Don’t Leave

I don’t remember much after we returned to our seats.  I’m sure Pastor ended with some encouraging words..maybe a prayer.  The only thing I do recall is him asking the audience to please give the family  a few minutes of privacy as we made the final walk with our son.

I have no idea who walked outside with me, other than my husband.  We stepped to the side and watched as my beautiful son was carefully placed into the car.  All of a sudden, it hit me like a hot piercing spear!   My heart was racing…screaming out in agony!  ‘I WILL NEVER SEE MY BABY AGAIN!  THIS WAS IT!!! HE WAS REALLY GONE!  I WOULD NEVER HEAR HIS VOICE! I WOULD NEVER FEEL HIS TENDER KISS ON MY FOREHEAD! I WOULD NEVER  DANCE AT HIS WEDDING OR HOLD HIS NEWBORN BABIES!  WHY, DEAR GOD!!??? WHY!!???’

Then, I did all I could do at that moment. I climbed into the back of the car on my knees, laid my body on top of his coffin and cried in agony. I couldn’t breath. My world was spinning out of control and I couldn’t stop it! “PLEASE don’t leave me, baby! I love you so much! Please come back to me!”

I don’t know how long I was there.  I didn’t care.   I begged for them not to take him.  I pleaded that I needed him to stay.  Family members pulled me back out.  The sobs from my children brought me back to my ugly reality.

I painfully watched as they took him away from me…again

 

Are You OK, Honey?

Slowly,  I walked to the podium.  The deep breaths I was taking felt as if I was depleting my body of the last bit of air inside of me. For an instant, I wanted to run. Run away from here, from everyone, from my life…at least what I felt was left of it.  I wanted to hide out in a hole, and fall into a deep sleep. When I was found, i would be awaken and it would turn out to be a bad dream…a nightmare.

I looked out in to the crowded room, but saw no one.  I began with thanking everyone and expressing how I hadn’t been sure if I wanted to speak .  It had only been a passing thought and I had painstakingly, debated it all week.   The decision was finally made when I came across a story I had written 15 years earlier.  I  convinced myself that maybe this was a  sign.

The time weathered pages were describing my emotions when I first learned Joey had passed his drivers license test.  I recounted the  overwhelming emotions of worry, panic and fear.  Would he be OK?  Would I be OK?  Would he recall the lessons we taught him? Did he know that if anything would ever happened to him, I would be devastated…my world turned upside down and ripped apart?

Life is demented.   Here I was, years later wondering the same things I had put on paper  15 years ago.  Below is what I spoke about that day:

“When we were looking for pictures for the slideshow for his service, my middle son, Anthony, came across parts of a letter I had written 15 years ago.  I was taken by surprise that the scribbled pages had survived the years of being stored in closets, garages and dresser drawers. Only 2 pages of the original 4 page letter were there.  The time weathered pages were laying methodically on top of pictures of my kids I never got around to organizing in a nice scrap book.  I dumped the container looking for the other pages.  I asked Anthony if he had seen any other pages.  No, he answered.  I sat down and started reading my words written what seemed like a lifetime ago.  I started quietly weeping. In an inexplicable reason that only God knows the answer to, this is what was left of that letter.

‘I walked back to my office after lunch.  There on my computer screen was a note, “He passed.’”  I felt my stomach turn.  I sat in my chair and I really think I stopped breathing for a few seconds.  My son, my oldest, had passed his driver’s license test.   That evening, he came bouncing in through the front door after football practice, yelling out “HEY MOM!  Did dad tell you?!”  I walked into the living room and said “Yes honey, he told me.”  He followed with “Dad told me I could take the car out this weekend!  I’m taking Cassandra to the movies!”  My head started spinning….WHAT?! Drive…ALONE??!! Without me or dad?!  What was he thinking??!!  Just because he had his driver’s license didn’t mean he could drive, right??!!   I sat on the couch and memories of him at 2 years old came rushing back.  Santa brought him a motorized jeep for Christmas that year.  His legs were still too short to reach the pedals but he was determined to get it figured out.  Every afternoon, after lunch, he had his routine.  He would jump onto the Jeeps hard plastic seat, adjust his baseball cap and ask for his sunglasses, a pair of blue plastic sunglasses that he wore even when he was taking a bath.  His foot would barley reach the pedal but as soon as he made contact, off he went!  The little car would jerk back and forth and he would screech at the top of his lungs.  He had this belly laugh that made all those around his laugh along with him!  I would run alongside him yelling, “STOP, honey, slow down!  You are going to fast!”  He would hold up his hand as if to tell me to back off and would say to me “TOP momma…..I ok! I happy, happy…tank you…uv you..bye, bye!!” 

 That Saturday came too quick.  He spent hours washing the car, making sure it was perfect!  When the time came for him to leave, he walked over to give me a hug.  I hugged him tight, buried my face into his chest and started shedding tears.  He kissed the top of my head and told me he loved me. “Thanks, momma. I love you. Its OK, momma. Please don’t worry.”

