Just In Case, Part 2

Today I learned a couple of things I wanted to share.

Apparently I am not the “Just in case” girl that I thought I was.   Oh sure, I can pack a “Family Fun Bag” with just about everything necessary for any possibility that could come along.  Yeah, I’ve got that whole glorified diaper bag thing down.

But when it comes to being prepared, I found out today I still have a lot to learn.

Today we were going to say goodbye and celebrate the life of a sweet and dear friend.  Our first funeral since Mama’s and Miss B’s services in February.  I felt like I was emotionally prepared–I knew it would be hard, as her passing has left a huge hole in all of our lives.   So I gathered my littles this morning and helped them get ready.

Oh dear.  Anyone else’s Mama have them lay their clothes out the night before?

I get it now.

Our life these days doesn’t require a lot of dressing up or coordinating shoes with outfits.  (And purses too?  Hang it up.  That’s why I didn’t carry one today.)  In fact we haven’t had to do this since February.

Time has passed, and the children have grown.

20131016-224854.jpg

As evidenced by the dress that has risen to just above knee level on our Princess.  And that the boots she wore then will not even come close to fitting her now.  I was lucky Cooter had a pair of khakis that fit–thank you GW Boutique shopping spree in August.  Throw on a polo and the loafers he insisted on wearing (“Cooter, you can wear your boots.” “No Mama, it’s a funeral; you have to dress right.”)…..and he was set.  Shoes for our Princess was another story.  There just weren’t any.  Until I pulled out a pair of my shoes that have fit a bit snug…..voila!  Okay then.  (We will not even discuss that my almost nine-year old’s foot is just about as big as mine.)  I found the black dress I wore to my Great Aunt’s service in 2010, threw on a blue sweater over it, and we were ready to go.

And believe it or not, we were NOT late.  Despite the bumpy start.  And my not being prepared for “just in case.”

It was on our journey that I figured out that our Princess has inherited the “just in case” gene.  I usually take a glass of water with me when we leave the house, so when she asked if she could take one, I wasn’t really surprised. The church is only about twenty minutes from the house at most, but whatever–I pick my battles and that wasn’t one of them.   When we got to the church, she hopped out of the van with her little  crocheted Granny square bag from the Fair two years ago.  “Look at what I brought, Mama, inside my little Fair bag.  It’s my rain jacket just in case.”

Yes, she said those words.  And yes, she really had packed her “in a pack” rain poncho.  And no your eyes did not deceive you today–sunny and 75.  Not a chance of rain.  That girl has a serious sense of “just in case.”  (I suppose this would be the time to confess that she was actually the one to remember the dress and pull it out of her closet. Thankful for that.)

I sighed and figured, okay, whatever, we were already walking toward the church.  We got to the front door and I realized she had also brought her cup with her.  (No I did not notice it before then.  I was distracted.  Yes, I know they make stuff for that.  Working on it.)  I was not carrying my usual “big” bag that I could have tucked it in, and the idea of carrying a cup into a church, into a funeral service……ummmm, no I just couldn’t do it.  We turned around and headed back to the parking lot where we saw the Fella pulling in from work to join us.  Since he was parked closer, he took the bag and cup back to his car.  Mission accomplished.

And we still were not late.

Today I’ve learned that I need to keep one dress outfit AND SHOES on hand for each one of us.  Just in case.  Because I don’t think Princess can get many more wearings out of that dress and I’m pretty sure her foot will outgrow mine in the next few months.  Cooter is bound to outgrow those wonderful hand-me-down loafers at some point, though he’s worn them longer than I had expected.  And when you’re already sad, shopping is the last thing you want to do, but if you’re not prepared it’s something you have to do.  Because, as Cooter said, “It’s a funeral.  You have to dress right.”

I’ve learned a lot today.  The perfect ending would be that it rained and Princess was deemed to be brilliant.  But I’ve learned there are no perfect endings.  I’ve learned all over again how much I hate the cancer, and how it chooses some of the best folks to take away from us.  It just makes no sense.  The hole in our hearts will never be quite the same, and there was no way to be prepared for this loss.  Sometimes I wish “Justin Case” were a superhero who, by keeping you prepared, could help you get through any situation without heartbreak or injury or embarrassing moments.  He could hang out with Anxiety Girl and keep stressful or sad things from happening or at least from taking us by surprise.  Unfortunately, that’s not real life and being prepared “just in case” doesn’t make the hard days any easier.  Sure wish it did…..

The Giant Didn’t Win

It was so hot that day.  September can be like that in Georgia, and that day in 2009 was no different.  Especially on the roof of the parking deck at Emory Hospital in Atlanta.  I had walked all the way to the elevator, taken it down, and was on my way into the hospital when I remembered.  I’d forgotten them.

The rocks I took to Daddy when he was at Emory--in the back our newly planted butterfly bushes and lantana, it all makes me think of him.  He taught me to use a shovel and dig a hole for planting.

The rocks I took to Daddy when he was at Emory–in the background are our newly planted butterfly bushes and lantana, it all makes me think of him. He taught me to use a shovel and dig a hole for planting, and he got me the birdbath and set it up right there. 

