Ten Thousand Memories

Written by Adrienn Vasquez Painted by Anthony Vasquez


Some things that remind me of my mom:

the sweet smell of summer corn boiling,

the shape of my own feet,

Hotel California by the Eagles.

The cold, tense atmosphere of hospitals,

my sister’s face,

light-blue eyeliners,

the taste of black licorice,

my own mental battles.

After a lifetime of struggling with depression, my mom took her life on an autumn day 10 years ago. Did she take it? Did she lose it? Did she give it up? I was 23 then, a girl living abroad, studying, and trying to figure out the first messy years of marriage. I’m 34 now, and it’s still hard to say out loud what happened, and how it shattered my heart and shaped my life.

The only other person I’ve ever met whose mother committed suicide was a nurse who took my vitals at a doctor’s office when I was pregnant with my daughter. I felt an instant connection to her and wished I could have stayed there to talk. Please, help me, please, tell me how you do it. How do you get through life without a mother? Will it always hurt this much? Will I always feel like an uprooted tree?

When other people are hurting, it’s easy to give the good theological answers for pain, anguish, evil in the world. When you are the one going through the valley of the shadow of death, though, when you are the one feeling like life is squeezing you so hard you can’t breathe anymore and you have no idea where God is, these familiar answers, true as they may be, won’t satisfy the heart.

What’s so hard about grief is re-imagining the future without the person we lose, then actually living through each new stage of life without them. From a motherless daughter I eventually became a motherless mother and was desperately overwhelmed by going through this profound experience without my own mom. I had loving and great family members and friends around me but no one should or can fill the space a mother leaves. No one looks at you the same way, no one strokes your hair with the same ease, no one wants to listen to your breastfeeding woes for a month.

In the last decade I have asked God WHY? a million times in a million situations. Why me? Why my mom? Why did it end like this? Why did she have the struggles she did? Why weren’t there more resources available? Why couldn’t she make a different choice? Why did You not save her life? Why isn’t she here to love my kids? Why did You allow for my heart, my family’s heart to break like this? Why, why, why? I’ve been back and forth more times than I care to admit, asking these questions and explaining to myself what I know of God’s goodness, His sovereignty, His love, of the freedom He gave us, and of the tragic consequences of living as sinful people in a world full of brokenness. It makes sense, but in the end my heart is never stilled for long.

In the waves of this tragedy, I never questioned if God existed, but I started wondering what kind of a God He was. What kind of a Father lets His daughter die like this, hopeless, sick, terrified, and lets her children go through the cruel, lonely, gut-wrenching reality of picking up the pieces and moving on abandoned. I didn’t read A Grief Observed by C S Lewis until a couple years ago. I felt hot tears running down my face when I discovered these words, expressing exactly what I had come to realize in my own thoughts: “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not “So there’s no God after all,' but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.” How could I possibly put my trust in Him again, put my heart in His hands again? If He’s good, and loving, and all-powerful and things like this can happen under His watch, I better guard myself.

And this is it. Trust. It comes down to trust. For so long I’ve been living in constant caution and fear, pretending that I can cover my heart with bubble wrap to protect it from any further possibilities of shattering. I’ve been withholding my trust, afraid that if I give my all, He will play a cruel trick on me again. I’ve been following Him to the end of the world with a thin, invisible wall around my heart.

Oh, but I am exhausted of holding back and doubting my Father’s love. I’m tired of hesitating and questioning. I’m tired of the whispers I know all too well: “Don’t you remember how He abandoned you? Don’t you know you are not safe with Him? You can ask and pray as much as you want, in the end He’ll just do whatever He wants.” I long for the intimacy of trusting Him fully with childlike abandon, trusting that His heart is for me no matter what happens.

Recently a counselor prayed with me and helped me ask Jesus where He was when my mom died. I needed Him to talk to my heart when my mind has grown so numb to the answers I kept repeating to make sense of the pain. She helped me question the lies I’ve unconsciously come to believe: that He turned his face, that He was absent, that evil was victorious that day.

In my mind I saw Him hold my mom’s lifeless body at the end, forgiving her, and I saw Him shielding me as I received the most terrible phone call of my life. I saw Him in the room, I felt His presence. I choose to believe these images because I asked Him to talk to me and because they are in line with His character, with His heart. I saw Him as the One experiencing all the sins and all the consequences of these sins, all the brokenness of my life and my mom’s. The only One who’s ever been abandoned by the Father, the only One He turned His face from was Jesus.

For so long I didn’t know how to include God in this story. But I’m learning to tell it differently now—a story of His faithfulness to me, to us in the deepest darkness. I see His gentleness, His constant presence, His peace slowly wash over this picture like a layer of opaque paint, I see it run into the deep, sharp cracks and fill them up. Walking with me in the valley, coming around me, the same God every single day of my life. And I can say that even when these incomprehensible, terrible things happened, I am confident that He was with me and He was with my mom.

And that changes everything.

Adrienn Vasquez

Our Father's Name

by Anthony Vasquez

Our family has now been in India for a couple of months, and it has been an amazing experience. All the adjustments that one person or family has to make: for instance, learning how to fairly bargain with most merchants or how to best avoid stomach issues by learning the right way to clean produce. We have experienced so many practical aspects of adjusting to life in India that I sometimes wonder if we are being stretched or just broken into different pieces. It’s often said that by moving into a new culture, you learn more about yourself than you thought you ever would or would want to. Indeed, there are so many ways that the Lord reveals Himself to us.

For me, transitioning our life has revealed a life-long pain that I have always wished would go away. Growing up in a broken home, I always struggled with the harsh reality of not having my father around. Despite all of our attempts to reconcile our relationship, there is still a lack in my life and residual pain.  Now, here in India, on any official documentation, a person needs to sign, there is always a line after your name where you must provide your father’s name. Even for our Indian peers, the amount of documentation the government requires is comical.

And so after signing a rental agreement, one notes his or her father’s name. After registering as a foreigner, one notes his or her father’s name.  After registering at the local police office, one notes his or her father’s name.  After signing for one’s child’s school application, one notes his or her father’s name. After opening up a new bank account, one notes his or her father’s name. After signing up for a new phone plan, one notes his or her father’s name. You get the picture: it goes on and on.

After the third time I had to take note of my father’s name, my heart began to scream. Wait a second.  My father has nothing to do with this. I am getting this done, I am my own, and he has nothing to do with any of this. And each new time I had to acknowledge my father’s name, the Spirit pressed into me and called for repentance of my own blackened heart. I began to ask others why there is such a need to identify one’s father’s name on all official documentation. I quickly learned that individuality is not a virtue in this culture, as it seems to be in Western cultures. In this culture, the family system is an integral aspect of one’s identity, community is valued and prioritized over the individual, and fathers bear responsibility in practical and symbolic ways that can be both positive and beautiful reminders that we belong to someone. I seriously thought that, for the most part, I would be helping people see the powerful truth about ideas having consequences. But, instead, God has revealed a piece of my broken heart and all the pain that still resides through an idea in this culture and probably in many more cultures around the world. We belong to someone, to each other, to family, to parents, and there is more weight to that than the individualistic culture that I grew up in. I thank our Lord for this beautiful aspect of India. He is my father, I have a father, and I am a father.

I will paint all this pain.