Sunday, May 20, 2012

Unexpected Blessings

Part of me wanted to shut down this weekend.  Close myself off and ignore the events taking place.  To be alone in my sadness. 

I'm so grateful I didn't.

I've learned through this grief journey that some things are meant to be shared.  Certainly there is a time to be alone.  Tears need to have a place to fall in comfort.  Solitude in grief, for me, has brought me closer to God.  It is in those moments that I draw close to Him.  But being with others, especially for milestone moments, brings much needed support too.  And support is something that was given us to us tenfold this weekend.

Friday night would have been Austin's high school graduation.  Until this week, we had no plans to attend.  It just seemed to painful to face.  And now, looking back at the night, I don't know how we would have survived it any other place.  I'm not saying it wasn't difficult and didn't require extensive leaning on God and constant prayer, but the blessings received from the night - and the obvious presence of Austin - was worth every tear.

My biggest concern was Noah.  I didn't want him to experience anymore pain than his little heart already had.  But Shain and Austin's other classmates took him right under their wings, like the true Eagles and friends they were, and made him feel a part of their group.

When we first arrived, I lingered for a moment in the classroom, but quickly saw he was comfortable and would be ok.  I left him to find seats enough to accommodate our group.  He texted me a few times prior to the ceremony beginning and, despite the reason he was there, seemed to be having a good time.  I will forever be grateful to those boys, and know Austin would've been beyond touched to see them honoring him in this way.  We were very proud of Noah for wanting to do this for Austin, the way he carried himself throughout the night, and for the special person he is.

When the sea of graduates filed in front of us, I braced myself.  Knowing Noah was in the front row, part of me wondered if I could and would remain for the entire procession.  And then I noticed sweet surprises sprinkled among the caps, and grown but familiar faces of the Austin's friends, many of whom shared moments and memories with us through his childhood.

Tab - Austin's initials
I saw Austin's Legacy logo actually before graduation even began.  It was atop the head of a beautiful classmate, who had been in school with Austin all the way from the beginning.  An elementary pal, but not even a friend that I knew well.  Knowing that she remembered Austin and wanted him recognized in this way absolutely touched my heart. 

Looking for her in the crowd to show Tim, my eyes fell upon a butterfly. It was directly in front of me, though rows away.  I don't know who's cap it was but the fact that she sat within my view was enough.  My Austin was sending me one of many signs that night, letting me know he was there.  Hugging me from above.

My "Faithful Friday" scripture was focused on Joshua 1:9, and beginning Wednesday, it was prayerfully repeated and on my heart.  As the valedictorian began her speech, she quoted this same scripture.  Yet another hug.  The co-valedictorian mentioned Austin by name, as well as another classmate lost too soon.  I realized that night - this class of 2012 was bookended by student deaths.  My Austin their freshman year and Jake Baize their senior. 

Though my eyes were cloudy with tears and distracted from attempting to record Noah's walk across, I caught glimpses of students - Austin's best friends - standing in ovation for him.  All of this, in addition to the many texts, calls, hugs and outpouring of support from friends and family made this night more of a blessing than the painful milestone I expected.

And what is even more touching is that it didn't end on Friday. 

Saturday afternoon we received a call from our pastor's family, inviting us to their son's graduation party.  Not wanting Austin to be left out, they asked us to be a part of their celebration.  And they offered to release balloons in memory of him.  Though it was - and is - a gesture we will forever treasure, we declined.  Their son David, much like Austin in his kindness and selflessness, deserved this night to be for him. 

Instead we opted for some therapy on the water.  I'm always at peace when surrounded by nature.  It seemed the perfect afternoon to take the boat out to fish.  Perhaps, in a way, we were trying to escape, but we were again given so many signs of Austin.   Stopping for ice and snacks, I picked up a paper to read in the boat.  I was surprised to find that Austin's story was the focus of the newspaper coverage for our county.

Messenger-Inquirer, Saturday May 20, front pg Region
Sunday our plans were again shifted, with yet another tribute for Austin.  Our church was holding a graduation service and wanted Austin to be a part of it.  I had originialy considered skipping the service, fearful it would be too difficult.  But God showed us, as he had all weekend, that we didn't need to retreat, but to be surrounded by friends and family.  And our new family, EHBC, touched our hearts again by making a donation to our scholarship fund in Austin's memory.

It was a weekend for and about Austin. 

Three and half years later, he is still remembered, loved and treasured by those who knew him, and even by those who did not.  Such a tribute to the legacy Austin left. 

His precious life, though here only a brief 14 years, made an impact that will forever live on.  And we are so honored to be given the gift that was and will always be....Austin.


Aleatha S. West said...

That was, without a doubt, the most beautiful thing I have ever read. Thank you for sharing, Heather. :)

Heather said...

How sweet of you. Thank you for reading.

Anonymous said...

I knew Austin from the ballgames.....thanks for sharing your story....he touched all who knew him!!!!

Heather said...

Thank you! Austin certainly did - and still does. He still has a way of smiling down and touching us all.

Brownie said...

I am so glad that through your grief you are seeing God's grace and love, and sharing that with us. How wonderful that he has placed such wonderful people around you!

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