Learning to Drive on Streets of Gold

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Okay, what’s the first thing you do when you get in the car?

Check the mirrors.

No, the first thing is to buckle your seat belt.

Oh, right. I forgot. My car doesn’t have them.

What? Even my parent’s old car had them. But nobody used them in the 70’s. I used stand in the floorboard and help dad drive. What are you driving, an old clunker?

No. It’s brand new. I don’t know what kind. It reminds me of the Barbie Dream Car we had. Only it’s bright yellow.

Of course it’s yellow… You think it’s safe?

We don’t have accidents here.

Well, I’m going to buckle up, if that’s okay. It’s terrifying the first few times you ride with a beginner.

Don’t worry, I’ve done this before.

WHAT? You aren’t supposed to be driving – you don’t have your permit yet.

We don’t need them.

Permits?

Well, permits or even cars, really. Most people walk.

But there are cars?

Oh, sure. I don’t think it would be paradise for some people without them. There’s this racecar guy who just turns donuts in the fields outside the gates like he won a big race. You’d get dizzy if you tried; like that time on the teacup ride.

Yeah, yeah. No one will ever let me live that down. How are the roads?

Perfect. What would you expect? We don’t have orange cones, a DOT, or widening projects like you deal with. They were perfectly planned ages ago.

So traffic isn’t bad?

Nope. No lights, signs, or speed bumps.

Well, I guess we will skip ahead to lesson nine if you don’t have to deal with that stuff. Any Roundabouts?

No. But you can teach me. It’s okay.

Well, the next lesson is dealing with weather emergencies. Any storms there?

No, not really.

It doesn’t rain?

Yes, it rains.

How’s the traction on wet gold? Slippery?

Surprisingly good.

Okay, well I’m not sure where to start then.

While you’re figuring it out, I have a question for you: How’s mommy?

You want the truth?

We do believe in that here.

She’s not good, baby. She misses you every minute. We all do. She has a job now and is working hard. But nothing can distract her from the fact that you weren’t supposed to die. You should have had a full, long life – gotten married and had children of your own. You should have been standing at our funeral… not us at yours.

I will be. Only I’ll be standing on this side holding your hand.

Is it wrong to say that I long for that day?

No, I get that. What about my sisters?

They miss you too, of course. We talk about you all the time when they come home from school. They seem to have found places and people that make them happy. When Jenna goes to college next year it will make it harder on us to have an empty nest because it will magnify the fact that it shouldn’t be empty. Mommy loves her little chicks.

I know.

But why ask me? Can’t you see all of that? I thought you would be looking down on us.

I am. But I see things differently now. I don’t see in part anymore; I see the whole. I don’t like that mommy is sad, but from here I understand just how truly short the time is until I’ll see her again… Life is a vapor. It’s like when I had a bad chemo day; we knew it was only temporary and I would feel better again. I just had to hold on.

Will you tell mommy to hold on for me?

I will. But it’s hard for us to think like you – from that perspective. We see your friends getting older and taller and it reminds us that you didn’t make it past twelve. You never got to grow up.

You should know that I did get taller.

What?

You do grow up here and my body is perfect now, remember. No cancer. No radiation or chemo to stunt my growth. I’m not the shortest in the family anymore!

You always wanted to be taller than mom.

(both laugh)

Oh. There’s the guy turning donuts in the field. He’s so happy, I wish you could see his smile.

Hey! You’ve been driving this whole time, haven’t you?

Um… Yes.

Then why did you let me give you a lesson when you didn’t need it?

I didn’t need it, Daddy. But you did.

 

Happy 15th Birthday, Baby. Oh, how I wish I could teach you to drive.

When Free is Too High a Price

Everyone loves a bargain. People want to feel like they got a good deal – like they got one over on the establishment. I’m no different. I scour the endcaps where merchandise is slapped with discount stickers, hoping there is something I might possibly need so I can cry, “Look how much I saved!” It doesn’t matter that it might be a mongo bag of red licorice (which no one in my house likes) or a fish basket for our grill that is hardly used.

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In search of savings I have purchased ladies pants (for me), a DVD burner that is too old for my computer to recognize, and several hats I’ve never worn. I regularly peruse the Goodwill store and seriously considered a $10 suit I once found there. Too often, a good buy isn’t a good buy.

I discovered this truth on a recent trip to our local grocery store where they boast weekly BUY 1 GET 1 deals. I love those. Being a large family we stock up when our favorites are buy one get one free. So what do you see when you see this? Look closely…

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A good deal?

The fact that cereal is way too expensive?

That they are almost out of stock?

You know what I see? I see Kylie. I see her because that was her breakfast of choice since before she could talk. In fact, that was her favorite snack and often her favorite lunch and dinner. I look at that box and I see her with perfect clarity in her high chair learning to use a spoon. I remember her as a toddler sitting on the kitchen floor at the entrance to the den where she could eat breakfast and still see the TV. I feel her in my lap holding a yellow cup while shoveling fistfuls of oat squares into her mouth and I so desperately yearn to hold her again… right there in the grocery store aisle.

Before I realized it I had put six boxes in my cart because I spent ten years trained to pounce when they were buy one get one free. You know what’s worse than realizing you’ve put six boxes of oat squares you don’t need into your cart? Having to put each and every (insert handy expletive here) one of them back on the shelf.

Uggg. Slump shoulders. Wipe tears. Leave store.

This grieving thing isn’t getting much easier – it is just getting different. And death is so close to me now that I often feel like its angel. I’ve been to too many funerals for children of late. I saw a man I’ve come to love and respect eulogize his son – both beautiful and heartbreaking. I talk to him often and relive those first weeks after Kylie died as I see him walk in the same stupor. Last week I watched two friends celebrate their little girls’ birthdays on the same day. Wonderful celebrations of life – only one sweet girl is fighting cancer here while the other celebrated in heaven.

There is a thin line between this earthly party and the festivities that await us.

I wonder if they even celebrate birthdays in heaven. If so, is the party held on the earthly day or does it morph into the day you cross over that thin line to heavenly rest? In paradise, is there a need to memorialize one day over another or is every day ten thousand times better than the best birthday party here? Is the cake this good?

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I wonder. And I ache to know because a part of me is now there.

But it isn’t my time yet. That will have to wait. The little square-eater gave me a job to do and I’m bound to do it. But understand that though I am healthy and active, I am just broken enough that for the rest of my life, something silly like a box at the grocery store might reduce me to tears.

I’m not alone. You or someone you know may be grieving loss. We might look whole on the outside, but the strangest things can turn us to milk-soaked bowls of mushy cereal on the inside. Don’t throw us down the drain quite yet – there still may be some use for us. Just give us room to mourn and please realize that our grief isn’t a switch we can turn on and off at will. Sometimes it gets flipped by the most trivial of things – like a buy 1 get 1 deal on cereal.

 

Oh, and if you’re headed to the grocery store can you grab me some Cap’n Crunch? Not everyone likes the healthy stuff…