Wednesday, June 22, 2016
The Longest Night
I had some grand plans over the weekend to write up my posts in advance for this week. I had several post topics in mind: a Father's Day reflection on masculinity (inspired by a book I read last month), a sweet little tribute to my husband reflecting on our eight years of marriage together (Monday was our anniversary), a half-year update on my New Year's resolutions...
But then this weekend happened, with a Phone Call on Friday night. One of those Phone Calls. The kind you spend your whole life dreading, but never, actually, really believe will happen to you. The kind of Phone Call that turned Friday night into the longest night of my life.
I've spent most of my time since Friday night debating about how or what or whether to share this experience here because, a.) so much of the story really isn't mine (it is my in-laws story, and I don't want to overstep or overshare), but also b.) how do you even begin to write about being this close to a miracle?
But for better or for worse, writing is how I process things, and this story needs some processing. Also, even though this is a book blog, much of the rest of my life shows up here, and it would feel a bit disingenuous to keep on posting more trivial things right now before acknowledging the magnitude this weekend had on our family. I suppose this post will still be a (belated) Father's Day post, but mostly as a tribute to my wonderful father-in-law.
My husband's father, mother, younger brother, and youngest sister spent last week on a service vacation in Roatan Hoduras. They were volunteering with a group of dentists who travel there every other year to provide dental services to the local population, but in their off hours they got to enjoy all the amenities of resort life on a Caribbean island. This was their second time traveling with the group, and it sounded like a completely dreamy vacation.
But on Friday night, a little after 8 PM, my husband's phone rang. He was surprised but excited to see his Dad's number show up on the screen (he's always happy to hear from his Dad). It wasn't his Dad on the line, but his younger brother Kyle, calling to inform us that earlier that afternoon, the four of them had been out snorkeling in the bay, and somehow my father-in-law had been separated from the group and swept out to sea in a strong current just off the coast. When last seen, he was still in the water, but had been tethered to a kayak. He was not wearing a life-vest. Search boats had been sent out, but darkness fell early (around 6 PM) and the search had been called off for the night. He'd been missing for a little over three hours, and the search would not resume likely until 6 AM the next morning.
I don't want you to even try to imagine what it's like to receive a phone call like that. If you've never been in a position to get that call, pray that you never are. Just understand that it was completely devastating. Obviously, my husband took it the hardest. He has such a fantastic and close relationship with his father, and this news hit very, very hard. He felt helpless, being so far away and unable to comfort his mother and siblings, unable to aid in the search efforts. Needless to say, he got very little sleep that night.
I felt a little bit helpless as well, trying to process my own grief, but also understanding that as in-law and wife, my role was to comfort and support as much as possible, and feeling like I wasn't doing a very good job of that. Physically I was in my own rough place with morning sickness (which, FYI, emotional stress only exacerbates), and since my nausea meds make me drowsy I fell asleep a little after midnight. I already suffer from vivid and strangely horrifying pregnancy dreams (a few weeks ago it was the zombie apocalypse, I've never had such a terrifying dream in my life), but every time I woke up from a dream that night, reality was far, far more horrifying. My father-in-law was still missing at sea, and nobody could look for him till morning.
But here is where I have a word to say about hope, because even in the extremity of our longest night, all hope was not lost. First of all, circumstances were in our favor. We learned that about a year ago, an 18-year old boy had been swept out to sea in a kayak off the same beach, in the same current, and after spending 15 hours at sea, was rescued alive and well the next morning. As long as my father-in-law managed to stay with his kayak, his chances were good. The weather was calm. The water was warm. It was close to a full moon. He just had to stay afloat for the night.
But beyond those hopeful circumstances, there was the profound peace and hope of God's love. Within hours of receiving the phone call, the news had spread through social media and email, and hundreds, if not thousands, of family and friends were praying and pleading with God for a successful search and rescue the following morning. The support that poured in was truly overwhelming, and a beautiful thing to witness. We spent our own hours on our knees, praying and pleading for miracles, and in return we received the peace and assurance that all would be well (not necessarily that he would be found alive, but that all would be well). It was that feeling, along with our faith in God and the blessing of eternal families, that got me through the night.
Around 7:30 the next morning, we started receiving text updates about the search progress from my mother-in-law. I held my breath every time the phone dinged, knowing this could be the text with THE news. My husband and I laid in bed together monitoring the phone while my sweet mother (who is in town to help while I weather the worst of the morning sickness), took care of our boys. Finally, at 8:30, the phone dinged, and my husband read the text aloud, "They've found him!" We quickly texted back one question, "Is he alive?" She texted back one word:
I cried harder then than at any point in the previous night. He was alive. After 16 hours alone at sea, my father-in-law had been found alive. I can't even describe the joy, the relief, and the utter disbelief we experienced. It was incomprehensible. It was a miracle. There is no other word for it. It was a miracle.
There are so many other sides to this story (my father-in-law's being the most interesting, and which we were privileged to hear from his own mouth via video conference on Sunday afternoon), and many details I haven't shared here due to their personal and sacred nature. But what I do want to share is my profound gratitude for the love and support of all the wonderful people in our lives, and especially for the love of God. We have been through the longest night, a night when what was precious to us was lost, a night when nothing at all was certain, and reason to hope was very small. We spent the night in tears, on our knees. But for whatever reason, we were blessed with joy in the morning.
I will be forever grateful to be witness to this miracle.