A Freemason, everyone knows a Mason, my great grandfather was a Mason. Being a Mason is not a secret, what it takes to become a Mason is somewhat of a secret. I am not going to get into all the religious and political debates about the Freemason’s. I am only using them as an example of a club, a fraternity of men of any race or religion, that have certain requirements to become a member of their group. A fraternity or sorority, usually groups on a college campus, that require certain criteria to become a member. You are a “pledge,” you do whatever an existing brother or sister tells you to do for a period of time, you pass all the tests and then you are a member for life. Like the Freemason you will have a bond, a brother, or sisterhood to look after you and help protect you for as long as you are alive. The United States Special Forces, The Seals, Rangers, Green Berets, Delta Forces, 82nd Airborne. I am sure I missed a few so please forgive me if I did not list a specific unit. All are elite, all require special, rigorous, physically challenging training and sacrifice. All take a certain type of person or personality to be a member of these special forces for our country. When they place that pin, that represents their respected unit, on their chest they are a member of a brotherhood that will watch their six for life. God bless them all for what they do. Athletes spend years training, practicing, sacrificing for the one goal, to be the best. To be at the absolute top of their game, to be number one. Athletes train for one reason, to win. They sacrifice for one reason, to win. When they win, they win as a team, they are called a winning club. It does not matter if it is a team or individual sport there are always others members in the background, a club, supporting the athlete for success. AARP, a club for anyone age 50 or over. That’s it you just have to be fifty years old to join. This club gives you discounts, insurance, and several other benefits. Now to remain a member you must pay your dues on time. The Black Panthers and Klu Klux Klan, very racially divided clubs. Obviously the race of the member told what club or group they were in. What other requirements were involved I do not know and do not care to know. I am only using these two groups to show how race can determine the membership to a club. The country club, bike club, tennis club, car club, the list can go on forever for the amount and the different types of clubs there are in this world.
To gain memberships to every club or team I have mentioned above there are certain agenda’s, ceremonies or requirements that have to be met. There are tests that have to be passed, whether they be mental or physical. Some are gender, race, age or religion specific. My club has none of these. My club has only one requirement. My club does not discriminate. It does not matter how old you are, it does not matter what race you are, it does not matter where you are from, it does not matter what your financial situation is, it does not matter what religion you practice, it does not matter what your marital status is. There are no temple rituals, there are no pledge weeks, there are no classes, there is no training, there is no manual, or how to book, on becoming a member of my club. There is no preparation required, there is no tryouts, there is no spring training, there is no week long camps. You can become a member in a split second, the blink of an eye, or it could take many painful drawn out years. There is sacrifice, there is pain, there is sadness and there is regret. Each member feels as if there is no team, no club, no brotherhood, each of our members feel alone. There is loneliness and there is depression. There is no book, no guide or no chart that can tell you what to expect when you become a member. There are no guidelines to get you from day to day, week to week, month to month, or year to year. There are dues, dues that can never be recovered. Dues are paid once, or in some cases multiple times, but when they are paid it is the ultimate sacrifice for membership. You would be amazed at how many members there are, your neighbors, your childhood friends, your co-workers, your landscaper, your cable guy, your high school teacher, that lady or gentleman sitting at the next table while you are eating dinner. We don’t have rings, special pins, uniforms, T-shirts or jerseys to wear to let everyone know what club we are in or what team we are on. We don’t have a logo or a team mascot, we don’t need them. You will recognize our club members by seeing the empty chair at a holiday dinner table, the weekly trip to the cemetery, the room that is still the same as it was that day, the box that is filled with special memories, the photos of a child that never gets any older, but the one true give away is that huge hole in our hearts. I never dreamed of, applied for, tried out for, or asked to be in this club, and I would not wish its membership on anyone. I pray everyday that no other parent has to pay the ultimate dues to become a member of my club.
No matter how you raise your kids, no matter the master plan, the daily lessons, or the lessons you hope to last a lifetime, the death of a child at an early age is never factored in. Imagine you are having a conversation with your child, lets say about curfew. You stress all the points you are trying to make, all the pros and cons, all of the reasons why they need to be home at a certain hour. You discuss the fact, in my house anyway, that a curfew is a rule it has nothing to do with trust. You hope and pray that one day your child will see the reasoning and have the same conversation with their children. I had several such conversation’s with Jarrett and Lindsay over the past years, and still do with Jarrett today. As a parent all you want for your children is for them to be happy, no matter their income, relationship status, choice of career or age. When, as a parent, you are trying to teach a child life lessons you never think their life is going to be to short to experience them.
This is an example of one of such situation. Lindsay loved the “little blue box,” you know, the one from Tiffany’s. Which what woman does not love the little blue box. For her 15th birthday here at the house she wanted a Tiffany’s party. She wanted everything Tiffany blue, from the plates and napkins to the icing on the cupcakes.
So we went with that, I was just glad she didn’t ask for any actual Tiffany boxes. Needless to say she had a great time and enjoyed the evening with around sixteen screaming young ladies. When Kelli and I got married we asked both our daughters, Alyssa and Lindsay, to be apart of the wedding party which traditionally meant we needed to get them a gift. Where, oh where should we get their gifts from, oh right Tiffany’s. Lindsay bugged Kelli to death to find out what was in that little blue box, she could not wait to open it.
I came up with an idea for Jarrett and Lindsay’s sixteenth birthday’s. Kelli and I discussed it and decided to move forward. When they were 15 and 13 respectably, we all sat down and I told them,” For each of your sixteenth birthday’s you can choose a very nice gift, have a huge party or you can go anywhere in the United States you want to go, within reason, excluding Alaska and Hawaii. Before I could finish I heard the words “New York!” I remember saying “No party, no gala, no sweet sixteen extravaganza?” “No sir, New York.” She did love New York City, Brooklyn and Long Beach. So the planning began and in September of 2014 we took off to New York. Where do you think one of the first places Lindsay wanted to go?
You guessed correctly. I remember walking up to the door and the gentleman in the picture above was just standing there, I assume as sort of advertisement. So I asked him “Do you mind taking a picture with my daughter?” He replied “Absolutely not.” Great memory. We went inside walked around and LOOKED as we always did. I saw Lindsay fixated on one of the display counters. She was looking at a bracelet and could not take her eyes off of it. I walked over to her and asked her “What are you looking at?” She took a breath and said “That bracelet, isn’t it beautiful? Being who I am, my first response was not one to express the beauty of the piece, it was to ask “How much?” I could not tell you what she said if my life depended on it, and it really didn’t matter because I had no intention of buying it. I explained to Lindsay that this trip was her birthday gift, we could not swing an expensive piece of jewelry as well. I could see she was disappointed but she understood. I asked her “Did you received enough money for her birthday to buy it?” She said, “Yes, but if I buy this I will be broke, it will take everything I have.” Like a fire alarm the dad radar was going off, the life lesson sirens were blaring in my head. So I said to her, “This is your decision to make Sweetie, spend it all now for one thing or save it for the rest of the trip.” I left her to her thoughts and stood close by to see what she decided to do. She stood there agonizing over whether to purchase it or not, but finely she made the decision to walk away. She chose to not spend all her money on the first day, so she could enjoy the rest of the trip with money in her pocket. I was so proud, life lesson learned! You cant always have everything you want, you have to plan for the future, and you need to budget your money. It was a three for one fire sale on life lessons. But wait, I I would give anything to be back in New York, September 2014, in Tiffany’s standing at the front display case on the left side of the second floor beside my daughter looking at that bracelet.
Now, does all this mean myself, or any other parent, should stop trying to teach their kids life lessons and give them everything they want, absolutely not. As parents, I believe, we sometimes think we hold the key to their happiness with our infinite years of wisdom and life lessons already learned. We as parents need to realize that our keys may not fit the locks that hold our children’s happiness. Tomorrow is never promised for anyone and that includes our children. I feel as parents it is our job to teach them all we know, raise them to be self sufficient and love them for who they are as if they are going to live forever, but sometimes we just need to buy, the bracelet.
In the movie “Walk the Line”, the story of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, there is a line that struck my heart, a line so simple, so subtle. The line come’s when the star playing Johnny Cash wakes up after weeks of self rehab, with the help of the entire Carter family and looks at Reese Witherspoon, the actress playing June Carter. She very loving looks him in the eye and says “It’s good to see you again.” Over the past two years I looked and listen to so many things so differently. Your heart changes, your thought pattern changes and your emotions, oh, those emotions that never seem to stop changing. You have tears on back order because of the many you have shed for the simplest of things, things you would never given a second thought before, before the fact of never hearing “It’s good to see you again.”
I remember in my childhood walking into my grandparents house, giving them a big hug and hearing, “Its good to see you again.” I never paid very much attention to these words way back then. I am not going to quote myself but I may have thought something to the effect “What’s the big deal I saw you a few days ago and I will see you again this weekend.” Before I knew it, in a few days or next weekend, never happened again. They were gone, never to hug or question their odd little sayings again. I have heard those words my whole life, and never thought twice about them. From a young age, even into the early years of adulthood, there are words and sayings that never meant much until you are faced with the reality of life and all the ups and downs it brings. The loss and the heartache that life brings are mixed in with the joy and happiness that fill in the holes. My only hope is that each of you fill every hole you can with a smile, a helping hand, a hug, and a odd little saying, “It’s good to see you again.”
The day I breathe my last here on this earth, and I see my life slowly pass through the portholes of my weakened mind, I will be looking forward to seeing my grandparents, other loved ones lost and the steely stare of a beautiful seventeen year old, with her hair once again flowing with the heavenly breeze. This young girl, this young woman we had the privilege of calling our daughter say the words, “It’s good to see you again, dad.”
I am a list maker, I make list for everything. I make lists at home, I make lists at work. There is a list for the week, a list for each day of the week. A grocery list, a Christmas list, (okay, I make a spreadsheet for Christmas). An order list for all the ongoing projects. I need to be prepared for everything, days before they happen. I don’t like surprises or changes. I need things to be in line and on time. Even when I go to “town” I need for destinations to be in logistical sequence. I don’t like crossing traffic to enter a parking lot when I am going to pass by the same parking lot on my way back from destination number one. I like going from A to B with no sub a’s or b’s getting in the way. Don’t misunderstand I am not OCD, I am organized. To prove the point that I am not OCD, if I am on vacation the lists go out of the window, A to B turns to B to A. It seems the older I get the more I need the list to empty out my brain. They say there are six parts of the brain that store memory, sometimes I feel like all six are in overload, hence, the lists. My list are like external hard drives to a computer when the memory is full. The bottom line is I like to be organized and I like to be prepared.
There is one thing that never made any of my lists, one thing I was never prepared for, one thing that never entered those six parts of my brain. One thing that all the organization or all the lists did not prepare me for, the loss of a child. Losing a child, no matter their age, is something that cannot be prepared for, it is devastating. After Lindsay passed away, being who I am, I started a list, a list of all the things I would never get to do with her. The one that hits me the hardest is never being able to answer the question, “Who gives this women in marriage?”
I wrote the above to lead into what we already knew about Lindsay and what we came to find out after she was gone. This young lady was a list maker, she was a planner and she was prepared. Lindsay had so many plans. She had plans for her senior year, plans for after graduation, plans for college, plans for the rest of her life. She had lists for her senior year, including a list for 3 different outfits, shoes and hair styles for senior pictures, and a list for an after graduation trip to Mexico (that one was a surprise to me). She was prepared to practice for hours for cheer, she was prepared to study late into the night for good grades and she was prepared to do what ever she had to do to become a doctor and save lives. The one thing that sticks in my mind about her being or getting prepared was one of her plans to pay for medical school. She came to me and said “Dad, I have it figured out. I am going to go into the Air Force ROTC at Chapel Hill. After four years in school I will have to spend two years in the Air Force and then they will pay for medical school.” One of the lists she had in her phone was all the things she needed to do to apply for ROTC and when her application was due. She was a planner, and I like to think she got that from me. Being who she was, it should have been no surprise that she was an organ donor. Not only was she planning for her future she was planning for the future of strangers.
If you are not already organ donor, I am asking as a donor father, that you put that on the top of your list. Make sure your family knows your wishes, and plan for someone else’s future.
I am no techno guru, I know just enough to be dangerous sometimes. I don’t have hundreds of games on my phone or thousands of songs to listen to. My phone is used for 90% talking, texting, and taking a few pictures. I leave all the techno stuff to Kelli and Jarrett. I used to think smoke was going to start coming out of Lindsay’s phone, she had the fastest fingers I had ever seen and could reply to text before you ever sent them…that is, when she wanted to. Jarrett is a music madman on his phone and can find anything you need him to find and Kelli is a social media master. Me, I play Solitaire, and that is pretty much it. As I was was playing it today, thoughts began to run through my mind as they do with most everything I do now.
Solitaire, a game named for exactly what the definition defines, one. It is a game played by one and that one is playing against 52. Fifty two unknown opponents every time a new card is turned. The goal is to clear the deck by aligning all the cards in sequential order starting with the Ace. I am far from smart enough to generate a total for all the different combinations, scenarios or matches that it takes to complete the game, to win. The simplicity of this game is of child’s play but when compared to the fifty two weeks a year a parent deals with grief there is nothing simple about it. There are times I play this game and never get half the cards up top just like there are days I feel like I can’t breathe, can’t think, and can’t function. There are also times I play and get the entire deck cleared, like the days I can look at a butterfly or see a ladybug crawling on my truck and smile. Winning at solitaire is clearing the deck and placing the last King on top, beating grief is placing my Princess on top and remembering the smile, the laugh, and the tears.
Flipping the cards to see your next move is like opening your eyes on a new day. You breathe, you thank God for the day, and you take on grief one more time.
Winning, a never ending battle when faced with grief. There never seems to be the right combinations, scenarios or matches to put the last card on top. The fifty two cards are like the weeks in a year and every week begins a new game, a new journey, a new walk of faith that grief will not win the game.
This morning as I stood on the beach, the last beach Lindsay and I ever walked on together, the same beach, that as a child, I spent so many fun filled summer weekends, hunting for shells, fishing and swimming with my family and pulling in nets with my granddad. A beach that has, and will, continue to have a special place in my heart. Standing there, in the pre-dawn grayness with the cold wind stinging my face, I watched the sun as it rose from what seemed to be the cold depth of the Atlantic. I stood there hoping for a sign and looking for answers to so many question that still fill my head and heart. This beach that holds so many wonderful childhood memories now holds loss, questions and the memories of a last walk. I watched the eastern sky as it went from dark to light and so many comparisons went through my mind, bad to good, despair to hope, fear to security, unanswered to answered, depression to happiness, and hopelessness to hope. Light brings hope and life to so many things here on this earth, as said by Dr. Stephen Hawkins, “However bad life may seem, where there is life, there is hope.”
This sunrise, a sunrise that shows its first light of hope and prosperity for the coming year. This sunrise that comes with so many unanswered questions shined its light on my heart. As I turned around to look at the endless waters of the ocean and the miles and miles of sandy beach I was the only person standing in the frigid ocean breeze. This was a feeling I know so well, cold and alone. This is how I feel when grief has me in its knurled grasp. The feeling that you are the only person in the world with a heart that will not heal from the painful cold loneliness. As I turned back towards the sunrise I could see the rays of the sun piercing through the flowing morning clouds, it felt like hope reaching directly into the depths of my soul. The reason being, I no longer felt alone, I felt Lindsay right where she was the last time we walked through the same sand that now hold the memories of time. I felt her right where she needed to be and where she will always be, in my heart.