the rest of October

October comes blazing in
with orange and pumpkins and bales of hay
everywhere

mums adorn porches and storefronts
and the smell of funnel cakes and
barbecue is in the air

and then suddenly the month is two-thirds gone
and the caravan of trucks move down the interstate
taking away the sights and sounds that had folks
talking and riding and laughing and screaming
with delight

ribbons are won and the quilts are folded
and put away
the cows go back to the barn
and the newly hatched chicks find their new homes

and suddenly, I’m tired
and worn out
like the leaves on the peach trees,
spent
and drifting

with the first chill that seeps into my bones
I am reminded of that October
when every moment was so very precious
and I sat by his bed and hoped–
I was still hoping in October

how could I not with the calliope music
and the lights
and the pony rides and rock walls
and the laughter he still shared when we spoke of such things

but then November came
and I knew,
I knew it would not be long
before this world would change forever
leaves would fall
as would the tears
and the days would grow shorter
and the shadows longer
and our hearts would be broken in bits

because he would leave us

and now when October is two-thirds over
and the Fair folk pack up and leave
a part of my heart goes with them
as I turn to face the
October that is left,
pregnant with sad anticipation

of all the remembering
November brings

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a long time gone

the thing about special days now
is that they will never be the same
without hearing your voice
and that phone call at exactly
the same time every single year

the sound of your voice echoes
in the silence
that inevitably comes
and the moment passes, another year
and still
my heart misses yours

as though it were only yesterday
and you were not a long time gone
from this world
released from the pains
and worries from before
that day that took you away

as the day draws to a close
the darkness suits, doesn’t it
to think of this life without you
from here on out

doesn’t seem like something I’m going to be able to do

and yet I will
of course
and most days I can
but when that phone doesn’t ring
and I don’t hear your voice
at all
on the day you never once let pass
by
without showing your love
or teasing me about getting old

it is almost too much to bear

I don’t have you to call and tell
how much this hurts anymore–
that might be the hardest of all

my friend, part of my heart, is apart
from me
and this life will never be the same again

gone is a complete sentence
to which there is no reply

In the Midst of the Sorrow

This morning I awoke to an email with some very sad news.  Leroy and Mess Cat’s sweet kitty Precious had five kittens yesterday afternoon.  They all died during the night.  The story we prepared for the children is that they were born too early and just didn’t make it.  The truth is that nature can be cruel and deadly when marking out its territory.  Tomcats are a menace.  And that’s just too much for them to grasp right now.

As I was brushing my teeth, I missed my Mama so much.  Her gentle ways with the children would have been welcome as we told them what happened.  Her loving touch and saddened voice would have acknowledged the pain but reminded us that this is what can happen sometimes.  There’s just no help for it.

I craved my Mama’s spirit.  I miss her.  It was then that I figured out what I’d like to invent.

A camera that takes pictures and captures the scent of the moment as well.  For me smell is such a trigger for memories, and I just know I would feel like Mama was closer if I could smell her or home or the scent of sunshine in the freshly washed sheets.

After I told Cooter and our Princess this morning, there were tears.  And questions. And they immediately asked about their cousin, Shaker.  How was he?  Was he sad?  We talked about how he must be feeling, and they both set to thinking about what they could do to lift his spirits.

Because they know grief, and they know people have been kind to them in their grief.

Our Princess quietly slipped away to get dressed for the day.  Cooter had seen her first, and he came into the room where I was, shaking his head.

“What?”

“You’ll see.  She takes the deaths of kittens very seriously.”

“Oh.  Well, don’t you?”

“I’m sad, yes, but well–you’ll see.”

And I did.  Our Princess was wearing a black dress.  She looked at me with a question in her eyes.  I nodded and so did she.  I get it.  Later in the day, she said, “All life matters.”

Yes, baby girl, yes it does.

This afternoon she suggested we fix a meal for Mess Cat and her family.  “Because you know Mama, I’ve heard that when a family is grieving, sometimes they don’t feel like cooking.”

Bless her.

It brought back memories of all the kind folks who prepared food for us–after Daddy and after Mama left this world.  So kind.  And appreciated.  Yes, my children know about death and grief and how our people do.

Bless all their hearts.

Tomorrow we plan on seeing Precious and her people and giving them all a big hug.  And maybe we’ll do what Shaker did with Precious today–sit quietly with them in the hopes of sharing the sorrow and making it even just a tiny bit palatable.

Tonight I’m thankful for sweet, tender hearts who know that all life matters and understand the pain of grief enough to be compassionate.  I’m not thankful for the reason, but I am thankful they seem to get it.

Love to all.

And Now, Only the Stories Remain…..and the Echoes of the Laughter

A phone call can change everything, you know?

It can change your plans, your evening, your thoughts, and your life.

I was just now sitting down to write about the bird we saw today, when I got a call that did just that.

My godfather, the man who is responsible for my existence (he introduced my parents), passed on from this world to the Next One yesterday evening.

Oh my heart.

I don’t ever remember him not being in my life.  He was like a refreshing summer breeze, blowing through and bringing all kinds of laughter and stories and sheer joy with him.

