Remember my mom’s friend, Stacy?
She spoke of her often. They were across-the-street neighbors, who coincidentally shared the same Oncologist. It’s great to share things with your neighbors – mutual friends, rakes, cobbler recipes…
But sharing the same Oncologist – it just rarely ends the way we want it to.
The first time I ever heard of Stacy was when mom told me about her sweet, pretty, young neighbor who had a very similar blood disease to hers. It was, “Stacy this and Stacy that” for many years before I ever had occasion to meet her.
(You know I was always burning up I35 – rushing in and out of Dallas trying to be a dutiful daughter, but trying to get back home to you and the kids as fast as possible.)
Remember another time Stacy’s name came up was when my mom was coordinating an outing with Stacy’s junior high son. She wanted to “do something special” for “this nice young man,” since his mom had been in the hospital so much.
Being the mother of two male teens, I was immediately concerned. I confessed to you I wasn’t sure if I was feeling concern for my mom or concern for the boy, but I was pretty certain this “date-night” might not go the way my mom was envisioning.
Mom wasn’t one bit worried.
“I told him I was taking him on an outing,” she boasted, clearly tickled with herself. “Dinner and a movie! He can pick any movie and restaurant he wants to go to. I’m not going to influence him one bit. But, we just got a brand new Olive Garden!”
“Oh Lord!” I complained to you behind mom’s back, “There’s no way this kid really wants to hop in a Buick with a 78 year old woman for dinner and a show.”
I was so wrong. But I didn’t figure that out until later.
Toward the end, when my mom got really sick and I was required to be down at her house in Dallas most of August and September, I had a chance to finally meet Stacy, her husband Cory and their son, Parker.
Parker was anxious to breeze through the compulsory introductions so he could go back to the bedroom to spend time with “Miss Doris.”
That’s how sweet he was and how wrong I was.
There’s so much more to this story. This family turned out to be a saving grace as mom passed away. They simply couldn’t do enough for us. From grilling burgers, to setting up medical equipment, to coordinating a garage sale – they were omnipresent.
One day Stacy informed me her husband, a Realtor, would sell my mother’s house for us (when the time came) for practically no commission. My first thought, as a seasoned wife of 33 years, was, “Oh my sweet girl! He’s gonna get on to you later for saying that!” But Cory just nodded his head in genuine accord.
They both continued to say how their only desire was that they wished there was more they could do to help Sweet Miss Doris.
What baffled us on every occasion we dealt with this family was how in the world all 3 of them could be so loving, so Godly and so authentically kind.
At the same time.
We certainly liked to think of ourselves as a good family, but we definitely took turns doling out the kindness. And I let you take the reins entirely in the generosity department. That was always your thing.
But my point is, we spaced out our reservoir of goodness.
You and I talked about them at length as we rode back to Oklahoma the evening after we closed with the new buyers on Mom’s house. Mainly because Stacy insisted on riding all the way across town to the closing with Cory, so she could “hold my hand” through what she knew would be “a difficult time” for me.
She also added, in a very Texasy way, that what she really wanted was to just “hug my neck!” We chuckled at that expression. I told you I thought it was sort’ve a nostalgic Country-thing…the proverbial neck hug.
Like the song my mom always sang to us, and then we, in turn, sang to our kids:
“I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck, a hug around the neck and a barrel and a heap, a barrel and a heap and I’m talking in my sleep about you – about you.”
So she hugged my neck and sat there and dried my foolish tears, as I remembered all the happy times in my mother’s home. Neither of us suspecting a thing…
…As you and Cory signed paperwork, she and I played out in the waiting room like little girls with the title company’s Keurig machine, sipping their free hot cocoa. We had no idea that in about one half of a year, both she and you would depart from this Earth, leaving me and Cory to pick up the pieces of our and our children’s broken hearts.
