Something I enjoy, that I don’t have much time for these days, is antiquing. Wandering through those shops, reminiscing about items on the shelves gathering dust that were once in my room, brand new and valued, conjures up memories, some good and some better left forgotten, but all the same, I enjoy it. Never do I leave an antique mall, whether here at home or on a trip, that I don’t stop in the art section and check the paintings for the Lady In Red.
She was a mystery. She hung on the wall in my family room until I was a teenager. I would sketch her or pretend I was in her room, watching her put her makeup on. I made up stories about who she was and why she was wearing that ball gown. She looked over her shoulder right at me, and so I felt like I needed to give her a story, give her some truth or identity.
My dad, Peter Pochodaj, sailed on the General M L Hersey from Bremerhaven, Germany, where he was born and spent the first 2 years of his life. My grandfather Petro, and my Oma, Elfriede, were with him, along with his sister Irena. They were leaving behind a very broken country, in the aftermath of WWII, looking for a place to better their lives and raise a family, without the bruised identification that came with being German. My grandparents left behind paintings and rugs, dishes and silver, and a life filled with suffering and secrets. I often wonder if landing on Ellis Island all those years ago made them feel like everything that they left behind would maybe just stay there. It didn’t because the past may be behind us, but it is also who we are, woven into us, it walks with us and often haunts us until properly dealt with, and even then, it doesn’t actually leave us.
So they ended up in Detroit. In order to make the money they needed, as an immigrant family, my grandfather went to work in a factory and my Oma opened a German novelty storefront shop. She gathered art, rugs, dishes and knick-knacks most likely things similar to what she had left behind and she sold them. From that shop came the Lady In Red. She was not the only painting my father acquired from his mother, there were many others on our walls growing up. German villages and streets, castles in Switzerland, and rolling hills and mountains, most likely someplace in Austria, but none held my attention like her. Owning his own business though, finances were never guaranteed, and when it came down to providing for his family or selling some of those paintings, my dad did what he always did, he chose provision for us, and many of the paintings were sent to a consignment shop. And so I search for her. I don’t expect to find her, but I will continue to browse through the musty smelling sections of any antique shop I’m in, on the off chance she is tucked away somewhere.
There is a part of me that searches for Grace and I probably always will. When the three of us get in the car, I still look in the rear view mirror to see if both of them are buckled. Any family gatherings we have, extended or not, before we pray, every single time, I want to stop the person about to pray and tell them that not everyone is with us yet. When my sister and I used to take the girls places, we would just count, 1,2,3,4,5 heads. Always counting. I still count. When Evelyn struggles with friends, I search for the tactful words of my oldest, who made a joke about so many things, making light of heavy situations because she was a master at breaking up tension. I search for her presence every day, in small insignificant things and huge, overwhelming things. I still cry myself to sleep some nights because at the end of the day, no amount of searching will recover what I’ve lost.
There is a truth to that that weighs on my soul. It pulls me, sometimes jerks me, in a direction of pain, sadness, and despair. I fight that battle often, if I’m being honest. It’s easier to fight when I’m not thinking about it, and easier to not think about it when I keep extremely busy, but when this locomotion, that moves at full speed, has an obstacle in the tracks, let me tell you, derailment is not far behind.
I know the truth of what my life is. I know that my search will continue. I know that my emotional state will always be a little like that train. There are days, weeks and even months now, that I can be on track (pun intended), speeding along, actually enjoying my life, broken as it might be, and before I know it, something falls in my path and slows the whole thing down, and it takes me time to recover. But recover, I will continue to do.
Why? It’s not mental fortitude. It’s not because I have a great husband, family and friends. I do, but that’s not what keeps me recovering. It’s not because I can look down the line and see an end, because I don’t, there isn’t an end to grief, it just looks differently as the years race by.
Jesus is my truth. And considering “He is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), I have no reason to not recover. What He did and said and paid for to rescue me from sin and death, gives me every reason to continue recovering, no matter the difficulty. God does not derail me, my emotions do, my grief does, life’s hardships and struggles, stress and sometimes people can derail me, but God never does. He holds my hand and helps me clean up the mess, and then shows me how to get back on track.
I will continue to search for the Lady In Red. I will continue to search for pieces of my Gracie girl that are left all over (yes, like glitter), but I will never search for an answer. I need no answers to why or what if. I have the only answer I will ever need, and He is not a mystery or hiding somewhere out of reach. Jesus is my answer. That search ended the moment I found Him.