This is the writing I shared last Saturday, July 25th, in Ashland, Oregon, at the profoundly moving re-commitment ceremony of my dear friends, Victoria and Andrew Markham. Three years after the tragic death of their beloved, second born, 3.5-year-old son, Koa Nakai, they made a bold and brave choice to publicly re-commit to each other, "tying the double knot" in marriage. With their original anniversary falling on his birthday in September, they decided to create a new anniversary to celebrate, inviting their whole community to gather in honor of their love, their 16-year marriage and beautiful family, naming the ceremony "Love Embracing Loss."
On June 10th, 2012, Koa had run up behind his mother's car as she returned home down the driveway, and she did not see him. As she pulled into her parking space, he was struck by the rear tire of her car, and his body thrown into a nearby rock, whereby he suffered a fatal head injury. He died in her arms only minutes later, with his 6-year-old older brother present. Needless to say, losing their precious child was the ultimate test on every level of life. For a long time they did not know if they would make it as a family, or as a couple. With divorce being a remarkably common result for couples who lose a child, Victoria and Andrew take a courageous stand for love, allowing their ceremony and their marriage to serve as a public declaration of YES to love and life in spite of loss.
I am profoundly moved and deeply inspired, as I know we all are, to stand in community and witness this courageous, generous, and utterly faithful moment along the path of your love. I see this ceremony as not only a chance for us all to witness and celebrate your perseverance and re-commitment to your marriage; but also as a generous invitation from you, to all of us, to re-commit to the possibility of radically choosing love in the face of the inevitable, ongoing loss this life delivers.
I've been blessed, as so many of us in your community have, to intimately witness you as a couple in this powerful chapter following the death of your sweet, Beloved Koa. In the wake of such an unfathomable, devastating loss, I've borne witness to moments of breathtakingly tender love and devotion between you, and I've witnessed moments of excruciating tension, distance and doubt between your hearts, not knowing if you could find your way back to some semblance of wholeness in your marriage, your family, your home, your very relationship to love and life.
Marriage is an incredibly challenging path for most of us who embark upon it, even without the harrowing and deeply stressful impact of tragic loss. Reckoning with our immense differences, with the ways in which we organically evolve in different directions over the years, most of us can't help but struggle inside ongoing challenges of professional, financial, romantic and parenting concerns. And yet for a marriage struck by the tragic loss of a child, there is clearly that much more added stress, strain and pain to navigate both individually and together. I've stood by in prayer, as I sense so many of us have, knowing the "statistics" around marriages falling apart after the loss of a child, and the reality of what it would take for you to find a true way to show up to marriage in the face of such grief, and such utterly transformed hearts.
There were two moments I witnessed in your marriage that I will never forget for as long as I live. Both of them were such riveting transmissions of courage, devotion and faith. The first was at the memorial ceremony only 6 days after Koa's death. After you had come back from the burial up in the mountains, you returned to where we were all still gathered, in heartbroken awe and stunned grief. And Victoria, I watched as you reached for Andrew's hand, and said these simple words out loud: "Come Love, let's go eat." I sat nearby witnessing, and my heart was pierced by these simple, mundane and yet immensely powerful words, by this gesture of your hand reaching for his, by this willingness to go and receive food together in the midst of such pain; to take the next step in saying YES to life together, even if your hearts were broken beyond recognition. I remember feeling dumbfounded awe in the face of your grace.
And the second moment was about 6 weeks later, when many of us gathered again on this land, in co-creation of a healing ritual for you, Victoria. The air was thick with immeasurable grief and the space between you as a couple felt understandably ruptured by what was so immensely broken in your family. The ritual we had envisioned for Victoria included the creation of a stone labyrinth for her to walk, as a symbolic representation of initiation through this loss, into death and eventual re-emergence into life. And I watched, alongside all of us who were present, as you, Andrew, clearly wrought with your own unfathomable grief, literally moved heavy stone boulders, your body glistening with sweat, in the living ACTION of your devotion to your beloved wife and her healing process. I remember taking in this sight, and my eyes filling with tears, so moved to receive this transmission of true love. In the midst of immense grief, these clear actions of selfless love. So breathtaking and astonishing.
Recently I heard brilliant author Brene Brown say: "Our capacity for whole-heartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be broken-hearted." Yes, and I believe the whole-heartedness of a marriage is realized, continuously, inside our courageous willingness to navigate our broken-heartedness within it: to actually dive fearlessly into what has broken beyond repair, what has died, what is gone and not coming back; and to be open to see what remains, what was in truth unbreakable, as well as what wants to rise anew, continuously, like a phoenix from the ashes, as a fresh testimony to faith, to life, and to the resilience of love.
And I love Glennon Doyle Melton's provocative words: "Unless you bear witness to the truth, unless you face it head on and choose to open your heart to the pain, you won't bear witness to the miracle either. If you run away from the crucifixion, you just might miss the resurrection." What I see, Victoria and Andrew, is that you have bravely opened again and again to the heart of pain of what life has delivered you. And in this willingness to actually be crucified by your own broken-hearted grief, by the immense vulnerability and hopelessness that has come with the challenge of such a loss, without any promise of what that crucifixion would lead you to, it has somehow lead you to this day and what this day stands for; this sacred possibility of resurrection, of rebirth, and renewed vows.
Think of all the losses Life asks us as human beings to face -- the loss of our beloveds we hold so dear, the loss of relationships, the loss of work, of security; the loss of health, the loss of youth. Finally we are all asked, sooner or later, to face the loss of our own lives. Life brings us to our knees in humility with the ferocity of all it takes from us. And yet Life also brings us to our knees in the Grace of this Love that can never be lost, is in fact the very truth of who we are, as well as this which can be continuously chosen, aligned with, and surrendered to.
Humbled by all the choiceless losses life includes, we get to choose Love, again and again. What a miracle it is: this fleeting chance we have to truly live, to hurt, to break and to heal; to love hugely and fiercely, in the face of all the forces that threaten to annihilate this love. We extend our hand for love, we weep and grieve and fight for love; we laugh and dance and sweat for love. We get to choose to have faith in this LOVE that holds us, inspires us, challenges, dares and beckons us, while breaking our hearts always wider open.
What a miracle is this chance we have: to keep on loving right through the wound of the broken heart.
Thank you so much, dear Victoria and Andrew, for showing us the way, for embodying and extending this invitation: to love this life and one another, not only in spite of the many losses by which Life continuously humbles us, but in seeing that to choose this love, this holy love, this is actually the very medicine needed and the greatest tool we are given in order to find our own courageous YES to Life.
Just as you showed us 3 years ago how to honor our beloved's passing from this world with immense beauty, naked grief, and unspeakable sacredness, now you show us the way of taking a passionate, fearless stand for this love that holds us through it all. And so we gather, gratefully following your lead, in sacred honor~ not only of you and your amazing marriage -- but in honor of this profound possibility alive inside of each of us: to renew, in this and every moment, our own vows of commitment: to love. Simply to love.
Thank you. I love you. We all love you.
In lieu of wedding gifts, the Markhams asked for donations towards a family Honeymoon, to make fresh memories of joy for their beautiful family. If you are inspired to send donations to the Markhams for their family Honeymoon, please do so through this site: http://www.gofundme.com/vsgrpg
To read more about Jesua, her writings, and her other offerings, please visit jesua.com