The Kindness of Strangers

So many times we have heard and said after someone dies, that the first year is the hardest.  Marking all the firsts without that person.  It’s true – first Thanksgiving and Christmas, first birthday and anniversary.  And then the impending anniversary of your loved one’s death.  So I knew that this time of year would be difficult and involve lots of time spent thinking back to what I was doing/thinking/feeling a year ago.

Michael was admitted into the hospital on May 19th and spent his last sixty-three days there.  So each day for the last two weeks (thanks at least in part to Facebook) I’ve been going over what those days were like.  Sometimes it’s hard and brings me to tears.  Sometimes it’s sweet and I treasure the memories.  Throughout it I have been going over the last pictures we have from those days and can now see things that I could not or would not see then.

Two things I am particularly struck by as I remember.  First, on May 30th last year, unknown to us, a young man was working on his car.  I imagine it was a day just like a thousand others.  I don’t know his name, age or where he lived.  I don’t know if he had a wife or children, though I think it’s probable that he did.  While he was working on his car, the jack slipped and the car fell on him injuring him greatly.  While I don’t know all of the details I know the injuries were great enough that he would not survive.  In the midst of this tragedy, some medical person or persons approached his family about donating his organs.  And in spite of their own grief, they selflessly and graciously agreed.  They then had to wait for this young man’s heart to stop beating so that this donation could be made.  This was the family that provided Michael with a liver transplant.

I’ve not had any contact with this family.  Even though the transplant center will allow me to send a letter, I haven’t been able to bring myself to write it.  Somehow, because the outcome for Michael was not the triumph we had hoped for, I don’t want them to think that their gift was any less valued or appreciated.  Not every transplant story ends with a victorious ride into the sunset.  But the gift of giving life or the chance for life is no less cherished.  I too would have chosen a different outcome if it were up to me.  Regardless of the outcome, I still believe in the noble act of organ donation and will always respect and appreciate the family that gave Michael this chance.

The second thing I’ve been impressed by in recent days comes from all the Facebook posts from a year ago.  On the night of May 31st, one year ago, Michael received his liver transplant.  It was a long and complex surgery that would begin on Saturday evening and not be finished til Sunday morning, June 1st.  As I read back on the updates and messages people sent to me and our entire family, I am renewed in my thankfulness for the prayers and good wishes sent our way.  I have been rereading them as if for the first time.  Posts from friends we see every day in our own town.  Posts from friends we haven’t seen or heard from in years.  Posts from so many foreign countries, many we’d never travelled to.  Messages from people we had never met offering prayers on our behalf.  Prayers offered up to God from all denominations, in various customs and practices.  I think a year ago I was so deep into survival mode that I didn’t really appreciate the outpouring of love and concern.  But know that I appreciate them today.  If it is possible for prayers offered a year ago to continue to be felt today, then that is what I am feeling.

The weeks ahead will surely bring more of these feelings along with many other things.  As we get ready for a family wedding I am realizing that I will begin living on my own for the first time in my life.  Yes, for the first time in my life I will have full access to the remote control and the thermostat, and my refrigerator will only need to be stocked with the things I like.  My washing machine setting has changed from super-sized loads to medium-sized loads.  And my two-car garage will be half empty (or half-full).  There are new challenges ahead.  New freedoms, new routines, new experiences to explore.  So while I take some time each day to look back, I want to spend most of my time looking forward.  I’m not sure I can safely do both.

Be a blood donor.  Be an organ donor.  Be an encouragement to someone you meet today.

What Would You Do

What would you do if you knew that tonight was the last night your husband would sleep next to you?  Would you hold his hand?  Would you study his profile?   Would you lay so very close to his side, tucked up under his arm?  Would you lay your head on his chest to hear his heart beat and feel him breathe?  Would you lay in silence thanking God for him?

What would you do if you knew this would be his last kiss?  Would you slow down and make it last longer?  Would you memorize every part of it?

What would you do if you knew today would be your husband’s last day in your house?  Would you memorize how he gets up and down from his chair?  Would you happily serve him his breakfast?  Would you watch as he walked out the door knowing that his presence would never be in this room again?

