Tag Archives: sadness

For Such a Time as This?

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My little buddy’s biography!

The mighty Sea Lions came away with a hard-won victory today in our Upward Soccer match. Our scrappy little bunch played hard even though we were short-handed. Turns out my little home-schooled “right fielder” decided soccer just wasn’t for her so she’s done for the year. {Just a note, if you don’t know what a “right fielder” is when used as a yard stick for an athlete’s skill, you never played t-ball or coach’s pitch; if you must have some other analogy, the proper football one would be a kid who is “end, guard, and tackle.”}

But I digress.

In addition to my little star-gazer, we also missed Tru this morning. His mom sent Coach Thomas an email earlier in the week letting us know they had a family vacation planned and wouldn’t be at the game today, but I still missed him, mostly because of last week. I felt like he and I bonded during our trouncing by the vicious Otters.

To really understand this story, first, you have to know this — Tru HATES soccer. I think he’d rather slide down a jagged envelope and put the resulting paper cut into a vat of vinegar rather than play. All you have to know is his mom had to CARRY him from the car to the field for the first game. He’s done a little better since then, but he still has pretty much zero interest in the game. In our first game, we could barely keep him on the field because he kept wanting to go sit in his mom’s lap. Even when he’s on the field, he’s not crazy about sticking his leg into the cleated, shin-guarded blender that is the scrum for the ball in this level of soccer. Most of the time, he’ll be at the opposite end of the field from the action picking dandelions or looking at the clouds. If you’ve ever read the marvelous children’s book Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf, you have a COMPLETELY accurate picture of my little Tru.

Last week though, he seemed more Ferdinandesque than usual. He seemed downright sad. When it was his turn to sit out a segment, I sat down next to him on the tarp / bench. He was picking at a scab on his knee just as any little boy would, but I could tell something was serious so I leaned in to him and said, “Tru, dude, what’s wrong with you today?”

I guess this is how we looked to everyone else.

Now I was expecting a typical “Tru” answer along the lines of “I hate being out here” or “Can I go sit with my grandparents?” Instead, I got a blurting, sprawling answer that hit me like a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick. Tru said, “I just don’t feel right, Coach Shannon. I feel weird.” Not surprisingly, Tru didn’t know the word he was hunting was “depressed.” How could a little boy know such a huge word?

He continued, “I just moved up here from a place called Lexington. My mommy and daddy aren’t living together anymore and now I’ve got a new daddy and he’s okay, but he’s not my real daddy and all my friends are back there and I want mommy and daddy to get back together and I want my old room back but mommy says that’s never going to happen so I just want to go back to Grammy’s and sit in my room and play with my toys ’cause I don’t want to be around anyone but daddy is going to come get me this afternoon and Mommy seems sad about that.” He never cried. Never broke. Never even whined. Just stated the facts with all the emotion and vocabulary at his 5.5 year old disposal.

But this is pretty much how it felt.

For a long few seconds, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t trust my voice because as I sat on that paint-smeared blue tarp with a gorgeous blue sky overhead and a fresh breeze in my face, I went back. I literally saw the years melt away in some parody of a Hollywood flashback sequence. The decades fell away until it was no longer a 5.5 year old little boy and a 41 year old coach sitting side by side; it was a 5.5 year old little boy and a just barely turned 6 little boy who reached out and put a hand on Tru’s shoulder. The six-year-old was once again watching a spray painted sky blue Chevy pickup truck with two bags of clothes in the bed pulled out of the gravel driveway of a little single-wide trailer as HIS daddy drove away and began the upheaval that would define the next 30+ years of that little boy’s life.

Then just as quickly as it happened, it was over and I was “there” again. I looked at Tru and dared my voice to crack as I talked to him. I said, “Buddy, if anyone on this field right now knows what you mean, I do.”

He looked up at me and he looked so small, “My mommy and daddy split apart when I was just a tiny bit older than you. It was awful and I cried and cried for days.” He looked even sadder, “Tru, it’s never going to be ‘okay’ again. I can’t lie to you and you are way to little to understand what all I wish I could tell you, but I can tell you this . . . your mommy loves you, your daddy STILL loves you and your second daddy loves you as well and that is ALL that matters. Right now you are sad and hurting because the world has fallen apart and no one bothered to ask you what you think about any of it, they just dragged you along ’cause they’re bigger than you.”

At that, Tru looked up at me an nodded knowingly, “But Tru, even though it’ll never be ‘okay’ you will be okay. You’ll get through this. It feels like the end of the world and it’s probably the worst thing you will ever go through for a long, long time, but it will get better. It’ll never make sense until you are too old for it to matter anymore. In fact, it’ll probably NEVER make sense, but IT WILL GET EASIER. Just hang on. Love your mommy and keep loving your daddy. It’ll be okay.”

