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Acceptance on the Sugar Creek Greenway

October 13, 2012

So much has happened in the past few months and it is not that I haven’t wanted to blog, but I’ve just had trouble finding a window to do so. Last night, we had a fun firepit cookout with a new friend and fellow widower, Jerel Law (and family). Although Jerel and I just met for lunch for the first time a couple of weeks ago, as it turns out, we have a lot in common. For starters, we both grew up in Raleigh, went to Broughton High School, then Chapel Hill, got married, and moved to Charlotte. We also both love writing (Jerel is working on his third novel) and are single-dads with three kids. Jerel went to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (where I am taking two online classes now) and is a pastor of a church plant in Huntersville, on the north side of Charlotte. Jerel is a few years older, so although we have many common friends, we have never met until now. Anyway, just an example of one of the many neat connections God has put in my path these days.

To give you an update, the past few months since Sydney’s death anniversary have really been about acceptance for me. Although I knew Sydney was gone, I think somewhere inside of me I was expecting to be able to get back on the track of my old life. I think I thought I would go back to work in the financial industry, and things would be more or less the same, except for a big hole it in. But, what I’ve come to accept is, “nothing is the same.” That hole affects everything, and the life I was leading is now gone and must be reformed from the ground up.

So, it is no longer a question of what my career path should, or can be. Playing the hand I’ve been dealt requires me to look at my primary responsibility, the kids, and put them first. Through much wrestling, I have come to the determination that they need more of me than I could give them if I were working now. They only have one parent, and I am it. So, I have decided to take the next few years and be a stay-at-home dad. I’m going to put work aside until the kids are off at school and a little more self-sufficient.

It was neat how God brought me to this realization. It was shortly after the first anniversary of Sydney’s death and something just hit me, which I would call another level of grief. For me, it seems these realizations are usually characterized by deeper and deeper understanding, acceptance, and internalization of the statement, “she is really really not coming back.”

Then there is a level of dying internally. Dying to the dream of my expectations and hopes. But, it is not a bitter dying, it is more of a letting go of something I now know is not meant to be. While it is a sad, there is a peace that comes with it and a sense that, despite the pain, it will be okay. So, as in all death-related grief, there is grieving the loss of the person, and then there is grieving the loss of each branch of the tree of ramifications created by their absence.

Anyway, I am home now and have cut Waverly’s hours in half, which seems to be a good balance for the family and for her. As I mentioned before, I am taking a few online classes at Gordon-Conwell, primarily to explore an interest I’ve had in Christian counseling. Also, it has been really healthy for me, in trying to begin to define “our new life” to have a new learning and growing experience to step into.

A neat outing we had last weekend serves as a great metaphor for my life recently. Last Saturday, we took bikes to Freedom Park and started down the newly improved Sugar Creek Greenway towards Midtown. It was absolutely gorgeous. Although Sydney and I lived for six years right by Freedom Park and we had been all over that area, I had never ridden bikes on this section of the greenway. As we headed down the creek bank through the familiar park, we crossed under East Boulevard, where Sydney and I had many many dates both pre- and post-kids. Then we scooted through the campus of CMC Main Hospital. We first went by the inpatient rehab center, where we first visited Dillon Hedspeth in his battle with ALS in the first few years of our marriage. Little did we know that Sydney would spend a few weeks there, on several occasions, as she fought to recover from nerve damage that took away her mobility.

Then, as the kids and I rode through the campus, we passed the main towers of CMC, where Sydney gave birth to our first baby, Vail. We brought her home on a snowy day in January, with ridiculous looking white knit clothes that were hilariously large for her little six pound premie body. And it was in this same tower, a handful of years later, Sydney would stay as we fought her brain tumor, as her symptoms became unmanageable from home. And on several occasions, when things were most tenuous, Sydney was moved to the top floors of the ICU, the place where she would eventually draw her last breath. Beyond the big towers, and above the high banks of the creek running beside the greenway was the Blumenthal Cancer Center, where we spent many many hours with her oncologist, discussing scans and treatments and getting infusions as well as consuming Starbucks and Chick-fil-a. And at the far end of the hospital was the ER, where some of the darkest moments of fear guided us to a place of desperation. She was admitted several times, when we weren’t sure if she would make it out.

