Sunday, February 21, 2010

Part Three, The Funeral

*If you need to catch up, check out Part One and Part Two*

So I finally made it home. I went by my parents' house to pick a couple of things up, then I headed over to *E*'s parents' house, where the family had gathered. When I turned on to their street, I could tell that the house was going to be completely full. I parked, and as I started walking towards the house, *E*'s dad came out and gave me a huge hug. To finally be with people with whom I could truly mourn was a huge relief. I don't know if he will ever know how much that hug meant to me. 
Coming up to the house, an outsider never would have known the tragedy that had so recently struck. My nieces and their cousins were running around playing, and it may have appeared as just another big family gathering. Once I walked in, I was instantly surrounded by *E*'s mom and aunts. Hugs were coming from every side, and I heard somebody say "Your sister's here." Looking up, *E* and *D* were coming my way. I could breathe again. 
After just a few moments of greetings and memories (*E* told me that he had always considered *A* to be the perfect mix of his mom and me. *A* had his mom's attitude and sass and my way of thinking and creativity), *E* and *D* rounded up their kids and we all headed out. *A*'s funeral was going to be the following day (Wednesday) in the town where *E*'s grandparents lived, about 45 minutes away. *E* had grown up there, and he had family members (including one of his grandfathers) buried in the cemetery there, the cemetery where *A* is. 
On the ride to his grandparent's house, a lot of memories and quiet discussion happened amongst *E*, *D*, the three kids and me. They told me that they had been able to heal and mourn so deeply the past few days because of the amazing support system that they had. They told me that they were going to be ok. We all reminded each other that as much as we wished we could have had more time with *A*, we shouldn't feel sad for her. We should be sad for ourselves, because we'll miss her, but not for her. It seems so trite to say that she's in a better place, but it's the truth. She's not hurting anymore. She doesn't have to take a round of meds every day anymore. She doesn't have to get blood drawn or any other medical tests ever again. She doesn't have any scars from surgery anymore. She's happy, whole, and perfect.
It was on that ride that I was really able to feel more at peace, knowing that they were truly going to be ok. 
That night was full of talking, laughing, and enjoying each other's company at *E*'s grandparents' house. We all knew that the next day would be rough, but for those few hours, we wanted to talk and remember and just be together.
Nobody was ready to wake up the next morning. If we woke up, it meant that we had to go through with the day. It meant that we would have to say goodbye. It seemed so final. We did all arise, though, and eventually we set out. I had promised *D* the night before that I would photograph everything. Every flower would be documented. So, armed with *D*'s camera, we headed to the church for a long day, starting with the viewing. I'm not sure what I would have done without that camera. With it, I was able to say goodbye and mourn in my own way.
The day passed in a cloud of pink. Pink flowers, pink ribbons, pink neck ties... Everywhere I looked, there was more pink. We listened to *A*'s favorite song, a Hannah Montana number about a little girl leaving home, "Butterfly Fly Away"...

"You tucked me in
Turned out the light
Kept me safe and sound at night
Little girls depend on things like that
Brushed my teeth and combed my hair
Had to drive me every where
You were always there when I looked back
You had to do it all alone
Make a living, make a home
Must have been as hard as it could be
And when I couldn't sleep at night
Scared things wouldn't turn out right
You would hold my hand and sing to me
Caterpillar in the tree
Have you wonder who you'll be
Can't go far but you can always dream
Wish you may and wish you might
Don't you worry, hold on tight
I promise you there will come a day
Butterfly fly away
Butterfly fly away
Got your wings now you can't stay
Take those dreams and make them all come true
Butterfly fly away
You've been waiting for this day
All along and known just what to do
Butterfly fly away
Butterfly fly away
Butterfly fly away"

By the time the funeral began, the small church was overflowing with people who had been touched by our little girl. People were standing all around, spilling out into the entry way...
As we headed to the cemetery, the weather was miming our emotions. A cold wind was blowing, and rain began to fall as we parked. Cold and wet, we said goodbye to *A*. When they had finished lowering her, everyone released pink balloons. It was over.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A story that I might want to remember one day, Part Two, The Drive

This is my story for the past few months. I am writing it down as a simple record for myself. Perhaps one day I will want to remember all that happened. Feel free to accompany me on my memory journey. If you missed part one, you can catch up here.