When I passed through Dallas on Father’s Day, I was blessed with the opportunity to go say goodbye to my mother’s-friend-who-incidentally-became-my-friend. Reaching for my hand, she asked me if I wanted her to deliver any messages to you and my mom. I said,
“Yes, tell them both I love them and then you fuss hard at Jimmy for buying that motorcycle!”
She giggled weakly as her eyes fluttered shut, promising she would.
And then it was my turn.
I promised her that her guys would be okay. I assured her that, just like you, she laid a perfect foundation of strength, resiliency and an enduring legacy of love to carry her family through.
Our job is to simply stay the course. Keep the rudder straight. And we will. I know somehow we will.
I hope she’s up there giving you the business about that bike right now. That’s from me. And also hugging your neck.
Thats from me too.
I guess I can finally admit there was actualły one thing that could be considered a positive aspect of being an Army Brat forced to move every 2 or 3 years – the constant process of relocation provided me with the opportunity to reinvent myself frequently.
This could be really helpful for a kid like me…
Reliably, within a year or two, a Social Bail-Out would arrive in the form of my dad’s latest military orders – you could depend on the fact that our family would soon be off to parts unknown.
This could not have happened at a more opportune time for me, in terms of my social aspirations, than 1973 – the year my family landed in San Antonio.
For whatever reason, my parents decided to put us into the local Catholic school, Holy Spirit. We spent the next 3 years under the strict tutelage of a Benedictine Order called The Rainbow Sisters. They fully immersed me and my sibs in The Holy Spirit Catholic Community.
Self-actualized, even at a tender age, I decided before the pending move, I needed to make some serious changes. I made a list of all the personal improvements I thought would help towards making me a better version of my 10 year old self, thereby gaining purchase on a slightly higher rung of the elementary school social ladder.
The first few things that had to be dealt with were so painfully obvious they defied listing:
1. A disastrous combination of frizzy + red hair.
2. Freckles covering every square inch of my tiny body.
Prior to our big move to Texas, I tried everything imaginable to alter my appearance.
To no avail.
One such attempt involved getting my hair completely wet before bed, then combing it straight down my scalp and sleeping with a ski cap on. My plan was that my hair would be forced to dry straight and the only part that would curl is the section that stuck out past the knit cap. Those sections I flipped up with a comb, hoping they too would dry that way overnight.
The first morning I attempted this technique, I couldn’t wait to see the new me. The look I was going for was an adaptation of the hairstyle of Toni Tenille, of “The Captain and Tenille.” She was so cute and the entire world adored her.
Especially The Captain.
Needless to say, when I woke up and removed the cap, the results were not as anticipated. I didn’t look a thing like Toni. My hair dried plastered to my head and as soon as it was released from confinement in a ski cap, it sprang back into the afro it’s genetically determined to be.
I continued to tweak this hairstyle for months, but also decided a more immediate change I could make was to change my name. So my first day at Holy Spirit, when the Principal, Sister Mary Martin, ushered me into my new classroom, before she had a chance to introduce me as Leslie, I pre-empted her, “My name is Cissie. Everyone calls me Cissie!”
And so they did.
And it’s not like I was living a lie or anything. My family had always called me “Sissy.”
A few years later, when the fam moved up I-35 to Dallas, I was in the 7th grade and ready to shed my “Cissie Persona.” I don’t know if it wasn’t working for me or I just wanted to RE-reinvent myself. I decided to drop the nickname-name and embrace my “Inner Leslie.”
I didn’t change my name again until I changed my last name to match yours in 1984. And then again, in 1986, when I changed my first name to “Mom.”
Recently the kids and I were alł conversing about how people behaved toward us for the first few months after you died. We discussed how very humbled and grateful we were by the overwhelming outpouring of love and generosity.
We all agreed there were a few odd ducks though.
That set me off on a mini-rant about all the strangers who contacted me requesting to meet personally so they could share ‘what the Holy Spirit had laid upon their heart’ concerning your death.
