Grief & Restoration

I sit at my desk, bothered by the stagnancy of this space. My concentration is lost; my thoughts, scattered; my heart, shattered. I stare at the screen, the long list of to-do’s grappling with my attention. Yet, all I can do is stare, blankly. My productivity is shot. My mind is racing with the events of this past weekend. The intense joy, the overwhelming sorrow. The celebration and the loss. My emotions tug on my heart like a game that cannot be won. Jesus, you rose but here we are, fallen.

I cannot understand. How could this happen? Why would this happen?

On Saturday afternoon, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, between the death and the resurrection, life stole Dani Troyer’s last breath.

Just one week prior, in the overgrown grass, we sat face to face in her yard as the sun’s beams warmed her cheeks and she spoke life into her dreams, for herself and for her family. Full of energy and excitement, she cast vision over what was to come in this place she had learned to call home. I listened, encouraged by her spirit of motivation and her desire to pursue her God-given gift. Her talent and drive would, no doubt, push her forward and carry her far.

I had called her from the road on my way to her house, caught on the corner of the highway and a gravel street that looked like every other backroad. And I saw her appear, her mustard yellow top like a beacon to guide me, her smile like the sunshine.

The grief feels paralyzing. I didn’t even know her that well, but her bonds within this tiny little community were tethered with strength, her roots ran deep with honesty, and her impact made great with vulnerability.

Even now, the use of past tense verbs pains me.

Just for a moment, I want to sit in this sadness, to wonder, to question. The doubts—those are present too.

My flight arrived into Nashville and I had a 4-hour drive to dwell in this space. Spring had blossomed in the ten short days I had been gone, yet all I could see was winter. How could I relish in this seasonal shift when the air felt so cold, and the skies looked so grey?

I still don’t have the answers.

The day before she passed, Dani wrote these words:

“It’s Friday.

Most of us will gloss this day over. We will look to Sunday. But, can I confess? Good Friday is one of my favorite days of the church year. It’s our invitation to sit in the grief, in the fear, in the doubt, to let them take up space.

Because, Mary, the first preacher of the resurrection, she didn’t know about Sunday. She only knew Friday when she watched her friend being murdered.

John, the one who knew Jesus loved him so, he didn’t know for sure if Sunday would come. Instead, he stood under the weight of grief on Friday.

Everyone, the whole crowd who’d begun to believe this revolutionary Rabbi, they felt it all crash to the ground on Friday. They didn’t know about the rolled away stone yet. They couldn’t see what was coming.

Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. So, we get to live with Sunday, with the hope and joy. But, maybe it would do us all a bit of good to sit in Friday’s grief.

Because, without Friday, we don’t get to be Sunday people, Resurrection people. Without the grief, we don’t get the restoration.”

Without the grief, we don’t get the restoration.

Ironic, no. Timely, indeed. Prophetic, I believe so. Her words linger. Could she have foreseen her fate, that Jesus would call her home only 24 hours later? Had God given her a glimpse of Glory?

Though the sun has set, her legacy lives on; her impact, overwhelming. There are not enough words to justify the gravity of this loss.

So, for now, I’ll leave these images here, to exist in the threshold of sorrow and to honor a life that was not meant to be taken so soon. Dani, may we someday experience this restoration in your ever-present absence.

Dani left behind her beloved husband and her two precious boys. Please consider donating to their family to cover the cost of expenses in the days, weeks, and months to come.

April 23, 2019 – by Lauren Neal

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Photography & storytelling with purpose
Feet in Cincinnati, Heart in Haiti