So there I was, alone in my car, preparing for the 27 hour drive that I had ahead of me. About an hour before (as Josh was on the phone with the travel company), I had called my new supervisor (Josh had left him a voicemail the night before, but I thought that it would be best if I spoke to him). I essentially told him what had happened and that I wasn’t sure when I would be back at work. He could not have been more understanding. I had literally been on the job for three days, and here I was taking off for at least a week with no notice. While I was not at all concerned about losing my new-found position (it honestly didn’t matter to me at that point. If they fired me for this, then I probably didn’t want to work with them anyway. Plus, I was certain that my old boss would have given me my job back in an instant.), I was (and still am) extremely grateful for the sensitivity and kindness that he showed me. He told me to do what I had to do and we would work it out when I got back.

As I began my journey, I had no music playing (somehow, every song that came on seemed stupid and only served to aggravate me). My thoughts were a swirling complicated jumble, but amongst them all, one continued to be prominent. I needed to get to my sister. I couldn’t rest until I had seen her, spoken to her. Nothing mattered other than getting to her as fast as possible.

A few hours after I set out, *E* text-messaged me to find out if I had gotten on another flight. I replied that I was on the road and I would be there the following evening (Tuesday night). His follow-up of “You’re driving?” reminded me that I had not informed them of my change in plans. I would later find out that my dad was present during this text exchange, and neither he nor *E* were exactly pleased with my plans. Apparently the idea of me driving across the country by myself didn’t sound like a good plan to them. Knowing me as he does, though, *E* knew that it wouldn’t do anybody any good to voice their concerns, as I wasn’t likely to listen to them anyway.

I drove for about 13 hours that day. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I spoke aloud, asking God questions that I knew I probably wouldn’t receive answers to. Sometimes I simply sat, attempting to wrap my mind around the idea of a world that did not include *A*. Constantly I prayed. I prayed for understanding, for wisdom, for comfort, for my sister, for my brother, for my other nieces and nephew. Only stopping for gas when I had to, I made myself eat when I wasn’t hungry, knowing that my body needed the sugar to keep going.

Around 11pm, I knew that I needed to stop. I was no longer safe to be on the road. I stopped at a Holiday Inn right off the highway. Before I went to bed, I called *E* to let him know that I was stopping for the night. While on the phone with him, I heard my nephew ask *E* if I knew. It was all I could do to keep it together at that moment. Again, I promised that I would be there as soon as I could be, I told him that I loved him, and I got off the phone. I spoke with Josh just after that, assuring him that I would sleep long enough to matter, and I went to bed. After 6 hours of surprisingly heavy sleep (I hadn’t been sleeping well the week before, and I’m sure you can imagine that I didn’t really sleep at all on Sunday night), I checked out and was on my way once more.

Tuesday was much the same as Monday. I could physically feel God’s healing hand working on me. While I knew that nothing would ever be the same, and nothing would ever make it ok that I would never again hear *A*’s laugh, I also knew that God was there. During this journey, I continually came back to the old hymn “It is Well with my Soul.” For those who don’t know it, the lyrics (of the first verse) are:

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Horatio Spafford wrote the song shortly after learning that his four daughters had drowned while sailing to England for a family trip. He had been delayed and sent his family on ahead. Only his wife survived the trip.
For obvious reasons, the song struck a chord deep within me, and I clung to it. Over and over for the next few weeks, I would repeat to myself “it is well with my soul.” It became my lifeline, my reassurance that the pain would not be crushing forever, that I would eventually find a new normal, and that through it all, I would never be alone.

As I drove, I thanked God for the peace that was slowly settling over my spirit, but I continued to think of little other than my sister. I had not spoken to her, and I could not properly breathe until I knew that she was going to be ok. As I entered Texas, I had to remind myself not to get too excited. I wanted so much to believe that being in the same state meant that I was getting close, but I knew that I would be driving across Texas for around 10 hours before I made it to my destination. The time seemed to drag on forever while occasionally skipping ahead at a very welcome rate.

Finally, I began approaching the towns a mere hour outside of my home. I could feel it coming. Soon, I would be able to stop, take a proper breath, and look *D* in the eyes.