What would you do if you knew this was your last anniversary?  Would you spend every second of the day by his side, no matter if that meant medical tests or just sitting in silence with each other?  Or would you spend the day at the spa and at dinner with friends without him because you knew this was what he planned and how much pleasure it brought him?

What would you do if you knew that today would be the last day you would hear your husband’s voice?  Would you ask him to say “I love you” and so many other sweet things again and again?  Would you ask him to sing all those songs he loved to sing in that slightly off-key way he does?  Would you try to make him laugh?  Or would you want him to tell all his old stories one last time so you could laugh at them?

What would you do if you knew tomorrow morning your husband would make the choice to leave you?  Would you beg him to stay?  Would you gather all your children so each one could try to understand his decision?  Would you beg God to change his mind?   Would you beg God to stop his heart so this difficult decision wouldn’t have to be made?  Would you be able to sleep?

What would you do if you knew today would be your husband’s last day?   Would you stay by his bed and never leave for one breath?  Would you ask him to open his eyes every time he closed them so you could look into them one more time?   Would you scream at the top of your lungs or just cry quietly?  Would you crawl up in the bed to be next to him one last time?  Would you beg him to stay?  Or would you let him go?

What would you do …….. If you knew?

Ten Thousand Times

Over the years I can remember watching several close couples going through the grieving process as one died and the other was left here on earth.  So many times I would think about the difference there would be in their perspectives of time.  For the one who had died, I remember thinking that the time apart must be relatively brief, knowing that it would be seen in the context of eternity.  And I remember thinking of the one left behind – that the survivor should know that no matter how long it was til they were reunited, the time was really just a fleeting moment in comparison to the eternity together to come.  I remember thinking that this should be the mindset as they approached each day.

I see it a little different now (nothing like personal experience to change your vantage point).  I know that Michael has already begun to experience and enjoy eternity with God apart from this earth.  And I know that however many days/years I remain here will seem just a moment when compared to the eternity to come for me as well.  But I read recently that, statistically, I probably have 30 – 35 years to live.  This means I have somewhere over 10,000 days to live (statistically).  That doesn’t sound like such a fleeting moment in time anymore.  In fact, it seems to be an unending stretch ahead.

Ten thousand times to wake up in the morning alone in the bed and look at his empty pillow.  Or ten thousand times to wake up and praise God for another day.

Ten thousand times to cry over what I no longer have in this life.  Or ten thousand times to be grateful for all I do have and have had in my life.

Ten thousand times to sit idle in my chair and let life go by outside my window.  Or ten thousand times to get up and out into the world to find my place.

Ten thousand times to mope and complain, to drag the life out of those around me.  Or ten thousand times to encourage and walk alongside others who may need a friend.

Ten thousand times to cry over what could have/should have been in my mind’s idea of how my life would turn out.  Or ten thousand times to smile and laugh as I go about continuing to live life.

Ten thousand times to be needy and demanding of family and friends with petty requirements of how I should be treated.  Or ten thousand times to serve others and give all I have so that my heart can be made full.

Ten thousand times to gossip and criticize others with lethal words.  Or ten thousand times to bless and love others with words that speak life.

Ten thousand times to be angry and bitter by holding on to old wrongs and hurts.  Or ten thousand times to choose freedom by both offering and accepting forgiveness.

Ten thousand times to close myself into my room where it feels safe.  Or ten thousand times to travel the world, far and near, to see new things and share new experiences.

Ten thousand times to eat cold cereal and feel sorry for myself.  Or ten thousand times to feast on friendship and banquets of laughter and celebration – food for both body and soul.

Ten thousand times to think my best days are over and behind me.  Or ten thousand times to look for how God might choose to use me.

Ten thousand times to think of all the things I will never have again.  Or ten thousand times to let God meet my needs since He knows me even better than I know myself.

Ten thousand times to sink into obsessive thoughts and patterns.  Or ten thousand times to let God transform me more and more into His likeness.