Uncle Chesh (short for Cheshire) attended college with my parents.  He was friends with both Mama and Daddy, who had never met.  He called Daddy “The Joyner.”  And he shared some of “The Joyner’s” writings with my Mama before she had even laid eyes on him.  I’m pretty sure Mama loved him before they ever met.  She was blown away by what she read, and Uncle Chesh knew it.  He arranged for their first meeting to be at the laundromat, but my memory might have failed me here.  I suppose I could skip over the part where Mama looked up (her 4’11” to his 6 feet) at Daddy at this first meeting, and said, “I believe I could fall madly in love with you, Mr. Joyner.”  But I won’t.

Because that’s how it all began.  Thanks to Uncle Chesh.

With a wedding planned, he wanted to get them something nice as a wedding gift.  And he did.  A real classy gift.

A set of dishes to start them out in their new home.  Perfect.

But this wouldn’t be an Uncle Chesh story if the backstory weren’t even better.

See, he was a college student.  So he found a way to get them dishes on his limited income.  The gas station had a deal where with every fill-up you could get another dish.

One fill-up at a time, Uncle Chesh got them that set of dishes.

I love that man.

He was right tickled with himself when, at my brother’s wedding back in ’05, he brought his gift.  A set of dishes.  This time not from the gas station, but the story goes that he did have to visit a few different Targets to get enough place settings.

Oh me.

I was the one who first told Uncle Chesh that his dear friend was sick with lymphoma.  The heartbreak in his voice was more than I could take.  He made sure he went over to visit Mama and Daddy when they had to stay in Atlanta while Daddy had his treatments.  And it was Uncle Chesh who came into town less than a week before Daddy left this world, planning a fried catfish dinner because he knew that was something that Mama and Daddy would both like.  He filled the house with laughter and regaled us with tales of his past adventures.  Some stories we knew, some we didn’t.  But it didn’t matter.  That he was there and that, one more time, the sound of his and Daddy’s laughter echoed off the walls were the greatest gifts he could have given us.

I was the one who called to tell him that Mama was gone.  He cried.  He loved them both so much, just like family because he is family.  He wanted to come to the services, just as he had with Daddy, but his own health wasn’t good.

And now–

too soon.

My heart is breaking.

But I did get one good laugh in tonight, when I realized the timing of everything.  Yesterday evening, I found myself wanting to paint–and a picture of the Cheshire Cat came to my mind for no good reason.  Only now I know it was for a very good reason.  I’d like to think that was my Uncle Chesh popping in with his big ol’ grin to say goodbye.  For now.

Because he was on his way.  To someplace better.

And then there’s this.

Yesterday, the day Uncle Chesh passed on, was my Daddy’s birthday.  And if that ain’t just like Uncle Chesh, showing up to surprise my Daddy for his birthday! Because that was his way–on many occasions over the years we’d get a call out of the blue: “Hey, I’m at the Waffle House about two hours down the road, I’ll be by there in a couple.  Can’t wait to see y’all.”

I bet that was a humdinger of a hootenanny my Daddy had for his 73rd birthday yesterday.

I just hope somebody was serving some Waffle House coffee.  Because I have a feeling they were gonna be up a while catching up, and well, it was my understanding that’s where Uncle Chesh told some of his greatest stories.  Over a cup of Waffle House’s best.

To the man who stole my heart from the moment I first met him, and without whom I would not be here–

thanks for the laughter, the hugs, the encouragement, the stories, and the love.

Until then…..

I miss you.

love always,

t

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My Uncle Chesh doing what he did best–making me laugh and sharing his love of life with all around him.

 

where were you?

some are going to ask you, “Where were you?,” you know

and others will claim you were never absent

that all things work to the good

and words like that

 

I won’t ask you

I’m not sure I’m ready for the answer

but I do wonder why all the brokenness

in the midst of a day where my little boy

is beaming because he built his first

Lego model from start to finish

all by himself

and on a day that found my girl

dancing and singing and making up stories

while her big sister beamed and found joy in the

silly and yet important things

 

in the midst of all of that

why this brokenness?

the sun was shining, for goodness’ sake

so many had spoken to you and asked for help

 

my heart aches because they were after a dream,

but because someone was hurting and lost

they are no longer here

to dream

to laugh

to love

 

and I want to know why

but I am hesitant to ask

because I’m afraid of what the answer might be

was it me?

did I fail him?

or another like him?

did I fail to stop and smile,

pay attention, take up time,

give away the love you so freely give

just for the sake of giving it?

 

some will ask where you were

but I think I know–

weeping with the rest of us,

tears streaming down your face,

wishing it could have all been different

 

and it could have

 

if only

there were no brokenness

 

and that, you’ve left up to us, haven’t you?

 

Where were you?

pleading with us to look

and see

and love

 

and love

 

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the window

The view from Daddy's window at Blackberry Flats.  Cardinals love those those hedges.

Looking back on the day

that we stood by Daddy’s bedside

and let him go,

I see in my mind’s eye and realize with some

surprise

that the curtains on the window were open.

