MAX COLLEY III
December 10th marked 6 months since Talia transitioned to heaven. Nothing is the same. There are good things about that and very painful things about that. Not a day goes by that I don't cry and miss her beyond words.
Ephesians 5:31 "For this reason a man shall leave his Father and Mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh"
This has hit home more now than when we were married. Now that part of the one is missing, there is great pain and loss.
This has been a time of tremendous change. The life I knew is no longer. My soulmate is not here in body. The person I told everything to. I would call her at least 10 times a day to "love in" (she did not like check in lol ) I now hate going to the grocery store. I did all the shopping and cooking. I knew all of her likes and it was fun for me to go and get things and bring them home I knew she liked (even if they were not good for her like sweetarts and spree or local cheesecake she liked). I still go to get these and put them in my cart then reality hits and I just want to get out of the store. Amazing to me how food has so many memories attached to it but it makes sense when you look at cultures and how food is so important to culture, just like music. They both bring people together.
In addition to the loss of my wife, after 8 years at my job at MSU, I decided to resign. One thing I have come to realize is how stressful my job was (mostly self induced by wanting to do the best job possible for everyone and realizing how many people were dependent on my work) I needed time to heal from this past year and to think about the rest of my days here on earth. It was not a perfect job by any means and there were a few really dark days that still effect me and I'll have to work through yet, but it really was a job made for me and will be the closest thing to a dream job one could have. The thing I will always take away is the relationships. The kids, staff, faculty, schools, and artists. What a blessing to increase my family!
This was a picture of the last moment of my last tour. I just wanted to exhale and reflect in a quiet moment while everyone else was getting on the bus ready to go back home and be thankful for all that God had blessed me with over the past 8 years.
This season is a gift I have been given. Time has always been more valuable than money to me. I live a pretty busy life. This season despite already going fast, has afforded me time to read and study, reflect and heal, more time to now play drums and trumpet, and travel a little bit. # 1 on my bucket list was going to Israel. I have gone to all my jazz heroes homes to get a better understanding of why they play like they do or just to understand those I have relationships with better. I have gone to many historical sites both good and bad so that the knowledge and pictures from the books I've read and study now become experiences and make everything all the more real despite not being there at the time. The most important thing to me in my life is Jesus. So to go to Israel and be able to be on the Sea of Galilee and swim in the Dead Sea and to stand where Elijah mocked the false prophets and to be in the fields of Ruth and Boaz, to sit on the steps the Jesus walked, to see the valley of Armageddon to see where Jericho is to be in Bethlehem and on and on. Everything became a little more real. Bill Johnson says Faith is the currency of Heaven, but there is so much evidence now and to actually be in all these places I've read about, makes faith all the more easy.
So I'm being asked a lot, so what now? The answer is I have no idea. I think that is ok for the moment, it won't always be like that, but I think Talia would say God will open up the door when the time is right.
I have many goals during this time. One to heal. I did not know the toll this took on me. When you are in it, you just take care of your wife. No time for pitty parties or tears, you just have to be strong for your wife and take care of her, but that catches up with you like a freight train once they are gone, I will share a little bit of what life is like with that in a moment.
This is a time for growth. Spiritual. I'm making a very concerted effort to try and get into a routine and a saturated environment of learning more about Jesus, putting it into use and going deeper in my relationship with Him. One thing you learn just as in music, is the more you know the more you know what you don't know and how far you are from your goals. One true blessing has been the show The Chosen. I"m always afraid of having false images in my head of untruth. I was skeptical of the show. Talia and I watched one episode together. It was ok. My dear friends Jeff and Sue who I met on the trip were telling me how great it was so I bought the DVD's and have binge watched them. These have been so amazing and helpful in understanding the Bible so much more. The character and setting development has been slow and methodical but then just makes you say OH to things you've known you're whole life but didn't mean much. Like Jesus was friends with tax collectors which people didn't like, but this so clearly illustrates just why people didn't like them to the point now I don't like them and I have to learn to love them because Jesus did. That is just one point but I've been thankful for this series and wish I had watched them all with Talia.
This will also be a season of hopefully musical growth for me and has been fun to be teaching again with my Byron Center and West Ottawa families on a more consistent basis. I also will be working one day a week for West Michigan Band which as always been so good to me over the years.
So what is the present like? It's by far the most painful thing I have ever gone through. It's been hard for me to articulate what life is like. I have been thankful for many of the books I have read or am reading that can articulate this for me and I will share some here. Also, I have been thankful for calls from the grief counselor from Hospice to the point I asked her if she had a video camera in my house. All of this has led me to believe what I'm experiencing is very normal despite that everyone grieves differently.