We were floating lazily in the pool during our vacation in Florida, when I started carrying-on something fierce,
“I know the Holy Spirit personally too… What’s more, I’m home all day. If the Holy Spirit has something to say to me, why can’t he just say it to me directly? Why is He dispatching strangers over to my house, requiring me to put on a bra, just so I can hear him out. Especially when I’m exhausted and clearly mired in grief!”
Ironically, I had entertained the gang just hours earlier with the story of how their mother had once gone by an entirely different name.
It was about that time that Mollie, our quiet, yet clever one, decided to pipe up…
“Mom, when you were a part of The Holy Spirit Community, you told us you went by the alias “Cissie Bodden.” When Dad died, the Holy Spirit was probably scouting around for HER, not Leslie Blanchard. No wonder he had to send out emissaries. Did you ever think maybe He honest-to-God could not find you?”
There’s nothing in the world our kids enjoy more than making fun of me.
They totally got that from you.
Today marks the one year anniversary of our second daughter’s wedding. June 1st. And yet, I totally forgot. I woke up to a text from one of our best friends reminding me of it.
I quickly shot out a “Happy Anniversary” to our newlyweds in New York. Our dearest friends are definitely carrying me these days. They store so many of our precious memories for safe-keeping until I can find my way back to them.
What was actually weighing heavily on my mind was, ‘Today is June 1st – I need to make sure Jimmy’s company received my first COBRA insurance payment or I’m screwed.’ I can’t believe I’ve actually been reduced to worrying about health insurance.
What a difference a year makes.
Do you recall back in 2006 when a book hit the best-selłer list called “The Secret?” Oprah recommended it on her show, so my mom couldn’t buy me a copy fast enough. Of course I devoured it.
The premise of the book, in a nutshell, was that we “get back” whatever we send out to The Universe. I’m doing some serious paraphrasing and condensing here, but the gist of it was promoting positive-visualization.
I was kind’ve excited about it and shared the concepts with you. I think your exact response was, “Bull Shit!”
Lord, you could be terse. And not exactly oozing positivity either…
After I finished reading it, I took from it the parts I deemed legit, helpful and in alignment with our faith, dismissing the rest. Personally, I agreed with you that it can be a slippery slope to imagine that everything good-in-life or everything bad-in-life that happens to us occurs because (in your words) we “thunk on it too hard!”
For instance, I don’t believe the Jews brought on the Holocaust by overthinking Hitler and genocide. I think that might’ve been your point. With that said, I do believe in the power of positive thinking and throughout my life I’ve pictured a lovely existence for myself in the world. And I’ve fantasized constantly about alł the things that I wanted to see happen for me.
Starting with you.
And they mostly did happen.
In honor of Mollie’s anniversary, I couldn’t resist watching the video of you and her dancing at her wedding. It was self-induced pain and of course I bawled all the way through it. But, that’s what reminded me of that book and the power of visualization.
Ever since that misty grey September morning in Houston when you drove me to the hospital to have our second, I always dreamed of you and her dancing at her wedding to the song, “September Morn.” Throughout her young life, every single time I heard that song, I would always think to myself,
‘Awwww..here’s Mollie and Jimmy’s Wedding Dance song…’
Remember how crushed I was when our engaged couple said they would prefer a smalł wedding with no dancing? We started pushing hard for the traditional Daddy/Daughter Dance. They eventually and graciously complied.
And even though watching that video is like being stabbed in the heart by the blades of a thousand knives, it’s also one of the most precious things I have left of you.
Unlike a few of the other Blanchards (myself included…okay, myself especially) limelight-seekers and show-stealers, you and Mollie are a bit more reserved. I must’ve been prescient because the lyrics of the song fit her perfectly:
“I can still hear you crying in the corner of your room…”
That’s how she is and always was. Low key. Not big on a lot of attention. So, I’m so very grateful y’all had that dance together, even though the video is upside down and sideways.
Speaking of upside down and sideways, we are, all of us, working diligently every day to survive without you. I read a book on Monday night that said “acute grief” lasts 4 months. I counted backwards and it was exactly 4 months that very day! I was immediately encouraged, but then I didn’t get out of bed the next day, so maybe I’m just obstinate.