Daddy spent many hours

sitting in his chair

by that window

watching the cardinals

living in the arbor vitae,

the flying back and forth and building homes

amongst the branches, their red wings

in beautiful contrast with the somber news to come–

all before the chair was moved

to make way for the

hospital bed

and the story changed

forever.

Before

he would sit there

in his chair next to the window

listening and telling stories and

doling out what wisdoms he had to share.

He watched his favorite shows, old movies, and sports

but his favorite view

was looking out

that window.

So it is only fitting that the curtains

were open and

he left

in the light,

not tucked away in the dark

behind a closed curtain

like a secret

we were afraid to tell.

He left in the light,

surrounded by love,

taking our hearts with him.

And after he left,

at the same time he left work

to head Home all those years,

the sun began to set,

shrouding us in darkness

for the day,

preparing us for the shadowed journey

without him

in the years to come.

 

To Have the World Stop Spinning

So we’re having some work done here at the house.  Good work.  Nothing wrong.  Just taking one more step to make it ours.  I’m very much like my Daddy, who, in conversation with his brother-in-law one time, said something about Blackberry Flats finally starting to feel like home.

I was grown y’all.  They had been living there at least twenty years.

And we’ve only been here seven.

Slowly but surely, it’s starting to feel a little more comfortable.

Home.

Last night I had a dream that the guys didn’t come today.  That I didn’t hear from them, wondered what had happened, if they were okay.

And then this morning, I got a phone call.

It was who I guess folks would call my “contractor.”

I prefer dream builder.

I dream it, he makes it happen.

He’s kind of magical like that.

Or at the least very talented.

And when I told him I like things “old-fashioned,” he Wrote.  It.  Down.

Win.

So yes, he called.  One of the guys who has been working with him had a death in his family–his uncle.  It sort of threw things off on them being able to get much done today, my dream builder explained.  So he thought they’d take today to get little things caught up on, and they’d plan on being back here tomorrow.

Oh bless him.

All of them.

His tone was somewhat apologetic.

But it was I who was sorry.

Sorry for this new friend of mine–the artist with the wood and tile and putty–who lost someone he loves.

My heart aches for him and his mother, with whom he is spending time helping her through this right now.

My house was quiet today.  No sounds of power tools or good-natured bantering.  No doors opening and closing.  No barking by Miss Sophie to “warn” me that someone was on the premises.  Over and over and over.

Just.

Quiet.

Oh, we had school.  Math.  Ah, well.  That is not usually a quiet exercise around here anyway.

But overall it was quiet.

And there was a bit of Fall teasing us today too, if I’m not wishful thinking here.

I am thankful for it.

Every time the oddness of the quiet reminded me of who wasn’t here, it also reminded me of a life lost.  Of the sadness in a family’s heart.  Of the burden of being the ones left behind that they carry now.  Of learning how to live all over again–without this person in their world.

Tonight I give thanks for the quiet.  For the opportunity to grieve alongside this family.  I think too often we pass over deaths that affect others more and move on, back to our lives and our schedules and what comes next. Or we are altogether oblivious of the loss. We don’t mean to be insensitive or unkind and unfeeling.  It’s just what we do.  We skim the obituaries with our morning coffee. We pull over to the side of the road when a procession goes by.  If we knew them or someone close to them, we plan to go to the visitation between supper and our program at 9 pm on TV.  We take leave or a long lunch break to go to the funeral.  We pass the folks in the hall a week later and ask them how they are doing.  We listen, do the side tilt nod, and pat the person on the shoulder, saying something to the effect of “I’m thinking about you” or “It will get better” or “Call if I can do anything,” not even being able to fathom what that might look like. We try.

But sometimes what those who grieve really need it to look like is life ceasing for a moment or twelve.  For the world to pause for a little bit.  I remember feeling shocked after my Daddy died that the grocery store was still open.  My world had fallen, collapsed around my heart, and the grocery store was OPEN?!?  I could still get gas? As bad as my heart felt, with pieces scattered hither and yon, how did this world keep turning? I used to tease my Daddy that I guess the world stopped turning when his glass was empty–and after I got up and poured him some more water or tea, I sat down and slapped my hands together.  To start the world back to spinning.  It was our joke. But after he left this life?  No.  There was no way it should still be spinning.  Inconceivable.  And yet–

It was.

So today was a precious and raw and beautiful reminder to me about sitting with others in their grief.  In the quiet moments of this day, I thought about this young man whom I barely know, whose personality is delightful and who is a hard worker and a skilled and talented craftsman.  I remembered his uncle, whose name I don’t even know.  But a candle has been extinguished, and the world is a different place than it was before he died.

Before any of them died.

The world is different.

And sometimes that is what we need most–to have the world acknowledge that the world is different without this person we love so dearly.

And miss so much.

To have the world stop spinning for a moment or two.

That.

I’m thankful for the moments that mine stopped spinning today.  It wasn’t of my own choosing, but I give thanks for it.  And for the reminder that we all are a part of each other’s story, even if on the periphery.  And we can give each other the gift of pausing and pulling over to the side of the road, literally and figuratively, when someone dies.  Each one who leaves this world matters.  It changes us all.

Love to all.