinking rather than just being another voice? How could I have an impact in my circle that might cause ripples of change?"
When she got cancer, she didn't rush out and buy pink ribbons or Cancer Sucks bumper stickers. She spoke about the promises of God, she was vulnerable with her feelings, she looked for the humor, she chose to write about her own experiences as a way of helping others identify and learn from her experience. It was never enough for her to just have an opinion (and she had many) - she wanted to make a difference.
I still miss her and yes, I know I always will. Our family and the people whose lives we intersect will be touched by Joni whether they knew her or not. The Bentley family was forever altered by her presence, personality, and passion. If I don't know you, the fact that you are reading these words means you too have been touched by Joni. And I hope that you, like me, will be forever changed for the better because of encountering her.