By that time, the game was over and everyone was shaking hands and giving out “effort stars” so I didn’t get to say much more to the little fellow and to be honest, I’m not sure he’ll come back to soccer anymore — he hates it that badly. Still, for those ten minutes, for the first time and the only time in the last 36 years, all the agony, all the anger, and all the pent-up angst FINALLY seemed to have a purpose. I have no idea why I would have to endure all I’ve endured since Mama and Daddy divorced so long ago. It seems as though any chance at being happy drove away in that sky blue truck.

Hang tough, little bro, hang tough.

BUT, for ten minutes, all that misery allowed me to DIRECTLY connect with a little boy who is just setting out on the path I’ve walked for as long as I have clear memories. It is a lonely path and a dark path and when I started my journey, I didn’t know of anyone walking ahead or behind. Maybe THIS little act; this ten minutes of absolute understanding of another human being. Maybe I went through it all for just such a time. I didn’t have a guide, but at least for Tru I could call back across the years to say, “It’s hard, but you can make it. It’s a sad time, but it’ll get better, kid, you just have to keep walking. Keep on walking.”

For such a time as this.

Sorry for such a long piece. I try to keep them under 1000 words, but I got carried away on this one. Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

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They Shall Run and Not be Weary

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Requiescat In Pace, Mi Amo.

As years go, 1995 sucked rocks big time.

My great-grandfather died New Year’s Day. Two of my favorite cousins were killed in a huge car wreck in March. One of my wrestlers was killed in July and while I was on the way home from his visitation, Mama called and told me to go to the hospital where Granny Wham was recovering from a stroke. I broke every speed limit possible getting to Hillcrest thinking the whole time that Granny had died. She hadn’t . . . Papa Wham had. That was enough to send my world reeling, but the year wasn’t over yet.

On this day 15 years ago, my buddy lost her long brutal fight with cancer. She was just shy of turning 20. She was one of the very best friends I ever had and she’s the only woman, besides Mama, that Budge doesn’t mind me having a picture of on my desk. Budge knows what my buddy meant to me. Not many others do because I’ve never told that many people about her.

I met her when I was doing my student teaching in 1993. She was a senior which meant at that time, she was just over three years younger than me. I won’t say we had love at first sight, but we definitely had chemistry at first sight. The crutches made me curious.

She got around on crutches better than I could get around on two legs. Her left leg was gone. Once I got to know her, the story came out. She’d been a first rate cheerleader and volleyball player up until her freshman year of high school.  One day after practice, she had a cramp in her left leg behind her knee. When she sat down on the bleachers to rub it out, she found a knot. The knot didn’t go away in several days. She went to the doctor, the doctor did some tests, and the next thing you know, Jed’s a millionaire and she’s being diagnosed with acute lymphoma.

They took her leg with a saw; her health and hair followed with chemotherapy. None of it ever broke her spirit though. She just threw up and rocked on. That’s how she rolled, as the saying goes today. When I met her, she’d finally gotten a full head of hair back, even though it was short, and she was in full remission.

We started calling and hanging out together. She had a Corvette she drove with hand controls and in those days when I had more courage than sense, she was one of the few drivers who could put me in the floor with terror. She was utterly and finally fearless. She said cancer couldn’t kill her so she wasn’t going to worry about anything else.

I graduated in May; she in June. We met up at the beach and hung out some. She loved the beach. I was over 21 so I kept her hotel room supplied with party lubrication. Yeah, it was illegal. Sue me. We had a great week before I went back to find a teaching job and she went back to get ready for college.

She never made it to college though. She called me two weeks later. I went to see her at the hospital. The cancer was back. In her lungs this time. They took out the offending lung lobe, gave her more chemo and again pronounced her in remission after six months. I called her daily and went to see her every chance I could. One day while we were laughing and cutting up driving around the hills around her home blasting out Skynyrd, Hatchet, and Duane and Gregg,  I even asked her if she’d like to get hitched to a redneck like me. After all, it was obvious we were a perfect match.

I’ll never forget her reply. She reached up and cut the radio off, suddenly all business. She locked eyes with me and said, “I’d love to, but I’m going to die before long and you won’t be able to bear it if we were married. It’s going to be hard enough on you as it is.” I nodded. She turned up “Tuesday’s Gone” and we took off again.

Turns out, she was a prophetess. Less than three months later, I went back to the hospital to see her. It was in the right lung this time, but this time things were different. She wasn’t a minor anymore and she made her own decisions. To the abject horror of her mama, daddy, friends, and me, she announced she had no intention of leaving the world one piece at a time. She was done fighting. She was tired.

I kissed her on the cheek before I left her room that night. It was the last time I saw her alive. In the end, the big C sucked her dry. She weighed less than 50 pounds at the end. Her hospice nurse called me when it was over. My number had a heart around it in her contact book. I heard it was a closed casket funeral. She wanted everyone to remember her as she’d lived, not as she’d died. I went to see her mama and daddy but I didn’t make the funeral. No way I could. Hard to go to a funeral fifty miles away when you can’t get your eyes dry long enough to drive.

