One of the first images to enter my slowly awakening consciousness this morning was a picture featured in a FaceBook memory — the ones they throw at you randomly out of nowhere.
When I saw it, so many memories surfaced. I guess that’s what FaceBook is aiming for.
The summer before her 8th grade year, Charli dyed her hair with red Kool-Aid. We were sure since it was Kool-Aid, it would fade completely by the time school started. It didn’t. This was a problem because her school would not allow “unnatural” hair colors. I think her particular Kool-Aid red color was in fact a natural color for a Polly Pocket doll or My Little Pony. It just wouldn’t work for Mission Hills Christian School. A week before school, we were desperate. We washed it with various detergents and even tried coloring over it. It was still a very “unnatural” pinkish red. We had to cut it. SHORT. So not only did she have an UBER-short haircut not completely unlike that of PeeWee Herman back in the day, it was almost black due to the dye we’d used to color over the pink. Charli had the best attitude ever, “It’s just hair. It will grow back.”
The picture was taken with her new haircut while sitting at a sleek glass desk we’d purchased for $15 at GoodWill to transform part of her closet into a study space, complete with New York City skyline lampshade and Ed Sheeran pillowcase wall decor. So much fun executing the closet makeover. She loved it!
All those memories…but here’s what took my breath away. Charli’s silhouette in this picture bears a striking resemblance to one of my favorite pictures of Chandler, contemplative, the sun illuminating his face. Charli is inextricably linked to Chandler — in his life and now in his death.
Last night, I completed a survey for Charli’s school counselor. Honestly, it’s hard for me not to just brag obnoxiously about my daughter. I tried to stay on point. One of the questions was, “What event has been most impactful during your student’s high school career?” Charli had to answer the same question on her survey. We didn’t compare notes but, as you can guess, had similar answers.
I won’t tell Charli’s story, but I can tell mine. I have seen my daughter witness her brother suffering what no one should ever have to suffer. I have seen her grapple with the reality of her brother not coming through that front door, strolling into the kitchen for a snack, and talking to Charli while she does her homework til the wee morning hours. I have seen her examine her experience, and Chandler’s experience, in the light of years of Christian education, church attendance, and bedtime prayers to begin formulating her own worldview. The faith she will have on the other side of this will be her own. I have seen her loosen her grip on things that before Chandler’s death would have been a source of considerable anxiety. I have see her internalize the lesson we all learned after December 15 — the best gift you can give is to be present for people, to love them, wherever they are on their journey.
Chandler was so proud of Charli. He loved that she spoke her mind, that she played hard on the field or on the court, that she questioned and did not accept everything at face value. That she thought deeply about things that matter.
These two silhouettes. Separated for now. But not forever.