Ten thousand times to remember Michael’s last days and wonder “what if” and “should I have”.  Or ten thousand times to remember a life well lived and celebrate his legacy.

Ten thousand times to mourn a loss.  Or ten thousand times to rejoice in victory.

It still seems like a long stretch ahead.  May I choose to wisely use the time ahead, however long or short.



Remembering Daddy

I have a friend that always says: “Remember your father on Mothers’ Day.  ‘Cause if your father weren’t your father, would your mother be your mother?”  So while everyone else is remembering their mother today, and I’m certainly remembering mine, I also am remembering my father.  Because it was one year ago today that my daddy died.

Life wasn’t always easy with my daddy.  He could be gruff and hard to live with and had a keen knack for pushing people away.  But he was still my daddy and I’m afraid sometimes I see some of his traits in myself.  To remember him today I thought I’d share the eulogy I spoke at his funeral last year.

My father, Paul Henry “RED” Weaver, was born on January 15, 1927 in Meridian, Mississippi.  He died on May 10, 2014, and was a resident of River Ridge for the last 56 years.

He was the third of eight children born to the late Earl Franklin Weaver and Bessie Sarah Manning.  A brother of Mary Hall, Jessie Daniels, Margie Upton, Jack Weaver and the late Glenn, Billy and Bobby Weaver.  He only had a 3rd grade education because his family was poor and moved around a lot.  His father was a steeplejack, which means he painted bridges.  And dad and his brothers had to help him paint them as well.  Even when their father became blind, they would lead him up on the bridge so they could paint it together.  He was only 15 when his father died and he then became the head of the household.

He served in the United States Navy from 1944 – 1946, stationed at the submarine base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  In fact he joined the Navy just before his 17th birthday.  He was very proud to have been in the Navy.  And it was a privilege to take him back to Pearl Harbor 60 years later and see the memories return.  He was so pleased to talk with the historians about his time there, and it was a pleasure to see how they honored and appreciated his service.

He was married to the late Rose Helen Stephens.  And he loved mom.  They were married for over 65 years.  They were introduced by his sister Jessie, who was also one of mom’s best friends, when he returned home from serving in the Navy.  It didn’t take long for them to fall in love, get married, leave Laurel, MS and move to New Orleans where they would stay and raise a family.

He is the father of Paul Weaver, Jr. (Patty), Ginger Moskau (Michael), Ann Phelps (Asia Baker), and Becky Coker (Kent); and the grandfather of Christy Moskau Hudson (Jason), Andrew Moskau, Emily Moskau and Colin Coker.

He worked for 40 years as a structural iron worker and was a member of the Local Union #58 for 65 years.  He was very proud to be an iron worker and to have been a part of building most of the plants and refineries along the Mississippi River from Chalmette to Baton Rouge.  He worked hard and also brought in three of his brothers to become ironworkers too.

He loved fishing and I can hardly remember a time when he didn’t own a boat.

He loved his garden. He took it very seriously and worked hard in it. And he was proud to share all the crops with family and neighbors and friends from church.

In 1989 Dad gave his heart to Jesus Christ, accepting the forgiveness and grace that God offers to each of us.  Over the years he was an active member of First Baptist Church Harahan and Rio Vista Baptist Church.  He enjoyed reading his Bible and having lively discussions about what he was reading and learning.   And I’m thankful that I can know that he is now in the presence of God, reunited with mom, and enjoying a peace that too often he could not find here.

One last message I want to share with my siblings:

            Life with dad was not all “Ozzie and Harriet”.  He was often difficult to get along with.  He could be demanding, opinionated and outspoken.  But because he was demanding, we became hard workers.  Because he was outspoken, we had to find our own voices.  And because he was opinionated we learned to think for ourselves.

            The last 6 months have been hard watching mom and dad both ill and dying.  But it has brought the 4 of us back to a place of closeness that we haven’t had in many years.  So today, as we say good-bye to dad, I hope that we can also say good-bye to the disappointments and hurts and things that we cannot change.  And I pray that we will move ahead, together, in hope and love and a renewed support for each other.  

So today – on Mothers’ Day – I remember my daddy.