“The Secret” to finding your way back must be balancing the “looking back” with the “looking forward.”
I know I need to to spend more time visualizing the future joy God has in store for us all…Still I find myself wishing there was a way to thank you for devoting your life to indulging all my whims and fancies and making every little thing I envisioned come to fruition.
“For I know the plans I have for you declared The Lord, plans to prosper you, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Tommy phoned me from the laundry room bright and early this morning.
I was 10 feet away in our bedroom.
“There’s something alive in here!”
“What do you mean by alive?” I shrieked, alarmed. Admittedly, the population count fluctuates around here on the daily, but by my recollection, the only two beings that should’ve been alive in our house this particular morning were me and Tommy.
“I mean something with a heartbeat mom, you know ALIVE!”
I was baffled, as our dog was even out-of-town. It should’ve been all quiet on the western front.
I rang off and jumped out of bed, just in time to see our son grabbing his school stuff and making a bee line out of the utility room. In the time it took me to build a pretty impressive barricade out of rolled up towels and dumb belłs, he was heading out the door with car keys and backpack.
“You’re not going to just leave me here like this, are you?”
His face registered momentary confusion followed rapidly by utter exasperation.
“Mom, I’ve gotta go!”
I was just kidding. We had spent hours the night before discussing all the tests he had coming up this week. The kid is a dedicated student, to say the least. But when he left I felt so all alone.
Except not really…
I remembered you had some mousetraps you’d purchased to set out at the lake house. I grabbed those out of the garage, along with a jar of Skippy.
Then I did what any reasonable woman would do, I calłed one of besties.
“There’s a mouse in my laundry room!”
“Set the mousetraps and don’t lose a finger in the process!”
Seriously? This lackadaisical woman is the same friend I called the night you died? That night she said, “I’ll be right over!” And she was. It was like she had Scottie from Star Trek on standby to beam her places. So fast was she.
I received a similar response from the next friend I called. My Native Oklahoma Posse was quite cavalier.
I’m an Army brat, I hail from military bases. I never encountered a mouse growing up. I suspect when they constructed those military installations, they sprayed the land down with Agent Orange, upon which they poured acres of concrete, surrounded by more miles of chain link fencing. To which they added a couple of MPs at every entrance and exit for added security.
All designed to keep the Russians and the Rodents out.
While my friends adopted a laissez-faire attitude toward my plight, I was becoming increasingly traumatized by the minute.
Ever since you passed away, I have actualły had people inquire whether I think I was overly-dependent upon you and, if I had a “do-over,” would I have tried to pay attention and learn more when I had the chance?
I do admit that every time you attempted to teach me basic survival skills such as how to set a mousetrap, how to operate our automatic sprinkler system or even a precursory understanding of CD ladders and annuities, I stubbornly crossed my arms over my chest, snapped my gum and rolled my eyes just like I did in high school Algebra class when I told Mr. Johnson,
“I’m never gonna need to know this stuff!”
I spent the next hour weeping softly as I struggled to grasp the mechanical workings of a mousetrap.
Then I googled “how to set a mousetrap” and found 3 videos on YouTube:
The first video I viewed featured a condescending gent who kept reiterating, “Do not attempt this unless you are a Certified Pest Control Specialist!” Dude, if I had my PCS certification (is that even a thing?) I wouldn’t be watching a YouTube video on something this elementary.
My second option was a tutorial by a sadistic-seeming chic with a British accent who sounded like she might be related to Siri. She creeped me out, “Be sure to hold the kill bar down firmly with both hands, while connecting the control hasp…”.
The third video was presented by a good old fashioned Redneck guy. “Put the peanut butter right here and then ya take this here thingamabob and ya stick it right in there!”
Now I had to get the mousetrap into the laundry room. I did so with much trepidation and a broom handle. I could still hear this creature rustling around loudly behind my washing machine. It sounded enormous.
