Nine years later

What would make you remember, if you didn’t know the date, if you had been so crazy during all of it that the calendar became an alien language, like small talk and plans for the future, would be the slant of sunlight. When winter approaches the earth tilts, and one morning the sun caresses everything so mournfully that no matter how you distract yourself there is the whisper: Yes, something has changed.

In this new light the shadows fall differently, and in it you remember that you have seen these shadows before. You have seen this fallen light and these long shadows, and with them you are at odds with the world now too, all of you tilted and thinking perhaps you will shear clean off the surface of things and go hurtling into wherever lost light disappears.

So even if October did not evoke the dead, even if nineteen was not the most asymmetric of numbers, even if you cleansed your mind of dates and deliberate remembrance, your body would betray you. Your mind is a clever little beast that can perform all manner of tricks, but your body is too dull to forget the sound of brittling leaves, the smell of settling dust, the feel of warmth as it slips from living things.

You can work or you can drink or you can get yourself a lover, and maybe you try all those things before you simply give in to the tilting of the earth. You give in once you have the courage, after you’ve tried all manner of things to twist yourself the other direction, to pretend that the light doesn’t fall differently sometimes. You lean with the wounded sun and become for a time like one of those stretched-thin shadows, and you find that you don’t go toppling off the earth after all.

All this goes through your mind when you wake and recall, as you sometimes do when the sun enters your room just so, that there is a voice missing from the sounds of morning. So you incline your head to hear the silence better, and when one of your living children asks why you are weeping, you wipe your eyes and tell him a story about a girl you used to know.


  1. Evan Kincade

    Tony, this moved me to tears. I’m not sure where this is coming from, or entirely what you mean but the imagery that you conjured was incredibly powerful.

    If you don’t mind me asking, where did this come from?

  2. Erin Sullivan

    Hey Tony- Don’t know if you remember me (from the couple times I was in the office), but the letter you wrote to me in the hospital after we lost our little boy is still the one that I read when I need to know someone understands. You have a way with words, and I just wish I could offer the same comfort to you on this tough day. She must be very proud of her Daddy!

  3. Maria W. Tompkins

    Dear Tony and Celeste,
    No one else can imagine the pain of your loss, but know that you do not bear it alone. God and many others here on earth are with you in your grief. Love to you both.

  4. sjd

    I think of your lovely Caroline everytime I look at the photos of your four beautiful boys. My heart aches for you and your wife and I will pray for you. I am so sorry.

  5. Gray Brendle

    Tony, my heart weeps for the loss that your family has endured. As a result of your loss, I take nothing for granted and count everyday as a new blessing. My love and prayers go out to both of you.


  6. C. Brace

    I think of Caroline so often. I know March and November steal your breath. The heart in your writing, your passion for The Woodlief Navy, your adoring references to your wife continue to remind me what kind of Daddy she had…

    I encourage your readers to know her.

    Grateful for the way He continues to touch us through you,

    Coneen Brace

  7. Ken Larson

    Tony and Celeste and boys:
    Although Caroline has been with the Lord for 9 years now, I’m sure it only seems like yesterday to you. I can’t imagine the grief and pain you’ve suffered, but I know there will come a day when God will wipe away all our tears(Rev. 21:4). I’m sure Caroline is leaping and running around Heaven with a joy that we can only begin to contemplate. We will have that same joy some day. Know that Jesus Christ loves you with a love that will never end!! God’s mercies are new every morning! Great is His Faithfulness!!
    Ken Larson

  8. Deb Johnson

    I remember Caroline. I remember her putting her hands on each side of her daddy’s face and looking at him with such love and trust.

  9. Marc V

    Thank you for sharing your heart with us – it helps us parents who would rather not even think about that unspeakable fear. You can expect a big ol’ neck hug when you’re finally reunited with Caroline in heaven, and our Lord will be there to wipe away those tears of joy.

  10. Lindy Hall

    Dear Tony and Celeste,

    I just recently started reading your blog, Tony, and I had known you had lost a child from some of your writings in World Magazine. When I read your blog yesterday, it just broke my heart. You write so beautifully, and yesterday’s blog expresses your heart in a way that binds you to anyone who has known great grief. I prayed for you yesterday, and today I found and read your summary of Caroline’s life–and wept for your pain and loss. Rev. 21:1-5 has been a great comfort to me. I pray for God’s continued comfort for you both!

  11. Another broken heart

    I helped carry her broken body out of that church and weep still as I think of the missing sound of her laughter. I’m so sorry for you all.

  12. Pingback: Death leaves a heartache no one can heal « Douglas and Main

  13. Liz

    Tony, thank you….again. We’ve just had our own 11th anniversary here. Thank you (and thanks to our ever-gracious God) for your gift of expressing the inexpressible. Our little girls are playing together today.

  14. Kimberly

    Oh my.

    Just read the page about your daughter. Although I know it is and was a comfort to know that she is with Jesus, my goodness, I can’t imagine the grief. I hope your boys will be able to “know” her through you.

    Blessings to you all.

  15. mike

    My cousin died in 1984 when she was seven. She was the youngest of 5 children and the only girl. My aunt told me that it was 10yrs before she had a happy day. I don’t know how the Woodliefs must feel, but my aunt does.

    May the road rise up to meet you.


  16. ns


    I don’t know you, but my heart goes out to you. I’ve been reading your blog for years. She is still with you, I believe that. And though I never knew her in her life, I will remember her too.

    Much Love,

  17. Veronica

    Tony, I pray that on this painful anniversary and every day God will bring peace and comfort to you and Celeste and your four beautiful boys. Their sister is smiling down on them from heaven.

  18. Kris C.

    Tony —

    Found your website through Rachel B. and her blog, Testosterhome. Read Caroline’s story and was so moved. I also have 4 boys and 1 daughter – she is also my eldest. Our faith as a family is so solid, but even so I can’t imagine being brought to my knees with the loss of one of my children. Thank you for sharing Caroline’s story with the world, and demonstrating true faith and hope in the face of unimaginable grief.

  19. MMM

    In the Desert of the Real, there is a pool alone. it shimmers beautifully but only one can visit at a time. and you must be patient, for you must wait and wait and stare into the liquid window for a small, very small glimpse of a girl that lived there, once.

    the pool is clearer when a tear falls in.

    happy birthday, caroline.

  20. Krista

    God bless you, sir. Families can be together forever, I know this is true. Who is God but our Father? He knows this kind of grief, too. He will make it right on that great day. Thanks for your beautiful words.

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