Share the Stories, Say Their Names

Today I sat in a church that holds memories of important days for me and added one more.  I sat there, saying goodbye to a man who taught me Physical Science in college.  And so much more.

It was a privilege sitting with others who love and miss him, listening to the one who was closest to him share his stories–some from as far back as 51 years and others as recent as four days ago, when this wonderful man took his last breath and the room was filled with peace.

As the stories were told, I was mesmerized.  I love listening to stories.  Maybe some folks were antsy, wondering how much longer, but all I could think of was More.  Please tell me one more.

Afterward I did get to hear more.  As people gathered around the tables heavy laden with foods, savory and sweet, they shared their memories.  Laughter and tears flowed freely.  Hugs were given again and again.  Old friends were reunited, and new friends were introduced.  The sun was shining, and the promised rain never came.

Only a gentle breeze that offered refreshment and relief from the afternoon heat.

Tonight I’m thinking about those stories, and how people from many different parts of this one man’s life came together to honor, remember, share, and listen.  There were people he’d taught, people he’d mentored, ones he’d worked with, others who worked for him, folks he worshipped alongside of, people who shared his love of camellias or music or books or good food…..

So many different people.  Gathered there in one place because of their love for this one very special person.

A beautiful thing to see and be in the midst of.

It was an added gift that I saw folks whom I love and have not seen in a long time.  I got to visit with women who were basically “rock stars” in my mind–they were prominent on my college campus when I was there.  I got to introduce them to my own Wesleyanne, and it warmed my soul to see her wrapped up in their stories from another time of the campus she loves so much.

I visited with a high school friend, and we laughed and laughed, and I know now why women go to the bathroom together.  It’s good to have a posse, y’all–no matter how many years go by between seeing each other.  My daughter looked at my friend’s daughter and could not believe how old they are both getting.  Yeah, that’s where life takes you, my girl.  Down a path that moves so quickly you are constantly surprised at how everything and everyone is changing.  It can be dizzying at times.

One of my favorite moments came when a family I’ve known for over thirty years came in and sat behind me in the church.  It was good to see their smiling faces.  I leaned over to my girl and whispered, “I babysat him once upon a time.”  Her eyes grew big as she took in the thirty-something year old man behind her.  “Wow,” she mouthed back.

His sweet Mama whom I remember from library events and school things–she’s dotted all through my childhood memories–leaned in to hug me.  “I love your blog,” she said.

Y’all.  That meant so much to me, yes.  To know that someone out there is reading these stories I share–and then her kind words.  Yes.  Thank you.  (I am humbled and honored when I discover that someone spends his/her time reading something I have written.)

But what meant the most to me was what she said next.  And she said it again in the hallway outside the bathroom in the parish hall.

“When I read them, I can see your Mama.  And I can hear her,” she said, smiling her beautiful smile.  “And your Daddy too.”

She knew my Mama–living in a small town, folks know just about everybody, but they volunteered together and well, she remembers.

And THAT meant everything to me.  She said their names, and she remembered.  I want to hold on to that moment for a long, long time.  In that moment, it was almost like I hadn’t completely lost them.

Today was about listening to stories.  And sharing them.  But most of all, today reminded me to speak the names of those whom we love who are no longer walking alongside us.  There is power in saying their names, in sharing their stories.  In that moment, we can bring their memory and stories to life and begin to heal the hearts of those who are hurting from the pain of missing the ones they love.  No matter how long it has been.

Whose story can you share today?  Who needs you to speak the name of one they love?  Whose story will you sit and listen to today?

Those stories, y’all.  They matter.  Some days, they’re all we have.

Love to all.

To Me, Age 22

A tearful and joy-filled day of remembering someone who loved life.  Loved cooking.  Loved people.  Loved his family.

And loved my sisterfriend.

As I sat there watching the slide show of pictures of him throughout his life, including the wedding pictures–the wedding I had the joy of being a part of, in the same building where I sat today with the tears flowing–

I found myself face to face with my 22-year-old self.

I saw her and my sisterfriend, sitting side by side in the little office with the cinderblock and wood top desk.  I saw them working together to get the job done, but also they laughed.  And they listened to music.

And they talked.

And in those moments between payroll and accounts payable and making signs and calculating timecards,

a friendship was born.