It was loud. As Gracie immediately pointed out a few hours later when she arrived home,“People use the expression ‘quiet as a mouse’ because mice must be generalły considered quiet…” Based on that logic, she didn’t concur that our trespasser was a mouse.
“I can’t live this way!” was her next declaration, “You’ve got to call a Professional!”
She had a point, as it had been many fruitless hours since I’d set my trap. I had already called several pest control operators who wanted to sell me a full-on Rodent Elimination Plan and could schedule us for later this week. No can do.
The way I figured it, I had two options.
1. Burn the house down, which would surely kill whatever it was…
2. Prevail upon one of your many friends who told me, “Call me if you need ANYTHING!”
So I called your buddy, a former Marine. Then, just for good measure, shouted through the barricade,
“Semper Fi you little *$&#, I’ve called out The United States Marine Corps!”
To be honest, I don’t even know what Semper Fi means. It could be Latin for, “I’m overreacting.”
This poor guy came over dressed for work, in a business suit and ended up soaked in sweat after he dismantled my washing machine and then my dryer. Turns out a bird had flown into the dryer vent through my roof.
He was gently released back into nature at the pond across the street. The bird, not the Marine. (It’s actually not possible to gently release a Marine, who has just saved your life.) He got hugged all the way out to his truck.
I admit, I did feel somewhat vindicated. I truly don’t believe I would’ve handled that ordeal any differently even if I had listened to you a little and let you educate me more…
A lot of what the Bible refers to as “The suffering of this present time…” actually translates to endless hours of me attempting to process things.
I spend a lot of time alone in my bedroom these days mulling over life – the abrupt left-turn mine has taken, in tandem with remembering endless events and other minutiae.
Right now I can hear you making a classic tongue-in-cheek comment about how grateful you are that I have “so much time for Navel Gazing!” The implication: Some people have to work, you know.
“You know that work thing, right?” you might add. And I would respond cheekily, “No I’m not familiar with the concept of work…I’m a thinker!”
Some of my musings are actualły productive though. I’m evolving through reflection. And, at times, it seems a little “worky!”
One recollection that just came randomly flooding back to me today is a memory from Emilie’s wedding. There was this game we played on the dance floor. The DJ initiated it. It was designed to honor marriage, specifically long lasting marriages.
All the married couples are asked out to the dance floor, including the Bride and Groom. And then they are slowly eliminated by the length of time they’ve been married. Or not been married, as it were.
The DJ begins by saying, “Everyone that’s been married less than a day leave the dance floor!” That’s obviously the Bride and Groom, who are now free to go mingle with their single friends.
As the dancing continues, the DJ asks couples married less than one year, then 5 years to exit the dance floor. Then less than 10 years – adios kids!
The remaining couples continue dancing, as they are deeply admired and lauded by the other guests for all the time they’ve put into fidelity and devotion to one another. And the dance floor slowly clears of all the “newlyweds.”
20 years or less? Ha! Go back to your tables and order another glass of wine. You’re gonna need it. You newbies don’t know from sacrificial love and endurance spread out over multiple decades.
At 30+ years, you and I had been out there long enough for my feet to hurt in those ridiculous shoes. But, instead of truly cherishing the moment and the accomplishment of over 3 decades in the trenches of true love, I was super annoyed.
It was my mother. She was literally dancing all over my last nerve.
I was annoyed because Mom, who had been happily married to my dad for 40 years and widowed from him for 14, was dancing with her “gentleman friend” and did not yield the dance floor as instructed when the DJ called out’ “40 years or less!”
Her date was a widower as well. It seems they had decided to take credit for all the years they had been married to their own spouses, but then were continuing to count alł the widowed years since their spouses had been deceased.
They just preferred their “take” on the game. In short, they liked their own geriatric math better.
So they kept on dancing.
