The Grieving and the Meme

I’ve been thinking about life and death quite a lot lately. Not because I took a chunk out of the end of my finger by grabbing the wrong end of a razor blade. And not because I dropped a chair on my foot an hour later. And not because there’s anything wrong with me at the moment. But because in a moment it can all change.

It did for our friend, Brad.

When we were about 29, a 19 year old Brad showed up at Florida College as a lively, fresh-faced freshman. Early on in his college career, FC sponsored a song writing contest. I’m pretty sure the prizes were things like Dinner for 2 at the Pouch or $25 off your book fees for the semester. But among the prizes was recording your song in a professional studio with a professional dude. Guess who that dude was and where the studio was? Todd. My garage. Next stop, Hollywood.

Todd is forever getting roped into things because he is technical, musical, and both combined. He’s good at everything and before we had children, he had time for all of that. When Brad walked into our house as the winner of that contest, Todd thought he was just fulfilling a promise to Florida College. What he discovered was that he was the real winner. Because through that single exchange, he gained a lifelong friend. A fellow music nerd who liked to write music, sing, play, jam and laugh. (They both liked the Bee Gees and NO ONE likes the Bee Gees. Sheesh. Sing in your real voice, Barry. Come on.) They became fast friends, in spite of the 10 year age difference. And I became chopped liver.

I don’t remember minding.

But I also didn’t hang around much when they were talking shop. It was their thing and it was a good thing. Brad would be over often late into the night. When the music stopped, the talking would start. Sometimes the conversations were deeply spiritual and they would solve the problems of the church and the entire free world. Sometimes the activity would rise out of sheer hunger and the raiding of the pantry would degenerate into the mixing of cereals to try to create the perfect breakfast food. They laughed a lot at the one named “From Kashi.” Who names a cereal “From Kashi?” I mean, Kashi…ok. But FROM Kashi? Take 5-7 extra minutes around that conference table and come up with something just a tad catchier. Something that sounds less like tree bark.

After college, Brad took up life and family and career in Texas. He kept in touch about as much as anyone does who has kids and work and busyness. We didn’t keep in touch as much as we should have. We certainly wish we had talked more now.

Brad died in his home on Saturday, May 21 of flu-like symptoms. He hadn’t felt well in almost a week, but hadn’t been to a doctor. I don’t see a doctor when I get a virus either. I wait it out. We wait to get better. But he didn’t get better. He passed out and that was that. He was 35. 

Since that Saturday and since finding out shortly after it happened, Todd and I have grieved over this loss and observed those closest to Brad grieving a sorrow that I can’t even touch. He has left grandparents, parents, sister, wife, 7-yr-old son, 14-month-old baby daughter, good friends, and co-workers behind to wonder what happened. But what they wonder most is how do we go on? How can we make it? How do you fill a gaping Brad-shaped hole with anyone or anything but Brad?

It’s awful.

I struggle to wrap my mind around a grief this intense.
What do we do for those who sorrow? What do we say? How do we help?

I’m not always sure. I’m careful about it, because the last thing I want to do is make a person feel worse. And I do think that’s possible. I’ve watched it happen more than once.

When someone dies, I see people post comments on social media like this:

“Heaven must have needed him more than we did…”

“Our loss is Heaven’s gain.”

There are 100 variations on the same sentiment.

But then I saw this one the other day.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 5.26.04 PM

What?  I am completely stunned by this concept.  Are we seriously saying that God kills good young people but leaves the rest of us here to age like the ugliest, “worst” flowers? Where is that taught in the bible? And how is that comforting, exactly? I mean, I can see a kid asking his father why the best people die? But the answer to that question should have been that ALL people die. Why people die young, I don’t know. It’s an imperfect world and we have decaying, temporary bodies. Things happen. Time and chance happen to us all. We die. The good people who die young are grieved more and differently than good people who are elderly because their time was clearly cut short. Their purpose of being a young husband, father, son, or friend has not been fulfilled. Their job isn’t done. But I don’t think the bible teaches God is sitting in Heaven with a grabby hand and angel wings, plucking the good people off the earth so he can put them to work in front of the pearly gates.