As I looked at my much younger self, I wanted to whisper–

That one sitting right there?  The one you just met and are getting to know?  The one who is funny and vivacious and kind and smart and is putting up with you right now at this very minute?

She is your sisterfriend.  She is going to continue putting up with you.

One day, you will be able to say, “I’ve known her for over half my life.”

One day, you will hug each other and hold on tight and whether the tears are yours or hers, whether it’s her sadness or yours, it won’t matter.

Because you will share the journey.

You will be there to laugh over the crazy things people do, the choices they make.

You will be there to stand up for each other, to say, “hey, this girl right here–you’d better treat her right.  Or else.”

You will be there to stand off to the side and bring comfort merely because you are there.

There will be periods of time, years maybe even, when you won’t hear from each other,

but when it all boils down to it,

when things get hard or wonderful or life finds you in need,

that one, she will be there for you.  Just as you better be for her.

Life doesn’t always deal you a friend like that one.

The one with the bat.

The one with the smile and laugh.  The one with the stories.

The one who will carry your stories with her to the grave.

The one who will let you into her family, who will share love with you just as she does.

Hey!  You!  The 22-year-old me who thinks she’s got it all together, who thinks life is rolling along pretty well–engaged, new job, college degree…..

Yeah, you do have it pretty good

but not because of any of those things.

It’s because of that girl right there.

Your sisterfriend.

And all of the women like her.

Who stand strong and love their friends fiercely.

Yes, girl, you have it good.  Now reach over and hug that girl next to you.  Both so young, both have so much wonderful adventures and heartache in front of you.  And it will be okay.  Not because it won’t hurt, not because you will get over it, but because you have a friend to share the journey with.

And to sit in the dark with you when the lights go out.

Because, my sweet self, they will go out.

No, don’t worry about a flashlight.  That’s only temporary.

Grab your sisterfriends.  That’s what light eternal is made of.

Friends.

 

Wishing you all a friend who will spend the next twenty-four plus years putting up with you.  (And a small warning, once you offer to use your bat “as necessary,” there are some folks who are hard to get rid of after that.)

 

Love to all.  Especially my sisterfriends.

 

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.

 

About Suckers and Saying Goodbye

Today a friend shared a picture of her precious grandson.  He was flopped over in tears, not wanting to leave his Granny’s house.

Ah, the memories that brought back.

When Aub and the littles were small and they didn’t want to leave Maemae and Cap’s house, it could get quite emotional and a bit dramatic.  They might not want to pick up the toys and put them away because that put them one step closer to leaving, and the fun would be over until next time.

Something that they couldn’t bear thinking about.

And so, cue the pitching of the fit.

I’m sure there was a part of the fits that had to make my parents feel good, but they never missed a beat and let on that they did.  Eventually they came up with the perfect solution.

Treats.

In the beginning it was the DumDum suckers.  They were safe for our food allergy child, and different folks liked different flavors.  Daddy thought the Savannah blueberry ones were interesting.  He knew I loved the coconut and would pull one out for me from time to time.  I think Mama liked the banana split.  (Or was it orange?  I know orange Tootsie pops were her thing.) For a while our Princess loved the mystery flavors and trying to guess what it was.   Then she moved on to the bubblegum or strawberry shortcake because PINK.  Sometimes folks would linger over flavor choices just to spend more time there with Maemae, looking and thinking about it and choosing.

Around Christmas one year I found some of those Bob’s soft peppermint candies and got them for Daddy.  Those went in a separate jar and became another option.  Then at some point Mama bought those caramel creams and put them on a pretty cake plate that sat empty much of the time.  Another option.

It’s good to have choices.  And in this case, it was win win win.  And it got folks out the door with smiles on their faces.  I even saw one or two of the lovely women who took such good care of Daddy when he was sick picking up one or two for the road.

It just worked like that.

I was thinking about that today, and about how I want to start that tradition back here at our house.  I even have the jar and the cake plate tucked away for just that.

Because you know, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down–or get the little ones out the door–whatever works, my friends.  Whatever it takes.

Tonight I’m thankful for memories of my crew huddled with Maemae around the candy dish, contemplating this very serious choice at the end of each visit.  I hope they will remember those times and know they were loved so very much.

Love to all.