  As he walked out the door, he stopped to fix his hair…we used to joke that if there was a fire, Joey would burn because he had to stop at every mirror to check himself!”  I stood at the front door, tears falling down my cheeks, my heart pounding from fear, and watched as his dad went over all the rules one more time with him.  I looked out towards him and he suddenly looked like he was 2 years old again.  As he pulled out the driveway, he glanced over in my direction, waved and he blew a kiss in my direction.  He rolled the window down, yelled out to me in a laughingly way “Mom…stop crying! I love you!  I’ll be ok! I promise! Bye, momma!”

Are you OK, honey?…..

If Only…

One year ago today, I was prepping for tomorrows festivities.

The 4th of July was always a full day of family, swimming, eating, laughter and more eating.  The ‘kids’ ( ages from 31 to 18 years…when are they not our kids anymore?)  awaited anxiously for the sun to go down so they could start setting off their arsenal of fireworks.  They would set out ladders, buckets of water and would carefully and meticulously sort the array of fireworks family members brought.

We would drag out chairs sit on the lawn and watch the boys set off the fireworks, filling up  the sky with bright beautiful colors!  We would ooohh and aahhh and clap loudly for them. We laughed at them as they tried to get away from a firework that went astray and  would crack-up when they chased one another with a sparkler trying to scare the daylights out of each-other!

Fourth of July last year was exactly like every year before.  Our backyard was brimming with people.  It was hot and people were in and out of the pool.  Some played ping pong while others sat in the shade enjoying a cold drink.  I, as always, was busy running around being the dutiful host.

I had gone inside to restock some bowls.  Joey was sitting at the dining table.  He was  fiddling around on his laptop.  He wanted to escape the heat.  He looked up at me. “Hi momma…it’s too hot out there.” I smiled, nodded and was about to walk out when something made me stop.  I decided to take advantage of the quiet and sat at the table to talk to him.  Just catch up on his life.  “How are you?  Anything new?  You OK?”  “Of course”, he answered, “just living the dream, momma.” He said he and Sarini were getting a house soon.  It had the perfect set up for a gym, and he would start training clients there.  It would be good he said.

I smiled weakly and asked again “Are you SURE, you’re OK?” Yes, ma’am, he cheerfully answered.”  I smiled, patted his hand as I stood to walk out to join the others in the backyard.  “What are you going to do” I asked, meaning if he was planning on joining the rest of us soon.  I will never forget his answer…his favorite movie quote….“I’m going to fly far, far away, like a little bird!” He must have seen the color drain from my face because he started laughing. “I’m kidding mom!!  HAHAHA, I’m kidding!” He jumped to his feet, following me to back yard.

If I had known it would be the last time I would ever speak with him, I would have said so much more!  I would have told him how much I loved him and how proud I was of him. I would have told him that having him was one of the greatest gifts God could have ever given me.  That all the sleepless nights when he was a baby were worth it.  I would have told him how he lit up my life with joy.  I would assure him that I KNEW, without a shadow of a doubt, how much he loved me!  I would have taken him into my arms and hugged him tight.  I would have taken in his scent, felt his face one more time.  I would have gazed into his beautiful brown eyes until I had every speck memorized.  If  had know I would never hear his voice again, I would have had him talk to me over and over.  I would have closed my eyes and paid attention to very syllable, how he pronounced every single word!   I would have him tell me just one more time, ” I love you, momma.”  I would have asked him, no, begged him not to leave me!  I would have dragged him to the doctor and demanded they check his heart! I would have kept him by my side 24-7.  I would have told him not to be afraid.  I  would ask him to visit me, to let me know he was OK.  I would tell him that he would ALWAYS be with me….If I had known…..

The 4th of July will NEVER be the same again….

Grace

“Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound…”

The somber  bagpipe version of the song began to fill the room. I gazed down and started to weep. I recalled how every time Joey heard that song, he would cry. “I once was lost, but now I’m found…  ‘God, I have lost him forever’.

I know that dying of a of a broken heart is something real.  My life, the small bit of it that I was clinging onto for the past few  days, was escaping me.  I could feel my body being drained of all of it.  I caught a glimpse of a of a light haze, an aura that would be my life,  leaving me, slipping away.  I would be joining my son, I thought.  It’ll be OK.

The following is probably not in order of the day’s events, but they are memories that will take refuge in my heart and mind for the rest of my days.

His best friend stepped up to the podium to speak.   He fondly recalled memories of them growing up together and how, through thick and thin, good or bad, they remained the best of friends…brothers at heart.   There would never be a day when he didn’t think of him.

Joey’s brother was next.   He thanked him for being a great big brother.  He read Psalms 91.  In between sobs, he promised that he would talk about him to his niece and nephew.  They would grow up knowing what a great man their uncle Joey was. He vowed he would never let them forget that he had an astounding brother and  lamented that if he hadn’t left, they would know themselves what a great uncle they had.

