Before I delve into the story, I have to make a small disclaimer. Some of the things that I post, come from journal’s that I have kept since dad died. This story is one that I wrote about a year after the accident. Right now, I am not in the same place that I was then. Meaning, I don’t still cry on my bathroom floor and run my fingers over the caulk lines that Dad made around my tub. I share some of these things so that you can know, that no matter where you are today, at this moment, you can choose peace. We have tried to carry on and go forward as Dad would have wanted us to do. I secretly hope that if I do something REALLY wrong, it would make him mad enough to come back to us. I thought he might come back when I became a Methodist earlier this year, but he did not. Apparently, there are worse things.
Let me tell you the story of a family. Not my family. Well, not just my “real” family. It’s really one of the most beautiful examples of what a true family is, than anything I have experienced. And it just so happened to me.
I have to write this down before I forget exactly what happened. Many things from that night are blurry, fuzzy and hazy, some I don’t know if they happened or I think they happened. I have to write down my thoughts before they get more blurry. Some of the specifics of that night are just to hard to look at in the light of day, they can’t take the harshness of the light yet. They can stay in the darkness for now. That’s where they belong anyway. But one part from that night is light itself and I don’t want to ever forget it. I won’t forget, but I don’t want anyone else to forget either.
Dad died down the road from our house. Maybe a half mile down the road. It was dark by the time everyone got there but they had brought lights in on big cranes to illuminate the scene. Luckily, the TV crews had everything they needed to get their breaking news story in time for the 11 o’clock news. We could see everything, but were not allowed to go to him. Not even Mom was allowed to just go and hold his hand, and we tried real hard. ”He is ours. Not yours. He didn’t know you. We love him.” You want to yell and scream to everyone else to just get away from him. The image of him alone in that field with all of us just standing there 20 feet away, is heartbreaking to us still. Even after all this time. We think we should have tried harder. They threatened to arrest us. Dad wouldn’t have let the police stop him if that was one of us out there. Right? We were calm. We weren’t creating a scene. But no, he didn’t belong to us anymore. He belonged to them.
One police officer promised that when they removed him from the plane, that they would bring him home for a time, so we could have some time with him. So we waited at home. In the meantime, word had spread and people, friends and family from all over had started to show up at the house. A lot of that time is blurry to me. I can’t recall exactly who all was there. We were just waiting on Papa to come home one last time. And even in my fog, I knew that this would be the last time he would be home and the significance of it sickened me. For the first time ever in my life, I had passed out. I could not deal with reality. And when I was conscience, I was sick. I think I yelled things too. It would come in waves. I could sit still and quite composed for a while, but then I just simply couldn’t.
About 1 am the coroner’s van and police officer’s pulled in front of the house. The road had been closed down because of the accident. We came out of the house and everyone on the porch parted silently, a pathway for us to walk out. We walked around to the door and finally, we were able to tell Pop’s we had brought him home. I was able to hold his hand one last time. I will not talk about other things that were said, because some of those words are not mine. Those are words for other people to tell if they wish.
At one point, I looked up and through the back windows of the coroner’s van, illuminated by moonlight, and I saw an amazing thing. I saw, all of our friends and family, in perfect peace and love standing on our front porch and in our yard. I’m not sure how many, but it filled that space. No one said a word. No one intruded on our time. No one asked to join us. There was no thought of self. I couldn’t even make out their individual faces through the glass, but I didn’t need to. I could literally feel their love for Pop’s and our family. In the absolute darkest and most terrifying moment of my life, I was feeling loved. It was like a wordless, palpable chant that could be felt, saying “We love you” over and over. To this day, it is the single most beautiful and loving moment of my life. Love is stronger than any other thing, even the blackness of death.
The other moment of light from that night was when after the coroner left, everyone came inside, we formed a circle and we held hands. Pastor Greeve led a prayer of love and protection for us that night, and it was upheld in the days and months to come by all of our friends and family. They determined that night, that they would not let us go. They let us know that no matter what, there was nothing we could say or do to have them let us go. True Story: In the days afterward, I couldn’t keep food down, so I wasn’t eating. My beautiful, loving Aunt Sharon sat me down one day and said that I was going to eat something. She tied a bib around my neck and proceeded to spoon casserole into my mouth. AND I SPIT IT OUT ON MY BIB! Yes. As an adult. I did this. And that was not the low point of my behavior that week. She gave me a talking to and I ate a little bit. I love her. She is one of those many people who wouldn’t let us go.
I have learned much about family since then. As Dickens wrote, “Family is made up not just with those whom we share blood, but those with whom we would give our blood.” The day Dad died and the years since, our family grew exponentially. Not because we had more babies, but because our definition of family changed. Our family includes everyone who loves and supports us and would “give their blood for us.” I knew that night our family was changed forever, but turns out not quite in the way I thought. It was not made smaller that night we lost him, but larger through the love of everyone else. Look up through the windows in your life and see all the “family” who loves and supports you. Who would show up for you in your darkest moment? It may not be your “blood” relatives but that’s ok. Family is family. No matter what.