Early Thursday morning (South Africa time), November 29, I got one of the hardest phone calls, and most dreaded when you live overseas. My dad called me and said, "Baby, I've got some bad news to tell you..."
To be real honest, my mind immediately went to my three remaining grandparents. I expected him to tell me one of them had left us, or even that one of our old dogs had left us. I never, in my wildest dreams, expected him to tell me what he did.... "Allison's gone."
My mom, Michelle, is the oldest of three, strong-willed, independent, Loper women. Jennifer is the middle child; sweet, obedient, helpful, and only slightly less stubborn than her sisters. And then there was Allison; sassy, push-every-button, joyful, and far more strong-willed than anyone knew what to do with. She had turned 50 years old earlier this year, on her Dad's birthday. And now, suddenly, this key part of our family puzzle, was ripped from it's place. No one could prepare us for that.... especially not the way it all happened.
I didn't ask a lot of details when Dad called. Mostly, I was in shock and trying to make sense of it all. But I could also hear him choking up on the other end and wanted to end the struggle for him as well. Quickly he told me that Autrey, my uncle and Allison's husband, had taken her life from us; that he was at the hospital being evaluated for mental health issues; that Sydney, my cousin & Allison's only biological child, was staying with my grandparents until further notice; and that the police would let us know when we could schedule a funeral. That was more than enough information for my head to swim in. I hung up the phone with Dad, hearing Mom's weak voice in the background, and collapsed in tears and prayers that only my soul could translate.
I think all "expats" have the same fear.... the phone call letting you know someone you love has passed while you were far, far away. But I don't believe anyone even knows to fear a call like this, a pain like this. Slowly, the news spread not only across the state my family lives in (thanks to news teams), but across this sweet city that I live and serve in 11 months of the year. By God's grace and mercy, I don't know that there was more than an hour since the call hit that I wasn't with someone who was praying with me, listening to me, loving on me, messaging me, or just being Jesus with skin on for me as I walked blindly through the days ahead.
Very quickly, my family helped me reschedule my Christmas trip home, moving it forward 2 weeks in hopes of making the funeral. My friends and co-servers in Jbay helped me orchestrate a miracle of loops to get rent (and other bills) paid early, school obligations taken care of, church things taken care of, and fish babysat so that I could leave as soon as possible. Even with all the help, I still missed the funeral. I was in an airplane over the continent of Africa when it occurred. (needless to say, it was a hard trip) But I was able to be home in my parents' arms and surrounded by others who knew and loved my aunt, Allison, by Tuesday night of the following week.
It's still a daily journey into grief for all of us, emotions always coming in waves and triggered by random things all the time. But we're here together. And that's a blessing I couldn't be more thankful for.