Walking up slowly to the podium, it was his sister’s turn.  She started to cry as she told the audience how excited he was when she told him she was getting married.  He teased  that even though she was going to be the bride, he was going to be the one taking center stage.  She recalled how they laughed as they argued as to who would be the best looking one at the wedding.  She cried even harder as she told the crowd that she would gladly let him be the center of attention, if he would only come back.

We laughed when they both recalled that as they were growing up, they never had a name because they were known as either Joey’s younger brother or Joey’s little sister.   We cried when we heard Leo (his baby dog) howl as a lonely animal cries out when they are left alone…missing their human parent.   He would lay his head down and then try to bolt towards where his dad was laying in stillness. His cries, like ours, were full of pain.

His dad and I stood, took our spouse’s hands and began our  walk to the stage.  On the way, I reached for Joey’s girlfriend hand and she slowly and painful stood up.  Together, we  walked onto the stage …side by side as a united force.  United by love…united in pain.

His dad went first, his voice cracking as he thanked the crowed including his fellow CHP officers who took up an entire corner of the room, for their love and support.

We were overwhelmed by the more than 500 people that had gathered.  It was standing room only.  Every corner of the room was taken by someone who not only knew and loved Joey,  but by people whose lives he had positively and unequivocally  touched. How extremely humbled and proud I felt at that very moment!  This child, MY son, my angel, this wonderful baby boy that I carried for 9 months, raised, nurtured and loved for 31 years had touched the lives of so many people!  How incredibly amazing was that?

Amazing Grace…Was blind but now I see

Be Happy, My Beautiful Son

Friends, family and strangers to me, were offering words of encouragement and of sympathy while other just shook their head in disbelief, hugged me tight and cried.  Sadly,  I can only recall a handful of them.  My  mind had abandoned my body days before. Weeks later, as I  would try to described that day to friends , some would smile kindly and would say “Yes, it was beautiful…you were so strong,…the tribute was so touching.” I would quickly apologize for not remembering they were there or worse, that I had spoken with them but could not recall that. Thankfully , no one has ever held it against me.

We were behind 30 minutes schedule. Why were were still so many people walking by?  The line seemed endless!  I continued to stand and graciously thanked people offering me their condolences while inside I was screaming..I WANT TO GO HOME!”  I was told later that there were so many people trying to enter from each door, that the director was unable to stop everyone and that the line was down the street and around the corner.   Someone must have seen the despair in my face and the condolence book was closed.  The director went out to tell the crowd that we were starting and that they could sign the book after the service.  That’s when the crowd started rushing in.

I was able to finally sit down.  I took a deep breath and grasped my husbands hand. Pastor began by welcoming everyone but before starting the eulogy, he asked the family to stand and look around at all the people that had come to not only support us but to pay tribute to our son.  As we stood to look back at the audience, they all started rising and gave us a standing ovation!  Tears started rolling down my face.  This time though, it was not from sadness but from gratefulness and pride! These people, friends and family, were not giving US the ovation but they were giving it the man that we raised!  They were honoring our precious son.  A person that loved life and never took one minute of it for granted.  Someone who embraced every beautiful sunrise and every stunning sunset.  Every sunbeam warming his face, every cool breeze running through his hair, every rain drop on his face was a gift from God to him.   He would savor every bite of food and indulge until he could take no more and then start all over.  From the finest cut of steak, to macaroni and cheese from a box.. he would declare that it would be the best meal he’d ever eaten!

He would light up 4th of July fireworks like he was 10 years old again and run around squealing with his brother as one of the rockets would shoot around their feet!  He would tease with his sister when she wished him a Happy Fathers day as a joke!  “You a cray, cray foo!” he would joking yell while she would reply “Hey boy, you got some kid out there running around lookin’ for his daddeee!” He would laugh so hard at his fear of blood and recalled stories of himself passing out from the sight of it when he cut himself. He would make us laugh so hard that our stomachs would hurt when he recalled his hilarious shenanigans  growing up and informed us of things we never knew he did!  I would look at him in disbelief as he shared some outrageous stories of his high school high jinks and i would yell out at him “JOEY! OH MY GOD!” He would just laugh and reply, “Momma it was for the best you didn’t know then!”  At family gatherings, he would take his grandma into his arms and dance around the kitchen floor as she giggled like a school girl.  He would challenge his dad to ping pong and then talk smack when he won, leaving the rest of us in a heap of laughter. My carefree son, no matter the circumstance, would always laugh and shake his head at whatever life threw his way. ‘I’m alive and loving life’ he would say to me followed by a mischievous look as he spoke his favorite quote to me “Hakuna Matata, mom…Don’t worry…just be happy!”

Hakuna Matata, baby boy… no worries for the rest of your days