When a married couple is suddenly faced with the loss of a child, the whole world around them becomes unpredictable. I know this because I’ve walked it.
A quick search on Google gives you something that looks like this:
Total openness here… I like things to be planned. Now, don’t get me wrong - I love all surprises (ask my husband Todd) but I really wish I was more of the “go with the flow” type. I like to know what to expect, when to expect it, and what will be happening along the way. I also like to organize things to happen in the way that I want them to. Controlling? Um… I don’t think so. But, if you ask my kids and husband they may have a different answer.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always tried to not let my feathers get ruffled when things don’t go the way I want them, but in the last few years those feathers have been ruffled, plucked, and thrown into the wind.
Unpredictable could have been exactly how people defined me and Todd after the loss of our daughter, Taylor. I should have posted a sign on the door that said “Enter at your own risk”. One day I would be unable to get out of bed, then the next day I had no tolerance for anything (noise, friends, food… you name it), and the next I would sob or bark at anyone that tried to help me. Oh, I was such a joy to be around. Not.
Photo: Victor Bezrukov (Flickr)
Like me, Todd was also unpredictable. One day he would be holding our family together with a smile on his face, and the next he’d be on the couch sobbing uncontrollably. We were a wreck. A mess. Absolutely, uncontrollably, unpredictable.
And our marriage? Well, that was something else altogether. We were on totally different grief paths and for the first time in my life I felt like Todd and I weren’t in sync. We were off the charts and in unknown territory. I was in a constant fog, and nothing like the Tara he’d married. Todd really probably thought he had lost his wife forever. And, in a way, he did lose me… the Tara he knew before March 14, 2010 was not the Tara I am now. I was different. Broken in a thousand tiny pieces. But I wanted to be glued back together.
How were we ever going to survive this?
Todd and I met our sophomore year at Texas A&M. In 1988, there were no cell phones so our generation’s texting was called “passing notes”. This cute, blue-eyed boy sat behind me and I passed him a note that said something silly, I’m sure. Knowing my goofy side it’s totally possible that it was one of those “check yes or no” notes. He flashed me the sweetest smile and I knew immediately that I wanted to spend more time with him.
That little note started a great friendship and over the course of our sophomore and junior years of college, we became each others’ “best buddy”. He was so fun to hang out with and I soon found out that Todd had a great sense of humor, a quick wit, and tons of friends. What I liked most was that the guy never took himself too seriously and his ability to make me laugh was seemingly effortless.
I loved how easily he made friends and was so incredibly smart and respected. We loved being together so much that we didn’t like being apart, so dating was the natural next step.
After a year of dating, he popped the question and in August of 1993 we got married. I couldn’t have been happier! Then, in 1996 I entered a new kind of happiness when our sweet Taylor was born, in 1998 Ryan, and in 2000 Peyton. Not only did I marry my best friend, we had three beautiful children. Our family fit together like a puzzle. Even when we took pictures together, we would fall into a big hug that fit together perfectly.
Never, ever, did we think we would lose one of our puzzle pieces.
But, March 2010, preceding the question, "Taylor is a beautiful candidate for organ donation, would you consider it?" our puzzle was thrown on the floor and shattered.
There are really no words to describe the rock Todd was for our family when we lost our sweet Taylor. I could fall into his arms and scream while he rocked me like a child. He was there, no matter what. You never know the type of person you’ve married until you face something really, really hard. The “for better or for worse” vow was tested big time.
Todd held us together as best as he could in this time, but we knew we needed help. We were on different paths in our grief journey and we were trying to pull each other to either my side or his. It was a push-pull type of struggle. I wanted him to grieve like me and would be mad that he wasn’t.
One day we met with another couple who had walked this journey ahead of us and the advice they gave us truly changed our thinking. Their gentle advice was to “give each other the grace to grieve the way each other needs”. Seems like a simple thing to give someone mercy and grace, but grief can quickly become all-consuming that grace is hard to dish out even a little bit. So, if Todd needed to be surrounded by Taylor’s friends, I needed to let him do that even if that was super hard for me. If I needed to isolate myself from the world, he needed to let me do that even though that didn’t make sense to him. That little nugget of advice from a couple who walked in our shoes and have kept their marriage strong made the world of difference to us. It was so simple...how did we not know to do that? I’m not sure, but we weren’t doing it and it was hurting our marriage.
Do we still struggle with this balancing act of grief? Heck, yes. Do I still need to put up the “Enter at your own risk” sign on my door? Sometimes. Are we having more good days than bad? You bet!
When we were dating, he always did the little things that made my day from leaving me a note in unexpected pockets to surprise picnics that were nothing more than bagels and cream cheese. The little things meant so much and still do.
A little thing we do just to bring a smile to each other is that we have a “little guy”. Yes, that is his name, Little Guy. You see, Little Guy is a McDonald’s happy meal plastic character that one of our kids got years ago. I think it’s the Lava Girl doll from Shark Boy and Lava Girl (a kid movie from the ‘90s). This little doll is lovingly called Little Guy gets passed back and forth between us and ends up in the funniest places. I have been on a trip where I opened up my suitcase to find Little Guy buried in my clothes. Little Guy has shown up in Todd’s socks on a Saturday morning or in a suit pocket on a big meeting day. I imagine Todd at a presentation, reaching for his business card out of his suit pocket, and instead pulling out Little Guy; I can only giggle.
This little pink plastic toy has gone back and forth between us for years now. It all started just as a reminder to smile because someone you love is thinking about you. It’s the little things.
Todd and I are stronger now than ever. People ask us how that is. Maybe because we have been to rock bottom and crawled and scratched our way out of a dark pit together. We have our rocky moments and nothing is perfect, but we have fully surrendered our marriage over to God. HE has blessed us with the little things - sweet reminders of Taylor, laughter, incredible friends, and more.
We are fully aware that we are the most important role models for our children, Ryan and Peyton, of what a marriage looks like. We take that role very seriously and we do our best to show them in many ways how important they are to us. But mostly, we do that by showing them that Todd and I are incredibly important to each other. That kind of love will flow over to them.
That really goes against so much of what the world teaches us now, don’t you agree? Kids somehow start to rule the house and become the focal point in a marriage. It’s up to us to show them how to find real JOY. To create JOY by these three guidepoints: Jesus. Others. Yourself.
Love is hard. Love can be tested. Love is worth it.
We hope we are living proof to our children that beauty can come from ashes. And as hard as it is, we are glad our life is unpredictable. If we had it all planned out to the minute, what kind of ride would life be? I have been given a hefty dose - no, a huge ginormous scoop- of “out of control” and have become a better person because I’ve had to “go with the flow of God’s plan” and not adjusting it to be what I want.
God put us on this adventure and the unknown is scary even overwhelming at times... but this is where Faith comes in; trusting in the unseen and surrendering it all. And I mean ALL. Even our children. In reality, our children are on loan to us from God. They are His first and He is their most incredible parent.
We are surviving and even thriving as a family even though we never thought we could after losing Taylor.
And I can tell you from my heart that I wouldn’t want to be on this unpredictable adventure with anyone else but my precious husband, Todd Storch.
To learn more, please visit http://taylorsgift.org/ or you can get the award-winning book, Taylor's Gift, at any major book seller.