One thing I do know is that the people surrounding me are some of the most amazing people on the planet. As I read in these grief books, typical things that well meaning people do that are not helpful have never once happed to me. The overwhelming comment to me is I don't have advice to offer because I can't even begin to imagine what you are going through and I'm here to listen or support in anyway I can. People continue to call and check in on me. That's not typical, after a little time has passed life moves on for most people but not in my case. God has blessed me with such amazing people in my life. I have also met on a mostly monthly basis with two individuals that have also lost their wives. Their fellowship and encouragement and love have been so precious to me. They have had more time but have been able to help me know a few things to anticipate and mostly just be someone that knows what I'm going through. Now knowing what they and many other friends who have had loss deal with, it has given me a much greater understanding and empathy of their pain so I don't just focus on my pain journey.
Here are some phrases from books that help articulate a little better than I could myself of some of my feelings. However it also includes the strength part and learning of this season in working back from this.
Trusting God when the miracle does not come when there is only darkness, this is the kind of faith God values perhaps most of all. This is the kind of faith that cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken. - Nancy Guthrie
I really liked how Rebecca Rainey Mutz framed the cemetery plot as the doorway to heaven.
There have been a few great paragraphs from Lamposts by Katy Luse:
Mourning is the pathway to joy and healing
It’s through our tears we encounter the healing God
Can’t fix the hurt but it matters to God
Friendship with the Holy Spirit is paramount to aid in grief
Truth does not always subject itself to our experience
A touchstone of familiarity from the past found its way to you. Suddenly you are spinning as if the change in your life just happened. Your loss feels so close that it appears it could reverse itself. Catapulted backward, you are now faced with an internal longing for the past that Is digging its heals into your mental process. You remember your life before loss. Emotional proximity reacquaints you with the self you once knew, which highlights how confused you are about who you are now. You want your life back. The familiar will always expose what love is left in you for that person. It can expose that your heart is still alive. Your heart is surviving despite the crushing blow of your experience. You still feel because you still care. The exposure of your pain is an opportunity to heal in a deeper way.
It is good to continue making memories that are for and about your loved one, even after they are gone. They are not really gone. They are alive. They are more alive than you are. We are the ones who are still dying. Find things to do to honor your loved one.
You would never have asked for suffering. Despite this, there are beauties emerging in you through it. Like gold refined in fire, something is happening to your heart that will cause you to radiate above the rest. Loss will end up giving you a deep and purposeful life that many fight aimlessly to find and never do. Even so, you would never have asked for it, not even now.
We have an odd way of reaching backward to try to reconcile things that are facing forward. Have you ever noticed that our physical design is facing forward? Our feet face forward; our arms stretch forward; our eyes look forward. We were designed to focus forward and move forward. Walking backward, reaching backward, gazing backward are terribly uncomfortable, and with good reason: it is terribly disheartening for the soul. Holding regrets holds you back.
In Comfort for the Grieving Spouse's Heart, there are many good statements that articulate feelings:
I want my old life back
Everything is different now
Where did you go
Sadness is like a cloud that follows me
What is life now?
Our minds are trying to somehow make sense of what happened and this new reality that has been thrust upon me. Our hearts are reeling from the collision of life and loss. Our mate, our love, is missing. They are gaping holes in our hearts and in our routines.
I miss you badly
Can you hear me? Where are you?
I look around. It seems like the same world, but it’s not. Far from it.
Our hearts are broken. We’ve taken a massive hit, and our minds are in survival mode. The unbelievable has happened. The unthinkable has taken place.
We try to keep them close any way we can. Pictures videos texts voicemails letter our search is part of love in action. Each morning we expect to wake in the same world as yesterday, but now that illusion is shattered. Everything is off and surreal.
Our minds will spin. Emotions will hijack us. Our hearts will ask repetitive questions. Our souls will search for answers. We are feeling our mate’s absence. This will take time.
I can’t imagine life without you even though that’s the life I’m living now. I keep going to call or text you.
I don’t know how to do this. I feel terrible. I’m’ sad. I feel alone.
Why did you have to go? I know this is final, but my heart keeps trying to find a way to reverse history and make you appear. I’m not ready to let you go. I love you I miss you.
Love endures all things it knows no time limit.
Their physical presence may be gone yet they somehow linger. Their words, actions, and influence remain hovering around us bouncing about in our minds. Memories have become painful and wonderful at the same time.