I was standing there on the sidelines with you after we tapped out at 31 years fuming at my mother’s brazen attempt to steal the limelight. In my book, Dad died at 40 years and she couldn’t just grab any other old man and dance off the next 14 years for “full marital credit” as if Daddy were still around.
Why I let this bug me so much is a mystery. Or not. Maybe it’s just the ultimate insight into all the obvious flaws in my character. When I complained to you, you said, “Hush, she’s having fun!” You were always the Bigger Man. (Of course you were always bigger and the man…)
But I just kept thinking, she’s cheating!
I’m not sure why it even mattered so much to me; it’s not like we were giving away a Caribbean Cruise to the winning couple. One of Emilie’s bridesmaid’s grandparents won anyway – Mimi and Pop. I think they’d been married 70 years or something insane like that.
I’m glad they won. Pop died a few months later. It was heartbreaking. At least they were blessed with a long and happy life together…
I never in a million years dreamed we wouldn’t have a 50th Golden wedding anniversary. I thought we’d be that old couple out there at our grandchildren’s weddings, stealing the show and impressing the hell out everyone with our love and devotion to one another and the fine institution of marriage.
But here I am, all these months later with all this unfettered time to think. It’s hard to believe, but my Mom’s been gone 7 months and you’ve been gone 3 months. And I’m thinking about that stinkin’ dance.
I purposely picked one of our songs, “Lets Stay Together,” by Al Green. I thought the lyrics were so fitting for the tribute.
Suddenly, thanks to my newfound perspective, I now understand where Mom was coming from. She was, in fact, still married to Dad.
As I will always be married to you. It’s not like I’m on a game show and a buzzer went off when you died and I fell down a trap door. You lose! Or maybe I’m doing poorly in a board game, “Oops you lost your husband, move your piece back 10 spaces!”
I completely understand why my mom and her “Gentleman Friend” felt entitled to keep on dancing. They understood the rules to the game better than I did back then.
Hint: There are no rules.
Being widowed is so incredibly different from calling it quits for other reasons. I’m sure all marital losses are painful, but having your Love wrenched away without even the courtesy of an Exit Interview…you always said I was a pouter by nature, but it’s hard for me to imagine that I would ever dance again. I’m surprised and rather impressed my mother could.
But apparently she could.
And she did.
And I’m terribly thankful for that.
“Always Something There To Remind Me” (We Still Have A Mom And A Dad Even When They’re Not In The Picture…)
Like most families, we have framed photographs scattered throughout our home. Most of them don’t have names. They might be casually referred to as, “the girls on the ski trip,” but they’re not officially named.
All except for one.
There is one picture in our home formally entitled, “Dese Boys, Dey Don’t Hab A Mom!” James named it. He personally represents 1/2 of the motherless orphans pictured in the photograph, so it seemed only fair that he was granted the naming rights.
Back when we lived in Phoenix, there was a photography studio in Scottsdale’s tony Fashion Square Mall that would photograph your children and you could take your selections home with you that very same day.
I dressed up our sons, ages 4 and 18 mos and drove them north to Scottsdale. Everything went south from there.
A total disaster. I’m sure you recall it involved every end of their miniature digestive systems, everything in my arsenal of a diaper bag, up to and including spare outfits and every ounce of my energy and patience.
But we got the stinkin’ picture, we did!
Fast forward many hours later that night. You were still at work, the girls were busy doing their homework, the boys were playing at my feet pushing their wooden trains around the track, when all of a sudden James addressed me,
“It’s Me James. You see dese boys?”
I look at what he’s holding and he has the picture. I had already put it in a large wooden and glass frame, so it was wobbling around in his arms, almost bigger than he was. He jab, jab, jabs his chubby little finger at the two little lads in the portrait and asks me again more emphatically,
“You see dese boys?”
I wondered to myself, ‘Where is this Tiny Toddler Attorney going with this line of questioning?’ One thing was clear, I certainly wasn’t going to get anywhere by being a hostile witness…
“Yes, I see those boys!”
“You see dese boys? (jab, jab, jab) Dese boys, dey don’t hab a Mom!”
