Last night was one without sleep—mainly because of a pulsing migraine that just wouldn’t stop no matter what I tried but also because every time I woke up, my brain couldn’t shut off either.
One of the first things I saw on Facebook yesterday was a post from the sister of a girl who graduated high school with me. The post announced that Sarah lost her seven-year fight with brain cancer. At 35, Sarah was by all accounts the life of the party, a fiercely loyal friend, sister and daughter, and an inspiration to all who knew her. The outpouring of public support I’ve seen on Facebook for Sarah’s sister and parents has been a beautiful communal mourning experience.
Later in the day, I attended a funeral for the father of one of my dearest friends. In contrast to Sarah’s passing, Barry died suddenly last Wednesday. At eighty-one years old, Barry was a beloved husband, father, and grandfather, deeply involved in the daily lives of his family members. A Marine and police officer, he’d lived a life of service to his country and local community.
I spent the entirety of the graveside service walking through the grave markers with Barry’s grandson, William. At five, Will had very little desire to sit down. At one point, when I encouraged him to start walking back toward the group gathered under a canopy, he told me, “No, it’s too sad over there. Let’s walk this way.” So we did. We walked among hundreds of stones with people’s names on them. Will paused every few stones and asked me to read the names to him. He was frustrated that none of them had his last name.
He sat down on one headstone and crossed his arms before saying thoughtfully, “Leia, do you know these are all for dead bodies?” I told him I did, and he asked, “Are they all down there in the mud and worms?” I told him that the bodies were in containers called caskets. He ran down the row, letting the word “casket…casket…casket” roll across his tongue. He stopped and turned, digging the toe of his loafer into the ground and said, “My grandpa was a good grandpa.”
I kept looking over my shoulder to see what was happening with the service, and I urged Will to walk closer when I saw the Marines standing at attention. We stood about fifty feet away listening to one of them playing “Taps” before they folded the flag. Will asked me what the man in the gloves was doing, and I told him it was a song they play at military funerals. He asked me if I could sing it. I couldn't find the words—for the song or to describe what a gift it was to spend those minutes watching the world through a five year old’s eyes.
Before the end of the day, I received a text from one friend who is suffering from depression and anxiety over a strained relationship with her daughter. Next, a text about another friend’s dad being admitted into the hospital. Then, the last post I read on Facebook before attempting to go to bed was from one of my oldest friends saying her father has a mass on his vocal cords that is suspected to be stage 3 cancer.
Yesterday was a hard day.
I woke up this morning at 7:03—I’d been too distracted by the pain to set an alarm. I took the dog out, packed the boys’ snacks and water bottles, and went upstairs to shower. Before stepping into the bathroom, I told my son, Will, that we would drop Ben off at school and then head to his orthodontist appointment. He looked up with wide eyes and said, “What? I didn’t know anything about this.”
Will has always been a kid who thrives when he has all the information, and I guess I’d forgotten to mention his appointment. He started into the list of things that he needed to do if he was going to miss the first hour of school. He ran downstairs and then yelled back up to me, “I can’t find the cereal bowls. WHERE ARE THE CEREAL BOWLS?” With a dizzying amount of words for that early in the morning, he finished with “I need to do my memory today. Where is your phone? I need to look up my memory verse right now.”
The heaviness of the previous day was still on my shoulders; the lack of sleep and lingering pain in my head stood between me and a kid who was starting his day with a panicky spiral. On another day, I might have gotten short with him, but I was tired. I stepped across the room and pulled him into my chest for a hug. He stopped his chattery freak out and hugged me back. I looked into his eyes and said, “This morning is going to be good. Today is going to be good. Do you believe me?”
We walked Ben into school, and I told Will to go downstairs and find his teacher to say his memory verse while I took some things I’d promised to another teacher. We met back up and drove to his appointment.
At the orthodontist’s office, parents and kids lined the waiting room. Will and I played tic tac toe and then read the jokes out of the Reader’s Digest. Two older boys came in by themselves—one in a baseball shirt from his high school and the other in a football shirt that read #riseandgrind on the back. Indeed.
I’m just going to believe that I’m not the only mom who stifles tears in public at the sight of teenage boys. Will’s 11th birthday is on the horizon, and I know he is going to be driving himself to appointments in about five minutes.
In the car on the way back to school, Will asked me if I knew how to talk like Donald Duck. I do not. He said, “Garrett is really good at talking like Donald Duck. I’m better at talking like Stitch.” Then he proceeded to sing “Oh, Danny Boy” in Stitch’s voice which was a weird, weird way to end our morning together. Before he got out of the car, I asked, “Why did you choose green rubber bands this time?”
He shouted over his shoulder, “Because I’m feeling lucky!”
My head and heart feel tender, but life is calling. My answer today will be gentle and kind because it’s one of those weeks when we all need to be careful with one another.
It’s a week for saying things out loud like “I’m sad” and “I love you.”
It’s a week for smothering anger and frustration and fatigue with hugs.
It’s a week for singing songs without words.
It’s a week for looking for ways to make our own luck.