Driving home one day I came to the light about 2 miles from my house. As I sat there waiting to turn right I stared into the back of an 18 wheeler. Expecting to see the reflection of my homely, tan minivan in the somewhat warped metal, you can imagine my surprise when instead, I saw a massive yellow Mack truck. I sorta gasped and mumbled, Whoa, where did that come from? When did my minivan turn into a big yellow truck?
I almost caused traffic to pile up as I ignored the light for a minute and glanced in the rear-view mirror to see if the Mack truck was a figment of my imagination or actually behind me. In this instance I wasn’t seeing things. There was a yellow Mack truck towering behind me, hogging all the mirror space of the truck in front of me.
It was like I had looked in my bathroom mirror and instead of seeing my petite 5’2” frame, I saw this 6’7” body-builder-muscle-woman who could scoop up the couch with one hand.
Uh-huh, I may be a simple minivan but I’ve got a Mack truck behind me. Don’t be messing with me!
Adam broke the silence of our family dinner with a bang, “So what is something you failed at today? And what did you learn from it?”
Gulp. And gulp again to swallow my food.
I studied his eyes to see if he was serious. He was.
Silence hung in the air as the four of us contemplated his words, not really appreciating having to think about the areas in which we failed today.
In our Facebook, perfectionist, everyone gets a trophy culture, we generally frown on sharing our failures because it is neither a trophy or worthy of shares. We feel ashamed when we fail, which evokes in us the need to cover the evidence, not display it.
Sunday was a hard day for me. I don’t know what goes on subconsciously, but even simple tasks like going to the grocery store and putting lotion on your hands can evoke such emotions that lead to tears.
On Sunday I did my grocery shopping for the week like I usually do. And what did I see there? Lays potato chips, bottles of peanuts, rotisserie chicken, cranberry limeade juice – all things Papa stored in his kitchen, some for him and some for my kids. A lump began to form in my throat as I pulled into the checkout line. So many times I stood in this line, checking out these items for him.
After I got home from the grocery store, Adam and I snuggled down to watch a movie. But before we hit play Adam grabbed some lotion to put on his hands. He took his wedding ring off so the lotion wouldn’t glob up inside it, and when he did, my mind instantly went to Papa.
When mom and I sat at his bedside the day before he died, she slipped his ring off his finger and as she did a pang hit my gut. That ring never came off. It couldn’t. It had a worn a permanent divot underneath his knuckle and couldn’t escape. That moment was when I knew it was for real. He was leaving me soon. Going somewhere I couldn’t go…just yet.
Yesterday was the first day in 10 that I haven’t cried. Today is the first day in just as many that I actually put mascara on. Why put something on that will just drain down your face?!
It’s interesting to me how our brain processes. Every day is different. C.S. Lewis says in his book A Grief Observed, “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.”
I see new landscapes each day, some more beautiful than the day before and some not so beautiful. Every night, my brain sorts and files the days information, trying to process this brick of grief. It puts all the day’s events and thoughts and emotions in a manila folder, slaps a label on it and files it away under the corresponding heading. I tend to wake up feeling better each morning, but as the morning turns to afternoon, the grief looms over me again.
I’ve heard it said death is like an amputation and I would agree. It seems to be after lunch I notice this gaping hole where a leg used to be.
Life just isn’t the same. Papa used to live next door to me and call me daily about silly things like how to work the microwave. My kids used to ask continuously to go to his house and play in the shop or fish at the lake. My dog would even run to his front porch if he happened to escape out the front door. I blocked off certain days from our schedule so we could spend time with him.
Now there’s just this void. I can’t believe he isn’t here for me to share this life with anymore.
Dorothy was right…there is no place like home. We left for Arkansas on Christmas Day, visiting my parents and celebrating Christmas in Silver Dollar City and didn’t return home until New Year’s Eve. I actually want to unpack my suitcases, restock my kitchen and vacuum up the dirt tracked in on my floors. I’m even ready to think about school starting back up and I’m soooo thankful to sleep in my bed, with all my pillows next to my husband!
