Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Longest Week

For the last few days I’ve wondered what in the world I would write about when I finally sat down in front of the computer again. I wrote the last post in my journal at about 2 in the morning, just a few hours after we left the hospital in Pensacola, and then I typed it at my sweet friend Wendi’s house while I was waiting for D. to make revisions to the program for the memorial service. But since then, I have had a hard time even putting sentences together (Tracey would tell y’all that I have said, “Ummm…never mind. Forgot what I was going to say” at least 20 times a day since we left Pensacola, and she’s right).

We have struggled, the words and I.

I think there’s a point, when you’re watching someone you love go through something so unthinkable and so painful, where words just stop. I mean, you can only express how sorry you are so many times before you run the risk of having the Hallmark crown imprinted on your head and then finding yourself stuck in one of those little slots on the greeting card aisle at Walgreen’s. At some point you have to talk about something besides the fact that you’re sorry and that you’ll do whatever you can.

So as much as we have cried over the last few days, we have laughed just as much. Elise has always loved a good story, and I don’t know anyone who appreciates funny more than she does. When something tickles her funny bone, she doesn’t just laugh – she yells, claps her hands, and throws her head way back. Then she sticks her arms out in front of whomever is sitting next to her at the time – sort of a “Hold on, don’t budge, you’d better freeze right where you are because you can’t possibly move in the middle of this hysterical moment” kind of thing – and then she wraps her arms around her stomach and leans over as far as she can. It’s what she did when we were freshmen in college, and it’s what she did yesterday, as we sat around the table after the second memorial service in two days. It might seem strange to y’all that we laughed so much in the middle of such tragic circumstances, but laughing is what we have done for all of our adult lives, and I’ve learned over the last week that not even death can change that.

Back in 1991, Tracey, Wendi, Merritt and I donned some of the most, um, floral bridesmaid’s dresses in all of wedding history and stood at the front of the church as Elise and Paul said their vows. Yesterday our attire was not nearly as floral, but we found ourselves once again in a church with Elise – for entirely different reasons. Honestly, it was a little surreal. After the service, Paul’s mama’s sweet friends, who have stuck by each other for forty years, served lunch to all of us, when it was finally time to leave the church - when Elise’s daddy looked at us and said, with a little gleam in his eye, that if we said another word to E. that it had better be “BYE" - I felt the tears welling up again.

Those tears caught me completely off guard. I mean, I have been the one who, since last Thursday, has been telling all of our friends, “Remember – it’s not about how we feel. It’s about how Elise feels, and if we need to sit in a corner to make her feel better, we will sit in a corner.”

Yet I found myself, when it was finally time to leave, totally unable to practice what I had preached. Because when I gave Elise one last hug, I pretty much just wanted to crawl into the fetal position and bawl my eyes out. Though probably not for the reasons that you think.

I don’t know if you’ve ever known the blessing of friends who love you completely and unconditionally, but I do. Elise, Tracey, Merritt, Wendi, Emma Kate, Daphne, Katy and Melanie know, too. And yesterday, as I looked around at my friends who were there – my friends who have been there through every single stage of my adult life – I felt deeply, profoundly grateful. Because if I ever find myself walking through some unchartered territory – as Emma Kate has over the last year and a half, as Katy did back at the beginning of the year, as Elise certainly has over the last week and will continue to do in the days and weeks to come – I know I have people who will walk with me. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that when push comes to shove, they will walk with me.

That, to me, is huge. To say that I’m grateful for it doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

Over the last week we’ve had to do things I never thought we’d do at this age: dropping everything to be with a friend who has lost a husband, driving to Pensacola to sit in a waiting room the size of a closet, praying around a hospital bed, driving Elise back to Jackson with Paul’s wedding band firmly in place on her left thumb, putting together programs for two memorial services (about 900 people at the first one, about 600 people at the second – you can’t tell me that E. and P. aren’t loved), driving to the Delta for a burial and finally, reluctantly, having to leave our friend E. behind.

For me, leaving E. behind was the hardest part of all.

So continue to pray for her family. I think now is when the most difficult part starts - so many "firsts" she'll have to experience without Paul. There’s a lot of mundane, day-to-day stuff that she’s going to have to learn to navigate on her own. And the mama in me just wants to pack up our house, put it on the market, and move closer to my friends. Even though I think we do a great job of staying in touch and taking trips and all that, this last week has reminded me of how much I love to be with them. And how blessed I am to have them. And how faithful God has been in every single circumstance we’ve encountered over the last nineteen years.

In this particular instance, through the tragedy of Paul's death, God has used so many of you as evidence of His faithfulness. Your emails, calls, comments and prayers have really reminded me that, when tough times hit, The Body of Christ is a living, breathing reminder of God’s goodness. I know Elise has seen your comments, and I know that she’s grateful.

I also know that if she could tell you anything, it would be this: love your husband, and treasure every single day that you have with him.

And if I could tell you anything, it would be this: in addition to loving your husband and your children, love your friends. Love them well.

You will never, ever regret it.


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