But hey…who’m I to say I even know? And that’s the thing. I DON’T know. Nobody does. And if my husband or child dies long before old age takes them (please no, please no), don’t comfort me by telling me it was meant to be or God’s plan that I should lose my loves too soon. I think that would just make me angry. And it wouldn’t help me at all. What that would do for me is cause me to question God’s intent. As if God had chosen to DO that to me. In an hour of grief, I will need to trust God with even my broken heart. 

I know people mean well. I know the concept is that we are saying that Brad is so amazing that now he is an angel. We like to think of our loved ones watching over us here. Maybe they are. Or maybe they are actually resting in peace. Whether they can see our every move or not, God can. And God is watching and caring and hearing and helping. He’s got this. He’s got ALL of this. Every grief. Every sick stomach. Every unspoken word. Every uncontrollable sob. Every desperate thought. Every sleepless night. He has GOT it. If we let Him.

So what I would say to Brad’s family is this: I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s a huge loss. He was amazing. He was kind, funny, considerate, thoughtful, hard-working, spiritual, dedicated, and diligent. He was a bright light. He would never have chosen to go home early. But he did. And we’ll go home someday too. Until then, shine your light a little brighter. Shine it for Brad. Shine it for Jesus. Shine.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-12

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;”

‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3:1-12‬ ‭ESV‬‬ http://bible.com/59/ecc.3.1-12.esv

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Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day.

If I’m being honest, this weekend is often just a relaxing weekend with two Saturdays in it. Two days to sleep in. Four days of school instead of five.

But it should be a day of remembrance for those who have died in war. And it should mean more to me now than it did in, say, 1989 when not that much was happening between war and peace. It was all peace then. Now, soldiers in the middle east is all we know. Terrorism. Isis. Suicide bombers. It’s everyday news. What a shame.

Many, many people have died to defend our cause. My papa went to Germany in World War 2.  He wasn’t among the dead then. He came back. But on this weekend of remembrance, I’m going to repost some stuff about and from him.

That man knew how to love.

This photo shows an album page from my mom’s album. He is pictured with his army brothers. He’s the handsome fella in the middle. And below that picture is a scan of a letter he wrote home to my mom, who was a 1-year-old baby he truly didn’t want to leave behind.

papa_letterhomewar

The letter said this:

February 1945
To Daddy’s Darling:

This is the first letter I have ever tryed to write you and I am afraid that when you are old enough to read and write yourself that you will think Daddy is very poor at writing, but someday you will understand that he loves you and Mommy better than anything else in the world.

It was not my idea to be away so much since you were born. It’s that someone with more power than you and I has said I must go. This I have done and I am trying to do a good job so I can come back to you and mommy before too long. Until I see you I want you to be a sweet little girl and do what you mother says. She is a good mommy and will only tell you what’s best for you. I know you will do all this. I only wanted to caution you.

From one who loves you very much,
Daddy

And the following was a poem he wrote from a tent on the battlefield and then later mailed home to Florida.  Remember the men who fight for us. Remember the tents and trenches they sleep in. Remember the people they are missing. Remember the God we pray to. Remember.

papa_puptentpoem

Good Dream Bad Dream

Well, it’s been a week, I tell ya. A week. It’s passing in dog years, so I guess it feels more like 7 weeks. School is drawing to a close and the boys have been taking finals. I don’t have to explain what happens this time of year. We are all experiencing it in our own locale. Different schools. Different ages. Different kids. Same ole, same ole.

Some kids cause more heart attacks in parents than others. I worry about academics for one, but emotional stuff in another.

Sometimes these worries come out in your dreams. The other night I dreamed that I was standing in the family room holding a little cup of liquid allergy medicine. I walked it over to Mama’s Boy, who was draped over a chair watching TV and paying me no attention. I held the cup out to him and told him to take his allergy medicine. He very intentionally and ever so slowly looked over at me, almost like slo mo. He made eye contact and the expression on his face was one of defiance and disgust. It was the Stink Eye. He got up slowly from his chair, walked to the kitchen, retrieved a Sharpie, walked back to his chair, and slumped back down in it. Then, he took his Sharpie and drew a cartoon mouth onto the stomach area of his gray t-shirt, took the medicine from me and poured the medicine into the mouth he had drawn…all while watching me with the stink eye. At this point in the dream, I was like, “OK, boy. GAME ON.” So I took away his electronics for the weekend and he said, “Fine, I don’t care.” So I took them away for a week.

