I can’t remember a time in my life when I felt more optimistic about my future than when I graduated from Biola in 2010. It was this absolute feeling of confidence that my life was headed in the right direction.
My boyfriend Jimmy and I dated through high school and college. He was brilliant; he studied microbiology at Harvard. I was passionate; I studied sociology at Biola. After graduation, we both moved to Seattle for work, and life was like a dream. I couldn’t believe how endlessly happy I was in those days. It felt like life, or this world, was built for the two of us to do great things. Momentum built and then Jimmy and I were both accepted to graduate school at Columbia University in New York — he would study medicine, and I would study social work. We married in April 2012.
I vividly remember this moment, standing in Central Park with my mom in the fall of 2012. Jimmy and I had enthusiastically arrived in New York and she had come to help us settle into our apartment. She pulled me in for a hug, tears spilling from her eyes, and whispered, “I don’t like you being out here. I think something bad will happen.” I don’t actually believe in psychics — my mother is the one exception. It is in her bones to know when something isn’t right. Still, I hugged my mom back, “It’ll be alright, mom.”
In March 2013, a phone call woke me from a dead sleep. Something told me Jimmy was dead. I knew it before I answered the phone. I knew as my breath left my body and I pressed the receive button and held the phone to my cheek. “Hello?” Through fumbles, a dear friend explained that Jimmy had been killed in a mountaineering accident earlier that morning. He was on a climbing trip for his spring break. I had stayed back in New York. The ground dropped from beneath me. And if I’m being totally honest, I never quite got it back.
Being widowed is an intensely humbling experience. You stop caring for yourself. You stop eating. You stop praying. After the funeral, I moved back into my parent’s house, and I remember my mom saying things like, “Hey, you have to take a shower today.” It’s like you’re drowning. And then the people who love you keep having to pull you up for air. My friends were concerned I would question God’s plan for my life — that I would be angry with him and maybe walk away. The truth is, I didn’t feel that way. I felt like I was staring into his face, maybe for the first time. Like I was seeing him clearly. And he was staring back, just as bewildered and broken.
The finality of death is so difficult to comprehend, that in order to cope, you scramble to make meaning of it. Others try to find the lesson in it too. They say things like, “Everything happens for a reason” or “God has a plan for your life.” My therapist makes me use the conjunction “and” whenever I’m holding onto two contradictory truths at the same time. The idea is that you acknowledge the incongruence and understand that it’s not your job to make sense of it. Jimmy is dead and God is good. For me, that’s the lesson. My life has been a cascade of grace since losing him.
On my third date with Matt, I told him about Jimmy. I just vomited the words, “I’m a widow.” I remember the kindness in his eyes and the warmth in his questions, as I laid bare my deepest pain. I married Matt. And I became a mother in April 2019.
Jimmy once told me that he climbed because the sheer physicality of the sport pushed him to his limits — emotionally and spiritually. He said he felt closest to God on the mountain. I felt closest to God in the months after his death, in picking up the pieces of my life and staring into the face of God, who stared back at me and said, “I see you and I will wipe every tear from your eye.”
Cassidy Ray (’10) received her Master of Science in Social Work from Columbia University in 2015. She lives in Boise, Idaho, with her husband Matt and son, Evan James, and works as a child and adolescent psychiatric social worker for St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital.