This emotions are still pretty raw for me, so I probably won’t get any “style points” for this post…but I think this may help someone one day, so I’m going to share it all with you…
It was march 24th, 2013 when the world smacked my family in the face….and I was presented with some choices.
My brother Sidney died that day, and for a moment…well, quite a few moments, I started to doubt the meaning of everything….and for me, the world seemed just a bit darker.
… leave it to my daughters to help me back to the light.
Now, first, I have to bring you up to speed on something. Most of my writing here is about things that took place between me and my daughters years ago. Some of the stuff are things that they did when they were really young…Sometimes, like this one, they’ll be more recent.
I have always said that I might be a tad overprotective (okay, okay, so I’m a LOT overprotective) of my daughters, and so when Kiara (now 20) presented me with her request to attend the wake, I didn’t know how to respond. o put it bluntly, I didn’t think she could handle it, so I was hesitant to let her go. This was her very favorite uncle and he had been her favorite from the first moment that they met. Kiara is brash, excitable, WAAAAYYY melodramatic, and wears her heart on her sleeves just like him. The two were kindred spirits, and it was obvious every time that they got together. Thus, their nicknames for each other, “Old Man” and “Old Woman”.
So, I told her that she shouldn’t go, that it would be too much for her, and that she should stay with my mother who couldn’t bear the thought of going through the pain of seeing her son in a casket twice. I could hear in Kiara’s voice that that wasn’t what she wanted, but she didn’t argue it much.
Later, when I took a moment to think, I realized that she might NEED that time to release some of her pain. I decided that it was wrong of me to deny her the opportunity to say goodbye to this man that played such a special role in her life.
I picked her up and we were on our way back to the funeral home. When we pulled into the parking lot, I looked at her and said, “Kee, you don’t have to do this. This is going to be one of the toughest things we’ve ever had to do. I understand if you can’t do it. If you want to change your mind now, that’s cool. You can stay out here in the car for a while. I can get someone to take you home in a little while, but I need to stay until it’s done.”
“I’m okay, Dad. I want to go in.” We did. I took a seat at the back next to one of my aunts and let Kee find her own place in the room.
She went in and took a seat near the middle of the room with some of her cousins. Eventually, they worked their way to the casket. I stood watch, guarding her silently from the back of the room; waiting for the slightest trigger that would send me running up to her to throw my arms around her and protect her from the pain of the moment. It never came. She surprised me. She was stronger than I ever hoped she would be. I remember thinking at that moment, “She’s gonna be a strong lil’ woman one day.”, and with that thought..I got a glimpse of that old light again.
An hour or so later, as things at the wake began to wind down, she looked at me and said, “Dad, if you speak at the funeral, make sure to make people laugh. Don’t say anything to make them cry.” Right then and there, I knew what I had to do….even if I didn’t know exactly HOW I would do it.
I’m not really a plan ahead sort of guy so, the next day, during the service, I started to scribble my thoughts on my copy of the program….
When the time came, I rose from my seat, and began to walk to the front of the church, where my big brother’s body rested. As I walked, I simply let the words start to climb out on their own.
“Praise the Lord Church.” I said; silently asking Him to give me the strength just to keep my voice steady. I continued. ” Now, I could lie to y’all and say that there was no snotting up of shirts, no tears, no bawling and no questioning of things…but I’d be lying to ya…I COULD lie, but I’m not going to. The truth is that there was a lot of all of that going on over the last few days..but last night at EXACTLY 8:02, God spoke to me and said “You are a warrior and a man of God, now act like you know what’s up….” (God speaks to me simply, ‘cuz I’m a simple guy.) So right then and there, I decided that I was going to stop honoring the death of my brother with my tears and start to honor his life..” I reached up to grab the pair of shades that I had on to hide my red eyes, and pulled them off my face…”So, I don’t think I’ll need these anymore”, I said…throwing them over at the feet of one of the musicians.
I went on to talk about how my brother’s three favorite things were family, friends and fishing. I tied his love of family into a story about how he loved to play Scrabble EVERY single time we came to the house. Even though he KNEW he had no chance against my superior arsenal (LOL) , he would always ask me to play. For him, it wasn’t about the actual playing though…it was about the time SPENT playing. All that was cool, but I had stopped playing with him about a year ago. I felt I needed to share that with everyone, so I called forth every bit of the eloquence and grace of speech for which I am well known and delivered my explanation as to why I stopped.
“You know…I stopped playing Scrabble with him about a year ago. You know WHY I stopped playing with him? ” I paused to look around to see if I had their attention, cause it was time to try to get some laughs. Raising my voice a bit, I continued. ” Because he CHEATED! That dude made up more words than Jesse Jackson at a political rally!”
(I heard some laughs….a lot of them…….Got ’em!!!!!)
I ranted and raved a bit more about everything about our heated discussions about which was the better branch of the military, the Air Force, or the Army, (The AIR FORCE, of COURSE) to how I was better than him at fishing ( I wasn’t, btw but that was another discussion that we always had.)
As I was speaking, I looked out across all the faces that had gathered in memory of my brother. I actually saw more smiles, than tears. I looked over to my mother. A couple of times, I saw a small smile on her face…not huge smiles, but there were smiles. I had done exactly what I had set out to do. I made people laugh and not cry. Kiara showed me the importance of that.
I ended my talk with a salute to my brother. I turned to his casket, popped a firm Air Force quality salute and said one last thing to him : “At ease soldier…at ease.” My voice cracked just a little at the last word, but it had lasted just long enough.
Now, I COULD lie to ya’ll and say that I haven’t snotted up a few shirt sleeves, bawled til my eyes got red and wondered about God’s plans since the funeral, but I ain’t gonna lie to ya…I COULD…but I’m not going to.” But at least now, I know what’s up.
Thanks for allowing me to share this with you guys.
(I’ll tell you about the strength I got from Tee in part 2)