Then I woke up from the dream within the dream. But I was still sleeping. In the dream, I realized it was a dream and that B had not actually defied me or drawn a sharpie mouth for his medicine. I said to myself, I think I’ll punish him anyway. Can you punish a kid for something they didn’t really do if you think they probably would have done it? I decided yes.

And then I woke up again. For real.

My insurance will not cover the therapy needed for this one. So I’m just logging this under “Bad Dream” and moving on. It’s a new game I play. Good Dream Bad Dream? Is it good, invoking all things proper and right and fun and humorous? Or is it a wreck, invoking the horror in any given situation.

Today I’m going to play this game with two pieces of writing that are not my own. I’ll cast my own vote, but you don’t need my opinions. You can decide for yourself.

The first piece is a poem by Rider Strong. If you are older than 45, you probably aren’t going to know who that is. He’s the actor playing Shawn Hunter on Boy Meets World, which is a show I watched as a much younger person and have now been sucked back into by my teenie bopper wannabe girls. In today’s episode, Cory read a poem written by Shawn and with a little help from the “internet webs,” I discovered the actor had actually written the poem.

Top of the World

by Rider Strong

You don’t know it, but
Sometimes, I go to a hill that overlooks
the landscape’s mask of city lights
For a sip of momentary grace.
On this brink of everything I know, I can gain
An eyeful of the lost Atlantis in the human soul,
And a breath that fills my lungs with the air between two stars
If you were now to capture the image of this elation
In the framework of your mind,
Or find transcendence through these words,
Then at most you would know nothing
Of the beauty your existence throws to me.
For mine is a love no experience,
No measure, no words
Could ever degrade into reality by virtue of degree.

Good dream or Bad Dream? I think “Good dream” because I loved the thought of sipping momentary grace and filling my lungs with the air between two stars. I’m just corny enough to eat that for breakfast AND a snack.

My next submission is from today’s perusing of “Local News” on Craigslist for my town. I was hoping for some juicy tidbit about a seed spitting contest or something. But the first entry was for pets.

Pitbull puppys.just gave first shots .5 in 1 fists shots .8 weeks old. 8 left 3 males 5 females .rehoming fee

Before we vote on this one, we need to analyze it just a tad and make sure we know exactly what is happening with the pets that are being sold. Pitbull puppys. I’m not even going to address the spelling. I’m just not. Shame on his 3rd grade teacher. Sheesh. Technically, the pitbull puppies are the ones giving the shots. That’s interesting. I wonder about that. What do you suppose .5 in fists shots means? And how old is .8 weeks old? Mathematically, that equates to 80% weeks old. Doesn’t it? I shouldn’t attempt to work math into a post.

So, good dream or bad dream?

Well, it’s sort of SO bad that it comes back around to good again. An 80% weeks old puppys is pretty spectacular in its own way. Especially if they just gave their first shots.

So if your kids are still in school and your life is feeling kinda stressful, just go to a hill for a sip of momentary grace and know this: the stress will be over in 80% weeks.

#Junecomequickly

The Posterboard and Paul Revere

Two days ago, as I was pulling into the driveway with a couple of kids in tow, I received a text from my oldest son.

I need white posterboard.

I realize I just posted a tribute piece to him, the light of my life. The shiny red apple of my eye. My love. My first born.

I do love him dearly.

But I do not enjoy receiving texts like that one, because I know what it means. He doesn’t paint pictures on posterboard. He doesn’t use posterboard to create hobby dioramas. Needing posterboard could only mean one thing.

He had a project that was due.

I decided not to assume too much, though I was already at 5-alarm status.

For what, I asked back, feeling a bit stupid since I was now inside my garage and he was in the house.

A project, he answered.

It didn’t take taro cards to see that one coming. At this point, while I felt texting was safer for the both of us, I walked inside to finish the conversation. He looked up from his phone when he heard my steps.

“When’s it due?” I asked. Why do I ask stupid questions? I should harvest all those little 5-second periods of stupid-question-asking so that in the future, when another project is due immediately, I’ll have a stash of 5-second savings to cash in for the 2 hours I need right then. If only.

He raised his eyebrows and mustered an almost successful sheepish faces as he answered,

“Tomorrow?” as a question to me. Are you asking me if it’s tomorrow or are you asking me if I’m going to bodily harm you because it’s tomorrow? Again, there’s 5 more seconds.

Ah, Paul Revere. I mean, who knew I’d get to learn so much about him in one afternoon? I bet you think he rode around screaming, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” when actually he was riding around yelling, “The Regulars are on the move! The Regulars are on the move!” Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

If I were being fair, I’d admit that the project was mostly done when it got to the “needs posterboard” phase. But I don’t really have to be fair. Because it’s the end of May. I’m way over fairness.

He brought home his score yesterday. He got a 95.

“What’d you get docked for?” I asked. We expect 100s around here.

“We were supposed to include at least one book in our sources for the bibliography,” he answered.

I took a moment to soak that in.

“Huh,” I said. “Well.”  Still soaking. Probably shouldn’t have said the next part out loud. “I gotta tell you, skipping a trip to the library was worth way more than 5 points to me.  I’ll take it.”

June come quickly.

The Dipped Cone

I am sitting at my tiny little, very adorable, writing desk wearing a t-shirt that says, “Writer’s Block: When your imaginary friends refuse to talk to you.” Basically, I’m sitting here pretending to be a writer when I haven’t written in ages and don’t feel like there is an original thought in my head. But I took a webinar about this very thing about 2 weeks ago and received some pretty good prodding. Michael Hyatt told me I needed to schedule my next 4 writing blocks so they wouldn’t get skipped. Schedule it in. Keep it like a doctor’s appointment. Sit down and write.

I didn’t do that.
This is unscheduled time.
That means it’s going to stink.

Another writer dude on Twitter told me that I needed to schedule in 20 minutes a day in some type of writing exercise. Blogging. Emailing. Writing prompts. Whatever. Sit down like it’s boot camp and do it. It doesn’t have to flow well. It just needs to be done.

I haven’t done that either.
I don’t think I like being ordered around, even when I know the other person is right.

But I am going to make an effort at regularity (of schedule, not of content). I guess the future will be its own testimony. I make no promises.

This is the time of year a person shouldn’t be recording their own life events anyway. There are too many concerts, sports banquets, end-of-year picnics, yearbook signings, etc. Events are packed in like bad leftovers and there is plenty of room for error. Plenty.

For instance.

The other night we had a friend who was in a lead role in a local children’s production of Wizard of Oz. This was an interesting presentation for so many reasons, not the least of which was the inappropriate pawing that was happening 3 feet from my head on the row behind me. I’d describe it for you in sordid detail, believe me, if only I’d seen it first hand. WHY OH WHY did no one poke me and point so that I could watch, too? Of course, I know why I wasn’t notified. I am not to be trusted with such things. They knew I would blow the lid off that one in a terribly memorable way. So I missed it, dangadoodle. But I hear it was something else. We are looking for a birth announcement in February or so.

The play itself was a balanced mix of kids whose parents paid for them to be in the play when they probably need to cut their losses and put that money elsewhere. Our friend was the brightest light on the stage, equaled only by that one tiny little flying monkey. That was a cute flying monkey.

When the play ended, and all the weekend busyness was successfully completed, we pulled out of our parking space and complimented the kids on behaving respectfully and normally while in public. It was at this moment that there was a shift in the universe. One of those critical crossroads that you come to and stand there and you know—though it might seem insignificant—this moment is going to be life altering.

That’s when the question came.

“Can we go to Dairy Queen?”

Todd immediately said no, followed by some sadly understated protests, followed by me waffling, which was the final piece in the puzzle.

You want to go there?” He asked, a tad incredulously.

“Well…” I waffled. It’s almost a song when it comes out of my mouth. I waffle a lot. It’s what I’m known for. It’s a deplorable quality in a parent, in case you wonder how it’s working for me. Kids can pick up on even a nano-second of self-doubt and before you know it you are applying pressure from a dirty car napkin to your jugular because the kids WENT FOR IT. Now you have granola in your jugular.

“It’s right there,” I finished.

Because that’s a good reason to go to Dairy Queen. If you can see it, you should visit. It immediately felt like the wrong choice. I felt caught in public wearing tight yoga pants or a stained shirt from the 80s. I was uncomfortable with the choice. But it was one of those irreversible things. We were going. To Dairy Queen. At 8something on a Saturday night.

And we were driving through.