Ringing in the New Year causes me to be nostalgic. (OK, really anything can cause me to be nostalgic, but especially when the calendar turns January 1st.) I think back to highlights and unfortunately low lights of 2016 and recall the lessons God taught me through them. Then I try to peer through the misty windows towards what’s ahead in 2017. I know God doesn’t see time like I do, so I try to align myself to His timetable.
I’ve tried to pinpoint the triggers. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. My mind wanders into open doorways of memories way too easily. It seems to come over me in waves like a high tide. If I’m observant, there are signs the water is rising, but there comes a moment when the waves crash over me, and I’m pulled into an underwater current going farther and farther from the surface.
I can’t breathe.
Even in the middle of the day, my world is gray, my movements slow, the sounds around me muttered, and my brain disengaged.
The days of extreme grief strung together for weeks at a time. I wondered if I’d ever come up for air again. I longed to see the land and shed my water logged clothing for sanity and stability. I longed to see the sun and run on the sand, holding hands with my kids.
While Papa was settling in at the assisted living place, my mom and I were left with the question of what to do with his house, and all the things in his house.
My parents moved to Arkansas right after Caleb, my oldest was born. My mom says it’s my fault… I got married and moved out of the house at 18, leaving my parents early empty-nesters.
To combat the empty void, my mom decided to pursue her doctorate degree at North Texas. I’m pretty sure she also re-modeled her bathroom, redecorated and painted a few rooms all in one summer too!
So 4 years later, Ph.D in hand, she’s ready to teach at a University but there was not a position for her in Tyler or Dallas. She began putting out resumes right as my pregnancy test turned positive. At the time I hated to tell her to stay, because we didn’t have deep roots in East Texas yet. Adam and I both grew up there but we didn’t have jobs that we wanted to be at for the rest of our life. We had thought of moving too. I thought it’d be our luck, that I would convince my parents to stay close and then we’d be the ones moving. For all we knew, we might join them in Arkansas.
Before we go any further in this 31 day journey and before I share more about what home-schooling looks like for us now, I want to share with you how important my grandfather is to me so that you can gain a better perspective of why this time was so hard for me.
To do that, I want to take you to my favorite chapter (chapter 6) of my book that I released in May of this year. The chapter title is called Keys, Tea and Herons, and here is a glimpse of the relationship I had with my grandfather and also a beautiful example of how God prepared me for this difficult time.
The day we returned home from Arkansas, the Lord moved mountains for me. The family Papa stayed with while we were gone confirmed he had digressed beyond our level of care.
There was a fairly new assisted living facility in our town that we checked on before bringing Papa to our house. At that time it was full, with a waiting list.
Now desperate, we called again. The moment my mom called the lady on the other end said, “Well actually we have a room available right now. If you want it, I’ll write your name down and hold it for you.”
We pulled in our driveway at 4:00 p.m. on a Monday, and by 4:15, I was in the office signing the papers. I didn’t want anything to happen to that room.
Life went on pretty well with the kids in school. Papa had lived with us for 6 weeks when we realized this wasn’t going to work much longer. It was actually the weekend my adoption was finalized (if you haven’t read that story, it is a MUST! Not only is the story heart-warming but it also won a writing contest and I got to have a 1-on-1 meeting with Bethany House Publishing!) that we realized the magnitude of the situation.
It started with an argument over Papa saying his electric razor was at his house. I was helping him pack his suitcase for the weekend – he was staying with other family while we went to Arkansas for the adoption court date.
“Why would it be at your house Papa? I asked. “You don’t go over there to shave.”
“Sure I do!” he bantered back, in stubborn Smith fashion.
“Papa, you’ve never taken a shower over there before,” I reiterated, racking my brain trying to figure out where he was coming from.
“Yes I have. I did just yesterday,” he stated firmly.