I’m alone in a crowd.
We miss them because we love them. We will continue loving and missing them. Their absence will stun us again and again. We oved and so we grieve.
I have people who care about me, but I don’t have you. The emptiness is intense. The loneliness is constant. Even when I’m surrounded by people, I feel adrift, alone in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean.
My heart just wants all this to go away and for you to come back. I want life as it was
The heart can only handle so much. It shifts into survival mode
Life is anything but normal. Nothing quite feels, looks, or even tastes the same. The only way to deal with grief is to grieve.
After the loss of a spouse, each day is a journey through a virtual minefield. We never know where the next grief burst is hiding. Anything can trigger it. The heart is looking for ways to express itself and declare its love. The heart is trying to find a way to live with the absence of the one we loved.
One day we feel we’re doing well. The next day may not be so smooth. This is the grief roller coaster.
Guilt is common and natural in grief. How we respond to it makes a big difference.
I could have done so much more good for you. I could have, I should have, if only I hadn’t, if only I had, I wish , What if.
When a life partner departs, we naturally replay our relationship with them. Our hearts are left to grapple with regrets, missed opportunities, and crushed hopes. We want to take responsibility for what we did and said and make things right. Write a letter asking our mates forgiveness and expressing our love. We need to forgive ourselves. Our hearts will thank us.
We were a pair. A couple. Spouses. Mates. Partners in everything. Now, it’s just me.
I miss talking. I miss your voice, your touch, your embrace, your kisses, your smell, your presence, and your companionship. I miss you. I miss us.
When two become one, going back to two again is impossible. What’s left is one who is torn and full of holes. Like two pieces glued together, we carry parts of our partner with us. Pieces of them are everywhere in our hearts and lives. They live on in and through us. Their influence is powerful and profound. They helped make us who we are.
We carry them with us even while their absence permeates everything. Their physical presence is gone, and yet they are here-everywhere. This is why we grieve. We miss them and long for them.
Certain places, people, events, activities, foods, smells, and music can now pack a grief punch. The goal is not to avoid potential triggers, but rather find healthy ways to handle such situations when thy arise. I not only lost you but much of what was attached to you.
I'm not through the last book yet but thankful for their words that fail me to articulate currently but that I can so relate with and have had. I also was inspired by C.S. Lewis' "A Grief Observed" I've also been inspired to watch Pastor's Bill Johnson, Randy Alcorn, and Tony Evans, all whom have recently lost their wives, handle their mourning and inspire through it.
As far as the future, I know the rest of my days will be for the following in general terms, Let people know about the love of Christ for them, I know music will be a part of it, and I know I want to honor Talia's life. Everything else will work itself out.
What will I do for a living, will someone else do it with me or will I have to go it alone, will it be somewhere warm lol, all things I think about and desire but will watch God work that out as I learn to submit to the Holy Spirits hopefully greater presence in my life.
I may have a special post on Mia at some point but she has also been a blessing and I'm thankful to come home to her even though she is getting old in cat years.
I know I hurt because I loved. I do understand the question of is it better to loved and lost then never loved before? I think that's how it goes. This pain is no joke. I know I will be stronger for it, but to never have experienced the joy of Talia and all our memories and her inspiration. Of course I'm glad I loved. I guess it would be the same as childbirth for which I have no experience but I don't know too many moms that would say despite that my kid grew up so amazing and am so proud, if I had it all over to do again, I'd not have had them because it hurt. That's why so many women go through it again. I know my days are numbered, and I'm thankful for this season to do the best I can at being a steward of what happens with those that remain. I try to visit Talia's Doorway to Heaven each time I go to Grand Rapids. It's a very weird place for me for numerous reasons. I don't really know how to act yet in my mind, I always cry, and I always see my name is on the gravestone basically saying there's only one thing left to put on it. It's a good reminder to me actually to love people the best I can because tomorrow as we all know is not guaranteed.
I know there is no way around this hurt and pain but despite everything, I am filled with hope and I know as it has always been, is about trust. I'm getting there! I'll leave with these songs, the first which challenges me during this season, and the second which was a theme for Talia which speaks to her incredibly sweet spirit that I miss so much. I'll also leave verses that have been helpful and comforting to me.