I only knew my buddy a little while in the grand scheme of things — barely two full years — but she taught me a hell of a lot in that short time about loving life and what it was to show real courage. On her tombstone is the picture of a soaring eagle and her favorite Bible verse:

“They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.”

I lost a lot of love in 1995 and love, especially the kind of love I lost, can’t be replaced.

That’s why I love all y’all so much.

Keep those feet clean and remember to live like you were dying!

Godspeed Little Grey Ghost

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My Two Fuzzy Angels. Thomas (L) and Loki (R) Requiescant in pace, boys.

It’s never good news when the vet calls herself instead of letting the assistants call. Those girls — in their late teens and early 20s — are spared the trauma of having to tell someone part of his soul has been ripped out and will never be replaced. Knowing this, my eyes were already brimming over when I heard our vet, Dr. Keller, on the other end of the phone Tuesday afternoon, June 29, 2010. Before she said anything, I said, attempting to project calm and failing miserably, “It was to widespread, wasn’t it?” She replied, “Yes, sir, and it wasn’t in his intestines like we thought. It had gotten his pancreas and spleen.” I managed to get out, “Have you . . .?” before my voice and composure failed me and she said, “Yes sir, I just let him go. He went with his chin and belly being rubbed, just like you asked.”

Barely two years after losing my beloved Thomas O’Malley to the rainbow bridge, our Loki, our little grey ghost, was gone.

He was a little grey ball of fuzz when Budge brought him home April Fool’s Day eleven years ago. We didn’t name him right off, but watched to see what his personality would be. Thomas walked over and sniffed him, then promptly bopped him on the head and proceeded to pin him to the ground and groom him to our household’s standards. Pecking order thus established, he then allowed the newcomer to roam the house at will. When the grey ball of energy finished turning over what could be turned over and getting into what could be gotten into, I dubbed him Loki, after the Norse god of mischief.

For the next eleven years he was a constant companion to Budge and me. He would move from lap to lap, occupying whichever space Thomas had not claimed. If no laps were available, he’d find a beam of sunshine and fit himself into it for as long as he could. If someone was in bed, Loki was with him or her. He loved sleep. For the first several years, he would curl into an arc atop Budge’s head and sleep all night, but when Budge went to Hawaii for two weeks a few years back, he abandoned his usual spot and until his last night with us, he slept at our feet. He was an absolutely amazingly extraordinary cat and we loved him dearly. When Thomas died, Loki could tell how sad I was and he spent hours in my lap trying to comfort me. He is currently the only cat I’ve ever personally known who was delighted to have his belly rubbed.

Then he started getting skinny for no good reason.

Then we went to the vet and had x-rays.

The ugly dark area was plain as day.

Dr. Keller scheduled surgery.

Budge and I took him in at 7:30 that morning.

Dr. Keller called at 2:00.

He was gone.

I do not handle death well. I was alone in the house so I did what anyone who just felt his heart torn in two would do, I curled up in the fetal position on the floor and squalled like a baby with colic. In between waves of unbearable anguish, I managed to call Budge and tell her, call Mama and tell her, and text message two of Loki’s favorite people — our buddy, Laura, and our niece, Kayla. Then I gave myself over to grief.

Budge found me in the floor clutching the shirt I’d worn that morning when we took him in. It still had bits of his fur stuck to it. Gradually, eventually, I subsided into quiet sobbing and then I dried my eyes. We talked about the wonderful times we’d had as a family of two humans and fuzzy babies. We had no doubt we made the right choice. Doing nothing would have sentenced our beautiful sweet boy to wasting and pain in just a few more weeks. As it was, we can remember him bright eyed and precious. In a few days, I’ll pick up his ashes and place them, along with his picture, next to Thomas’ remains and, at least, I’ll know where he is at all times.

Part of me, the part that abhors agony and emotional outburst, sometimes wishes I didn’t have to deal with the loss of such a dear friend, but the other side of me knows Loki won’t be the last. If the world should stand long enough, Beau, Jack, Milo, and Ares will follow Thomas and Loki over the rainbow bridge. I know if I should make it to Heaven I will find them there and if any armchair theologian should question my belief, I’ll tell him the same thing a cat loving pastor told me once: “Of course our pets will be in Heaven . . . without them, it won’t BE Heaven.”

So, as bad as it hurts, I know in my heart that I couldn’t trade the pain of losing them for a life without having had them in it. Dr. Seuss, that precious and beloved writer for children said it best:

“Don’t weep and frown because it’s over; laugh and smile because it happened.”

Love you, my fuzzy angels.

Love y’all, too.

Keep those feet clean now. 🙂