I was crushed! How could he suggest they didn’t have a mother? Especially after the calamitous day we had endured together? I prided myself at one point on how calm, loving and patient I had become in my tenure as a mom. It took a lot to rattle me these days.
Back when I was getting pictures made of the girls, I would’ve had a total meltdown with the children, but I’m on kids #4 and #5. I’m a veteran, a battle-ax, a seasoned professional.
Dose boys do too hab a mom! One helluva Mom!
Later, when you arrived home, we got the biggest kick out of it. You helped me decipher his complicated little baby brain trail. We figured out that I was so omnipresent in his and his little brother’s lives, that he was confused by the photograph.
I was there, but I wasn’t. He HAD a mom, but then in the actual picture, she disappeared. Our brilliant little 4 year old was grappling with the concepts of object permanence and impermanence on a larger scale…
He knew I had played a significant role in getting them to that point. In fact, I was standing right beside them, posing them and jumping out of the frame right before the photographer snapped the lens.
Now you see her, now you don’t!
That’s what it feels like for us since you died. Like you got us all set and then (poof!) you just disappeared. We don’t get it. We have questions.
Last night was Tommy’s prom. We had the suit. I bought a tie. I ordered the corsage. His dress shoes actually still fit. One might think we were good-to-go. But I had already anticipated our problem. None of us knows how to tie a tie. None of us. You took that skill set to the grave with you, Honey.
But, I thought we would just take the tie with us to the Parent Paparazzi beforehand and one of the dads there could tie it. But Tom was having none of it. So Gracie jumped in and face-timed Brock and they tried to do it backwards over the phone. Then Tommy’s friend arrived to pick him up and tweaked it a bit. It all came together in the end. But, we needed you here.
And didn’t you have a little pre-prom schtick whereby you first put the tie in a little “choke–hold” around their necks before you tied it on them in a lighthearted little demonstration of what would happen to them if they misbehaved at any point during the evening?
Your parenting style was unique, but ever so effective.
This morning, the first thing my eyes alighted on as I rolled over and stared across the vast emptiness of your side of the bed, was the infamous picture, “Dese Boys.”
And I was reminded of a few things…
I was so very THERE that day. So present in the moment that it was almost insulting that James thought he didn’t “have me” just because he couldn’t see me. Simply because I wasn’t in the picture.
Surely that’s how it must be with you now. You were omnipresent as a father. Our favorite scripture for raising children was Deuteronomy 11:19 (remember you used to call the boys “Dude–aronomy?”) That scripture is about teaching your children how to live. “When you wake up in the morning, when you walk down the road, when you lie down at night.” You did all that. Those boys knew your views on life inside and out.
You gave them everything they needed. They can quote you chapter and verse on the stuff that really matters in life. Even after you’ve stepped out of the frame…
And they can watch a YouTube tutorial on anything else they need to know.
My entire childhood I shared a room with my sister.
So, naturally Stef and I had to establish some ground rules for peace and harmony. As with all siblings, most of the guidelines we established in the interest of mutual respect were promptly discarded within a day or two.
In fact the only peace accord I ever recall honoring was “The Prayer Rule.”
“The Prayer Rule” was pretty straightforward for two little freckle-faced “Irish Twins” raised in a strict Catholic household. It simply stated that when one or the other of us was praying, the other one could not talk.
If one of us clambered out of her bed in the dark and started praying and the other sister started jabbering (unaware her sister was praying) the prayerful sib would signal for silence by patting her mattress 3 times loudly. Her chatterbox sister would then be required by the tenets of all that is holy and pure to zip-it.
This system worked like a charm for many years. Even with a little Motor-Mouth sister like me.
So when I acquired my subsequent roomie a few years down the road, I immediately indoctrinated him in “The Prayer Rule.” He wasn’t so much given to chatting me up in bed, but he would initiate other activities designed to distract me from my prayers. So I had to train him that my devotion to saying my prayers every night was non-negotiable.