But, on Saturday the sun was shining brilliantly and all the darkness of our hospital experience was blotted out by a warm and peaceful sunny day. And indeed, as we passed underneath Morehead Street, beyond the campus of CMC, up the hill of Harding Place, I could nearly see the KinderMourn house. This is the place we go on Monday nights for the kid’s group therapy. They bound across the threshold to the one place in the world where they are “normal”. They come out of their sessions with smiles and snacks and stories of new friends who have also lost “loved-ones”. I have a pile of collages and letters and crafts made in honor of Sydney, collected from KinderMourn, as the kids are encouraged to work their grief out with their hands.

Then, on the other side of Morehead, as the greenway rose out of the creek bottom to higher ground, we began to follow along parallel to Kings Drive. We past Maharani, the first Indian restaurant Sydney and I ever ate at. This began an obsession that led us to try many many Indian restaurants in remote parts of Charlotte. We then took a break at the new water feature in the Midtown park, just long enough for the kids to cool off and Boone and Haven to fully soak their clothes and shoes. I sat on a park bench across from one of Sydney’s favorites – Great Harvest Bread, not far from Baskin Robbins, the object of one of her dominant pregnancy cravings.

Then, as we approached the skyline of downtown and I thought of how many hours and years I spent working in those buildings, it occurred to me that while all of these places were so familiar, I was experiencing them in a completely unique way, from a completely new vantage point. I no longer saw these landmarks in the same light; they evoked very different emotions and thoughts.

And it occurred to me that this was a great metaphor for the life I now live. In some ways it is very familiar and an extension of my life before Sydney’s death. Many of the people and places, the raw materials, if you will, are the same. But in another way, her absence has triggered a massive shift in my perspective and experience, much like the Sugar Creek Greenway, which travels through common landmarks, but below or beside the familiar routes. This creates a sort of new dimension, a new perspective, a new experience, a new life. And it’s not that the old life is gone. It is still there and it shapes the current experience. They are distinct, but also, they are part of the same story.

From → Stories

  1. Rebecca Lumsden permalink

    I still continue to be amazed at your strength and strong faith. Your words are tender when you speak of Sydney and your family. Most importantly, you know how blessed you still are. So many of us that read your words are encouraged and uplifted with experiences and trials we are going through in our lives. Thank you for sharing. God is good!

  2. Sadee permalink

    So, so good to hear from you. Thank you, Todd. Praying for you guys today!

  3. Tish permalink

    Such a powerful piece!! Yes, life looks different now, but through Sydney and you, I see life for what it should be! Thank you!

    Much love,


  4. Paula Long permalink

    How I do love hearing from you. You are constantly in my prayers and a great inspiration to me when I oftentimes sweat the small things in life. Bless you, Paula long.

    You did indeed inherit your mom’s ability to make a difference in my life.

    Sent from my iPhone

  5. Missy Highsmith permalink

    Great interpretation and symbollism of the journeys your family has travelled. Thankful your children will be able to have such great reference to their wonderful Mother through your written words. How special that they will someday see that bike ride you all took as a journey of their parents evolution, when they are ready.

  6. Mimi permalink

    Todd you always seem to tell it so well. You bring me to tears with every read. Partly because you write so well and partly because I just miss the angel you married so much. I am so impressed with how well you can communicate your thoughts and I am thankful to be a part of your mailings. Much love to you all XO Mimi

  7. Tate Garrison permalink


    Truly beautiful. I remember the changes I noticed with the anniversary of both my Mom and Tempie’s deaths. you look at the world differently. just as you have described – very touching.


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