The rocks I’d brought him.  From home.  Blackberry Flats.

Just a day or two before, I’d been at their house checking on things.  As I pulled out of the dirt driveway, I remembered I wanted to take him rocks from home.  So I put the car in park, hit the hazard lights, and got out to pick up five rocks from the gravel they’d brought in to level out the ruts in the drive.

Five rocks.  I’d read that five was the number of rocks David had when he went to fight Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40).  Daddy was definitely in a fight for his life against some kind of Giant.  I figured he needed all the fighting power he could get.

Over the next two years, Daddy and I would have some interesting conversations about David.  “A man after God’s own heart.”  How did that even happen?  Have you heard what he did?  What he was capable of?  Wow.  It must be hard, when you’ve lived your life doing pretty much as you should (there was that one story about the rabbit tobacco) and then some, and you find yourself fighting something that is hard to fully comprehend, it must be really hard then to hear a story about someone who did some pretty awful things and yet found “God’s favor.”  I’m just sayin’.

But that day in September of 2009, I made the trek back to my Blazer, refusing to hear the “Oh, just leave them, you can take them to him next time” echoing in my head.  The “what if there’s not a next time” conversations were much, much louder.  Always.  Those words pretty much ruled my actions, plans, and routines for the next two years.  And I don’t regret it at all.

I kept the rocks in my pocket during our time together in the small hospital room there at Emory.  Just before this visit we’d learned the name of this Giant.  Lymphoma.  Of the brain.  A rare form.  As I prepared to leave, I placed the rocks in Daddy’s hands and said, “For the fight, Daddy.  You can fight this Giant.  We know its name and it’s got nothing on you.”

And he did fight it.  For a long time.  After Daddy died in November 2011, Mama gave me the rocks, placed safely in one of those plastic bags the newspapers come in on rainy days.  I brought them home and tucked them in a drawer, unable to bear even holding them in my hands.  A few days ago, I found them and they made me smile.

Because now I’m trying to use them to remind me of Daddy’s spirit in the battle.  In an email I sent out on September 8th, the day the Giant was given a name, I wrote:

Daddy walked around the hall 8 times today!  I asked Mama if he did it because he felt like it or if it made him feel better.  She said neither.  He just did it because they want him to, it helps keep things circulating, and because, though he’s very tired, he’s in this fight.

Rock 1–Persevere.  Even when you don’t feel like it.

I also wrote:

I don’t have a lot more information on the disease because I just can’t make myself google it and “borrow trouble.”  I’m clinging to the doctor’s word “treatable.”

Rock 2–Hope.  That was Daddy’s rule.  Do not borrow trouble.  Whether it was anticipating rain or worrying over the surgery to do his brain biopsy, we were not to borrow trouble.  I have many days I have to remind myself of that rule.  MANY.

Daddy’s form of lymphoma was so rare, the doctors weren’t really sure what type it was.  Mama and Daddy asked the doctor a question about it, and he said he’d have to get back to them on that.  Yeah, we’re still waiting on that one.  In the same e-mail I added:

One of my aunts said, “Well, that’s your Daddy for you–he’s usually in rare form.”  We’re not immune to laughter around here. 

Rock 3–Laugh.  A lot.

When Daddy finally made it home after over a month at Emory, he walked in the back door of his house to find me and the crew there waiting (like one hungry dog does another–ahem) to eat pizza with him.  They had not seen him at all during his time at Emory.  It was such a precious homecoming.  My little guy looked up, mouth full of pizza, and in one of the most anticlimactic moments ever, said, “Hey Cap!” with a big cheesy grin.  Daddy stopped for a second, looked at him, smiled just as big, and said, “Hey, Cooter!”  Happiness abounded.

Rock 4–Treasure the little things.  From katydids on dahlias to baby girls looking for Mustangs to little guys driving Matchbox cars around the hospital bed rails.  Find joy in every moment you can.

Rock 5–Give up.  In his lifetime and especially after his diagnosis, Daddy gave up a lot.  Prejudices, expectations, dreams, plans.  And so much more.  In giving up, Daddy showed us how to fight the Giant with dignity and hope and peace, rather than with the anger and bitterness that could have just as easily taken over our lives.

So I think I’ll put these rocks out where I can see them.  And treasure memories of my Daddy who loved and lived for others, especially his family.  And remember the lessons he taught us as he fought to slay the Giant and prepared to say goodbye.

Because the Giant didn’t win.  It might have beaten his body but it never conquered his spirit.  With each rock Daddy threw–persevering, staying hopeful, all that wonderful laughter, treasuring the stories and time with those he loved, and giving up the script he might have written for himself–with each rock–he kept that Giant from taking over his mind, his heart, and his spirit.  And for that, I’ll always be thankful.

Our Princess playing soccer with her Cap in 2008.  The littles talk about how he can play soccer again now, in Heaven, and they just hope he's playing "really good."

Our Princess playing soccer with her Cap in 2008. The littles talk about how he can play soccer again now, in Heaven, and they just hope he’s playing “really good.”