Believe it or not, he respected that edict for 35 years, for all the stinkin’ good it did him in the end…
For as far back as my memory allows, I’ve recited the exact same prayers, in the exact same ritualized order:
In the name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.
1. The Lord’s Prayer
2. The Hail Mary
3. Angel of God
4. A string of specific non-formulated prayers for the SAFETY of each one of my family members in chronological order of their ages, starting with my Dad, my Mom, on to my siblings…
In the name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. Amen.
From the time I was a small frightened child, who realized she had zero control of a large and intimidating world, I believed, or hoped maybe, if I faithfully prayed these prayers in the exact same way without fail every night, I could somehow stave off the imminent tragedy lurking around every corner of our lives.
Jimmy was added the night we were officially engaged. I added “The Baby” on Thursday, March 6th, 1986 when I found out I was pregnant.
The years added up. Ditto the babies. Ditto the prayers.
When my dad died, he retained his seniority position in the line-up and I continued to pray for his “safety,” as I couldn’t bring myself to change a thing. It felt like a betrayal somehow. Same when Mom passed in September.
And when I tell you I prayed on my knees every night for as far back as I can remember, I’m not exaggerating.
I prayed on my knees for 33 years, while Jimmy, if he was home, waited patiently with the TV on mute. In the early years, he jiggled screaming newborns while I said my prayers, although I do recall a couple of occasions he thrust an angry baby my way mid-prayer cycle.
As the years went by hysterical teenagers found their way into our bedroom after a bad break-up and stood there sobbing awaiting the more competent parental counselor. Trust me, Jimmy always insisted they wait for me to finish praying. He’d have sooner soothed a screaming newborn.
Recently, Jimmy watched a Thunder game in the den with our sons, because I couldn’t stand the cussing and the fussing. Afterwards, he burst in the room praising Westbrook’s triple-double, causing me to pound our mattress 3 times emphatically. (As if my kneeling on the floor, hands clasped together pointed skyward wasn’t obvious enough!!)
“Okay, Okay,” he whisper-shouted, “But thank Him for the triple-double while you’re down there!”
And y’all – If I got all comfy cozy in bed and forgot my prayers, I got back out of bed and down on my knees.
No. matter. what.
Last night, a friend and I were discussing that expression, “Man Plans – God Laughs!” I have no idea who made that up or why everyone thinks it’s so clever. It’s not in the Bible. But, I do get the point. We’re supposed to surrender to God’s Will.
Yes, yes I get it. The day Jimmy was killed, he and I were making plans for our future over coffee. We talked about a lake house, a beach house or traveling the world. My husband had worked hard all his life and earned the right to relax and enjoy some of the fruits of his labor.
‘Twas not to be.
For what it’s worth, I still get on my knees every night and pray the exact same prayers in the exact same order as I have since 1960-something, petitioning God to keep my family SAFE. I add new people, but no one gets bumped.
I’m not writing this to brag about my commitment to prayer, but rather as a cautionary tale. If you pray with your eyes closed, keep them at least metaphorically open. Because my approach was all wrong. My prayers didn’t “work!”
I’m coming to the realization that one can plan and one can pray, but there’s no magic and no guarantees – such a difficult concept for self-diagnosed Control–Freaks to wrap our heads around.
In my senior year of college, I wrote a paper entitled, “The Juxtaposition of Our Human Free Will with God’s Foreknowledge.” It was a difficult thesis to write at the time. I never came to a decisive conclusion then and I’m no closer to one today.
I don’t know exactly how prayers are supposed to “work.” Or how they are supposed to sound for that matter. Formulated or unformulated. Eyes open, eyes closed. Knees or no knees. Catholic or Protestant or Jewish or Muslim.
But I do still believe all prayers are heard.
Apparently, in life, there are certain things that are just going to happen. But I certainly don’t believe God laughed at us that morning as we sat naively sipping coffee and making plans that were never to be.
The God I pray to probably cried a tiny little bit.