After sitting through the Drive Thru line for an unimpressively long time, we got to the speaker/microphone which is the same one they’ve had since 1967. No I mean it. Not one thing has updated in our Dairy Queen. Ever. Todd ordered a Banana Split BLIZZARD, an M&M blizzard, a medium chocolate shake, a chocolate cone dipped in chocolate, and a scoop of chocolate ice cream in a bowl with hot fudge. I mean, it’s not the easiest order. There are a lot of us. But it wasn’t open heart surgery either.

When we pulled around to the window, we had no reasonable hope that the order would be perfect. It never is. We are somewhat patient about these things. While we waited for the order to be filled, Todd and I bored the children by singing an entirely new rendition of “Ding, dong the witch is dead.” We set the key much too low, which makes for a whole lot of car fun, and changed the words to things like “Ding, dong the witch is dead. Just how dead? She’s really dead. That witch is super, duper dead.” Really dumb. We knew it. It was passing the time.

And then the fulfillment of the order began to round out as we watched.  As we sang our death tune, the DQ employee dropped the first dipped cone upside down into the chocolate sauce. I think the ice cream disintegrated, but she threw the cone away and started over. With vanilla ice cream. We couldn’t get her attention until she opened the window with the wrong flavor of ice cream. She apologized and threw that one away too. In the meantime, a child in the car began to worry about the nature of the m&ms in his or her blizzard. Would they be peanut? Would there be traces of peanut? We were fielding this barrage of questions when the window slid open again and we were handed a banana split.

We ordered a banana split BLIZZARD. She was sorry. She threw that one away. Started over.

That’s 3 desserts in the trash now because we just had to go to Dairy Queen.

The third chocolate-on-chocolate dipped cone came through the DQ window and into ours. It looked good. Beautifully done…but those things are top heavy in the tiny wispy cones they pile them in. So you can imagine what happened next. The cone landed upside-down on Todd’s work shirt. Bam. That cone was smashed. Hey, but it was chocolate on chocolate. They nailed it. She reached in and took the smashed cone off of Todd and started over with Attempt #4 at the dipped cone.

The end of the story had us pulled forward waiting for the rest of the order, no longer singing about dead witches, and all wishing we had turned left out of the play’s driveway instead of right. We could have already been in our jammies, celebrating youth theater while drinking clean water from Dixie cups. Instead we were disgruntled, stained, and holding our desserts with a shell-shocked look in our eyes.

It was a nasty fight over the bottle of Shout when we got home. But there was a mysterious Butterfinger blizzard to make up for it ( I bet the guy in the car behind us has a story to tell now, too) and my shake was pretty good.

What Fifteen Years Looks Like

Dear AG,

They say “time marches on,” but I disagree. It doesn’t march. It sprints. Even at my brittle age, I could keep up with a march. And while time sprints ahead, so do you.  You outgrew me a few months ago by just a hair. But when I stood next to you yesterday, it was far more than just a hair.

I began writing this letter at midnight last night, on the eve of your 15th birthday. I was awake when the clock turned to midnight and the calendar flipped to your day. It is your birthday. You are 15.

It’s no great surprise that I was unable to sleep last night as I wrote. Well, for one, you can’t really sleep and write at the same time. But it was more than that. I have finally realized that your birthday–every year–is probably my most emotional day. More than Mother’s Day. More than other milestone days. It’s your day that gets me. Because it was you that made me a mom. In one phone call. In one 2 hour drive to meet you. In one look into your eyes, you added the greatest joy I had ever known and also relieved the greatest heartache I had ever endured. You filled a long-established void like no one else could and in that moment, 1000 prayers were answered. It began with you.

Yesterday, I tried to convert some old videos of you as a baby/toddler so we could relive the monkey you were. I managed to convert a few, upload them-horrible quality and all-to YouTube, break a camera, and then finally give up on the awesome slideshow I had playing in my mind with Sister Hazel as the soundtrack. Though I ultimately failed at video conversion, I succeeded at celebrating you. I remember you. 

You are still you. Last night at twilight, I sat on the bumper of my garaged car, to my own peril, and watched you play B in basketball. As a sporting event, it was almost unrecognizable. I’m almost 100% certain that nobody scored. At all. Not once. But as a fun exchange between two goofy boys, it was perfect. And I shot some video, so I can remember even this when you are 30.

You have always been a joy and you are a joy now.

Happy Birthday, son.

Mom