Psalm 34:18: " The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit"
Matthew 5:4 " Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted"
Psalm 56:8 " You keep track of all my sorrows, You have collected all my tears in a bottle, You have recored each one in your book"
Psalm 62:8 " Trust in the Lord at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge"
Revelation 21:4 " He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, or sorrow, or crying, or pain. All these things are gone forever"
Since I've been back from Israel it's been very busy which is opposite of what I wanted for this season and yet very grateful for it all. God provides! Brief explanations on some of these.
One of the things that was hard for me while working at MSU was to take my own gigs. Summertime was much easier to do that because it became more of an 8-5 job for me. My playing took a big hit despite having a lot of inspiration around me. So I've had a very busy couple of weeks.
I'm able to work again with my Byron Center and West Ottawa families which I'm so grateful for and so proud of both of the work they are doing. Covid has done a number on band programs all around this country so very thankful to be able to still be a part of their programs!
I got to play my first BWK gig with Brother Keith in KZoo on a terrible weather night!
My walks and nature are so important for me because it takes me away from everything man made and lets me focus on God!
I was able to go see Chris Glassman's group. The band was killin' and so proud of all of them and thankful for all the relationships in that group!
I'll probably do a separate post for Mia but God has given me a good companion for this time and even though she wouldn't admit it, was an excellent companion for Talia too! :)
My friend Ed Spier asked me to fill in with his group the Westside Soul Surfaces and had a good time playing with them!
I'm getting a new horn!!!! it's been well over 25 years. I'm not a big gear head, but had fun going to the Chicago Suburbs to Schilke and trying out options with the new Faddis Horn and got 2 mouthpieces which have been awesome too! Thanks to Bennett Heinz for all your help! Gonna take 10 months to get the horn!
I had fun celebrating my 2 nieces birthdays. It's unreal how fast time flies!
I had a good time taking out my Sisters to see Harry Connick Jr. It was good to also see Jimmy Greene play and to say hey to my friend Neal Caine who plays bass with Harry. I was blessed to record one of Neal's tunes with Neal on my last CD!
I said I'd never go another one of my nieces and nephews sporting events after the last one I went to. I was close to having to really make a scene because the other teams coach pretty much had every kid crying and the ref. However, swimming was pretty harmless. LOL So it was fun to see Ess swim in Spring Lake. (not the actual lake)
Then I got to relive the fun I had many moons ago, when I got to sub in TIJO. My new mouthpiece made it even more fun. That is a hard book but I made it through. The band is special because this is where I pretty much cut my teeth learning to play lead trumpet. So many friends in the band, had fun playing with a former student who brought me chocolate :) and of course one of my main influences who I owe so much to, Mr. Tim Froncek.
My family goes well beyond blood. My brother Alvin's family is all doing great things but one is more exposed as of late because he has been landing tv show appearances. I had fun babysitting a couple of his kids a few times but then I got to hold Kaden as an actual baby. So it was fun to see him make an appearance on Abbott Elementary!
I think I'm going to write a separate blog on my drum family because it's such a special group and I was so happy to be able to spend a little time with him this past week. He is simply known as Hammer! He was most gracious with his time for me and I was so glad to be able to fellowship with him. Did the heart good! It was also good to see Ellen Rowe again and hear the groups!
I had to rush back to play a tune with the Lowell HS Orchestra and my friend Joe Oprea. Joe has been a constant support to me! It was also good to see my good friend from HS Tim Haan who has been there for 32 years. They are blessed to have both of them!
Speaking of drum brothers, Always good to share a meal with the one and only Uncle G who again was and is so supportive through everything!
I love playing with Pat Cronley. He is awesome and hires me on trumpet and drums. He is a treasure to the state but such a blessing for the Flint area! Always a pleasure.
And finally played with the Blue Water Kings on a last min hit. It was a great band and thankful for the friendships, source of income, and professionalism of all involved.
Like everyone, I'm stunned to hear the news of the passing of my friend Andrew Speight. Andrew was about as passionate as you could get about jazz and served the music and the community well. He was super kind to me and always made time for me. He had agreed to play on one of my next projects. I didn't know Andrew from his time at MSU as that was before my time, but really got to know him on one of our tours we had him back for. Then anytime he was here or I was in SF, we would meet up. My last time in SF we went to his Italian place he liked to eat a lot and seemed everyone knew him, then we went back to his house and he showed me his set up for all of his weekly broadcasts. Andrew knew of my deep love of Louis Armstrong and was wearing this incredible Louis Armstrong tie and he took it off and said here, you should have this! That was Andrew! I'm really feeling for my MSU family that were so shaped by his influence. Much love y'all! Life is short, take advantage of the now and prepare for the after. Thank you for all your love Andrew!