Last month, on October 28, our family lost our wonderful patriarch. Dad had fought a good fight, but gave up in a hospice room, surrounded by his very faithful, protective wife and four daughters. I don't know how to describe what it was like to sit on his bed, patting and rubbing his cold feet as he took his last breath. Except to say, I don't know how people who don't have hope that the person who has given them life, raised them up, and always been a strong, consistent presence, that they haven't gone on to a place so glorious that you just can't hardly wish them back, would be able to handle the death of their parent. In the days that followed, when I would begin to feel overwhelmed with grief, I would suddenly remember: "Dad's been in heaven two days now...a week now...ten days now..." and I would picture him, smiling, healthy, walking on a golden sidewalk, looking around at all the mansions...And I would suddenly be smiling myself, just thinking about what it must be like. Heaven...Imagine that! And Dad is THERE!
Dad was sick for about three and a half months. For most of that time, we had great hopes he would get well again. We knew he might be frail, but we thought we would get to keep him a while longer. Death just didn't seem an option while we could still talk to him and laugh with him. Mom did know, however, that life as they knew it was probably a thing of the past, including the wonderful trips they always took. So for my daughter Mary Susannah's fourteenth birthday, they gave her their flyer miles so that she and I could take a trip to see her brother Gage in Virginia. We made plans and got the tickets, still expecting that dad would be around when we went. But it didn't work out that way.
Mary Susannah's birthday, and the day we were going to leave, was November 3. Dad went to heaven on October 28, and we buried him on November 2.
I really didn't see how I could go. I was so sad. I didn't want to leave my family. Two of my sisters had had to cancel trips of their own during the time dad was beginning to fail fast. But everyone encouraged us to go. Mary Susannah had held down the home front so beautifully along with her big brother Beau, so I could spend a large chunk of my time at the hospital. She deserved this trip, my family told me. I still wasn't sure until my mother firmly told us: "This trip was a gift from grandpa as well as from me." How could I turn down dad's last gift to my daughter?
So, on November 3, we rose at 3:30 in the morning, and left for the airport. Son Gage was with us, as he had come down for Dad's funeral, and was able to get a ticket on the same plane. I was exceedingly glad about that, because I was completely numb and felt like I was moving on autopilot, and it was a great relief to only have to follow my son's orders as we moved around the airport.
Unfortunately, we missed our flight, and had to sit in the airport for four hours. That was hard, because it gave me a lot of time to keep thinking about whether I should be doing this or not. But we were soon on our way.
We landed in Richmond Virginia. We ate at a Thai restaurant, then went to Starbucks and got hot chocolate, I got salted caramel, and it was WONDERFUL!! We walked around the range at the university before going back to Gage's apartment.
However, that food did NOT set well on my stomach, and I was pretty sick during the night. The next morning, I had hard work to convince Gage that we needed to eat really easy, but I finally talked him into going to a place called Revolutionary Soup, which he says is an old hippie place. Well, I'm old, and I always wanted to be a hippie, but Dad wouldn't let me, so I REALLY liked this place! I had potato soup, peach tea which was JUST what my tummy needed and wonderful bread. Mary Susannah took a picture of the two of us. A friend tells me that my eyes tell the whole story of my past days in this picture:
We went to a wonderful place called Frontier Village after we had shopped a bit. It was a really cold day and there weren't many people there, but I just loved it. We wandered through an African town, where Gage decided to try out the bed, which was a mat on a big mud slab. He said it was more comfortable than you would imagine:
We walked into another house where a man was playing a little instrument. As we entered the room, the lady told him "That's an old Elvis Presley song." No, he told her, it was a German song, and he told her a little what it was about, which I can't remember now. I asked the lady what he had played, and she began to hum. I recognized it right away, and I sang a little of the chorus "I'm not made of wood, and I don't have a wooden heart." Anyone as old as me will remember that one. The man continued to talk about the song, and I asked if he would play it again. He did, and soon the lady and I were both singing: "There's no strings upon this love of mine, it was always you from the start. Treat me nice, treat me good, treat me like you really should. I'm not - "
At which point, the man made a REALLY annoyed face, and abruptly stopped playing and put his instrument up. I don't know if it was because we were desecrating his song, or if our singing was really that bad...
Max called me as we were still in this house, so I slipped off away from the rest of the visitors. As I talked to him, I could hear a man who had just come in questioning Gage about me: why did I dress like that, was the covering on my head a tradition, or a religious conviction? "Oh, it's a religious conviction." I could hear Gage answer patiently.
We moved on to another house, where Mary Susannah insisted I take a picture of her texting on a bed filled with hay:
The next day we went to Williamsburg. We toured the village, and that was an amazing experience. Herb gardens, wig shops, it was the highlight of the trip. Mom wanted to be sure we ate peanut soup, so we found the one place that had it, and went in. But once inside, we discovered we had sat down in an amazingly expensive restaurant, where the cheapest entree was $30! We ordered peanut soup and a cheese tray, no entree, to the dismay of the waiter, who recovered quickly. Peanut soup was a very unusual thing to eat, very heavy, but I'm glad I tried it:
We also got dessert, and our dinner of peanut soup, cheese and pie and ice cream cost $50, plus tip. But it was worth the experience. There was a man with a guitar who had sing a longs, and my children were surprised I knew the songs, which they had never heard before. But again, I'm old...and one was my old high school theme song: "You take the high road and I'll take the low road..."
I put my children in stocks, and wondered if there was any way I could get this thing to fit into a box and onto an airplane. I think this is just what I need to keep my brood in line at home:
The next day, before we got on the plane for the trip home, we went to the apple festival we had attended the year before, mainly because we wanted another of their wonderful caramel apples. We ate veggie sandwiches, which were really good, and then Mary Susannah and I bought TWO apples each, one to eat right then, and one for the plane ride home. Words cannot describe how good these apples are. These alone are worth the trip to Virginia!
So we ate, played and visited with friends of Gage at the apple festival, then got ready to say goodbye to Gage:
Soon, Mary Susannah and I were back on the plane headed for home. I didn't realize until she took this picture that stress and grief, even in the midst of all the fun we had, had caused me to chew a bruise on my bottom lip:
But spending time with Gage and Mary Susannah was well worth going. It's one of those things we will always hide in our hearts. And I was so excited to come back home to the rest of my family, and have life return to some semblance of normal. It had been a long hard journey.
Thanks for this last gift Dad. We sure do love you!