To be continued (again)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A story that I might want to remember one day

It's been a while... a long while... much has happened, and I'm not really sure where to start. I'm not really sure that I want to, but at the same time, I want nothing more than to share...
So, perhaps I'll start at the beginning. When last left, I was out of town, visiting the family for Thanksgiving. A few days were spent with my family, then we drove the few hours to visit Josh's family. While we were at his parent's house (the day before Thanksgiving, mind you), I received an email from a friend of ours. He was being promoted and thought that I might be interested in his now-vacant position. Though I very much enjoyed the job that I was in and could not imagine a more pleasant work environment, the pay raise and some of the random benefits were a little too good to not even consider. I emailed him back that I would be interested in tossing my name in the hat. A week and a half later, I was offered the job.
It was difficult for me to quit the job that I had. I tend to be extremely loyal, and I felt like I was betraying them. My boss was wonderful and could not have been sweeter about the whole thing. She wished me the best of luck, said that they would miss me, but that I should absolutely take the new position if it was best for Josh and me.
I started the new position on a Wednesday (Dec 16, the week before Christmas). The following Sunday (Dec 20), I was out shopping for new work clothes (this new position has a much stricter dress code than my previous position) when I received a voice mail from my mom. She didn't say much, but she said that I should call. When I returned her call, my dad answered. My youngest niece, *A*, had died that afternoon from complications due to a heart defect that she was born with. She was 7.
I held myself together long enough to call Josh (he was in the mall with me, but had gone off on his own) and tell him that we needed to leave. When he found me, all I said was her name as I struggled to breathe. He asked if we needed to get me on a flight and I nodded "yes." When we got to the car, he asked me what had happened. I told him that she wasn't able to fight anymore. As understanding sunk in, he nodded and started driving.
When we got home, I called my sister, *D*. My brother-in-law, *E*, answered the phone. I asked to speak to *D*. He told me that she didn't want to talk to anybody. I asked if they needed anything and then told him that I would be there as soon as I could.
As Christmas was five days away, I am shocked that we were able to find me flights out the very next morning (he needed to stay here for a few days until he got permission from his commander to leave). The next morning, Josh dropped me off at the airport two hours early. I stood in line to check in at US Airways for 45 minutes. When I got to the kiosk, I was unable to check in. When I asked the man working behind the counter, he looked at my tickets and said "this flight is a Continental flight." Confused, I asked why my tickets said "US Airways." Apparently my flight was a Continental flight operated by US Airways, so I needed to check in at the Continental desk. Feeling pretty frustrated and trying not to worry, I quickly went to the Continental desk. I stood in line for another 45 minutes there. The clock was ticking, and as my departure time grew closer, I was growing increasingly anxious. It was not easy to hold myself together at that point. Finally, I was next in line. The woman checked in a group of men for my flight, each of whom had carry-ons, and I stepped up. When I handed her my ticket, she said, "I'm sorry, but this flight is now closed. You can no longer check in." I couldn't believe it. I took a shaky breath, and asked her if there was anything that she could do (remember again, this is now four days before Christmas, plus, we had recently had a snow storm that had delayed and canceled many flights the two days prior). I will never forget the kindness of this woman. I told her that I had to get home for a funeral, and please, if there was anything, I wanted it. Cost didn't matter. She looked for an hour and a half (the line was huge, and since she was not checking people in anymore, I am certain that more than one person missed their flight because this woman was trying to help me). In the end, there was nothing.
I sent a text message to my brother-in-law telling him my flight hadn't worked out and I was trying to figure out other options. I called Josh and told him that I needed a ride home. I didn't have a flight. On our way home, we brainstormed some options. We considered the bus. We had purchased tickets for Josh to fly out Wednesday (this is still only Monday morning), and he was really pushing to see if we could transfer those tickets. At this point, I was ready to get in my car and start driving. I could be there by Tuesday evening. Josh convinced me to wait until he could talk to his commander (to see if he would be able to use the Wednesday tickets) and the travel company (to see if he could transfer his tickets) before doing anything else. An hour and a half later (we stopped by base so he could see his commander before going home), Josh came downstairs after speaking with the travel company and told me to go ahead and get in my car. He would support my decision to drive the 1,700 miles if I promised to stop for sleep when I got tired.
So in my car went my bag. In my car went me. I waved goodbye to Josh, and I was on my way. I plugged Memphis into my GPS (the northern routes were still in danger of being covered in snow, and I knew that the fastest way to get there by going south was through Memphis. I figured it would be a good half-way point to stop for some sleep), and I got on the road.

To be continued...