Whenever I’m preparing to write this blog, I usually try to find several things that are unalike and connect them in some way. Oftentimes, I try to find words that begin with the same letter (or have the same phonetic sound) that represent these thoughts or ideas. Finally, I put all that together into a snappy title (or possibly a title that simply confuses the reader, but hopefully makes them want to read more).
As I reflected on the past couple of weeks, it seemed the things that were in common all began with the letter “s.” After over-thinking this for far too long, I settled on this working title:
Songs, and Signs, Silence, and Saying Goodbye…
On the “Am I Happy with the Title?” meter, it ranked as “okay.” I wasn’t completely on board with these words. It seemed something was missing.
As I was pondering what I could add or change, I had a “sign” (just like in the title) —and it literally fell in my lap. Well actually, it climbed on my bed and curled up on the pillow next to me.
And I never saw it coming…
Quick background before I dive in: Brian was out of town at his mother’s, and my youngest son was in town for the weekend but was at a family friend’s house. I was alone, ushering in a quiet Saturday night, in my PJs by eight o’clock, and curled up with the Colleen Hoover book, It Ends With Us (not the makings of an exciting blog post, but peaceful none-the-less).
When I decided that dark-thirty was close enough to bedtime as to not make me feel really old, I completed my nightly before-going-to-bed regimen, turned off the light and turned on the lamp, and proceeded to get into bed and finish the book I’d been reading. As I sat on the side of the bed, I realized that my cat, Scout, was curled up in my place. As normal as this might sound, it was very odd. You see, Scout never did this. She might perch on the nightstand next to my bed, and glare at me in the wee hours of the morning until I finally got up to feed her, pet her, or watch her eat. If I ignored her too long, she might even slap me out of my slumber so I could perform the afore mentioned tasks. But curling up in my spot on the bed…this was uncharted territory.
In order for me to get in bed, I had to move Scout, and I did so gingerly, since I wasn’t her favorite person in the world. I didn’t want to get clawed, scratched, bitten, or hissed at. Surprisingly, Scout allowed me to move her. I thought this was unusual behavior for her, but I just went with it. It was Saturday night, the house was quiet, and I was in my comfy pajamas, ready to shut out the rest of the world and read.
After an hour, I decided to take a break from my book and get a sip of water. I looked at the spot where Scout had previously been contently lying, and she wasn’t there. I glanced a little further over to my right and found her nestled in Brian’s spot. She must have known he was gone and decided to keep me company for the night.
Again, this was a little weird, but I didn’t question it. I went to the kitchen, got a drink of water, and then returned to the bedroom. As I walked toward the bed, I glanced at Scout and noticed that she was breathing erratically. This went from being a little weird, to being something of great concern.
I walked around to her side of the bed, and noticed the erratic breathing, along with some twitching. I knew this was more than weird. It was serious.
I called Brian, who was two-and-a-half hours away and started describing what was going on. I knew in my heart that it was more than weird. Scout, who just turned thirteen, had lost a little weight over the last few months. We changed her cat food to the softer, canned kind, and she began eating better. We knew she wasn’t her usual self, but she still purred, and hissed, and climbed up in Brian’s lap each night while he watched TV.
As I talked to Brian, I began bawling like a baby. I knew that Scout was dying. It was more than obvious, but after the month we’d had, I thought maybe I was overreacting. As most of you know, my father-in-law was tragically killed in a car accident on the first of June. His sudden, unexpected death was heart-wrenching. The realness of our loss was just now sinking in.
I am in no way comparing the loss of a cat to the loss of a person, but it was more than that. Pets represent a marker in time. Their life spans and covers the milestones of a family. Scout connected us to a time when Charles was in high school, and Chris was in college. It reminded me of my days at Arp Elementary school and the morning Jump Start program I resided over each day.
I remembered, one morning, mentioning in passing, that my cat ran away, which prompted two girls who lived in my neighborhood to spend a Saturday searching for my lost cat, Socks. On the following Monday, I gave them a “Kindness and Caring Award” during Jump Start and explained why they were receiving it. A little Kindergartner went home and told her mom, who called me the next day and said she had three kittens whose mother was killed, and they needed a home. They were only two weeks old. (The human mom was scheduled to have her baby at the end of the week, and she desperately needed to find homes so these kittens would be cared for).
And that’s how we got Scout. The cat whose life I saved. The cat who tolerated me but loved Brian. The cat who was here for graduations from high school and college, moves to new cities, weddings, births of babies, the loss of her companion dog Duke, the arrival or her new friend Lorelai. Scout, the cat who seemingly didn’t care, but loved us deeply, and was a part of our story; she was here for all the celebrations, as well as the sadness.
As I cried into the phone, I could hear Brian’s voice crack a little. Scout was his girl. They had a relationship that none of us could come close to understanding. Another part of his life was about to change. I hated worrying him with this, but I was alone, and scared, and sad, and undone. I wasn’t prepared to say another goodbye.
Brian called Charles, explained what was going on, and asked him to come home. When Charles arrived, he fetched Lorelai’s dog bed and placed a towel on it. He then picked up Scout, who true to form, mustered up enough energy to let out a weak, but well-intended “hiss.” We talked to Scout and gave her a few pats as she struggled to breathe. We decided to leave her alone, and prayed she would go peacefully, and quickly. We didn’t want her to linger long between this world and the rainbow bridge.
I moved Scout to one of the other bedrooms, whispered goodbye, and closed the door. It was well after midnight, and I honestly think she was already gone. I knew we had to wait until morning to bury her, and I also knew I needed to try to get some sleep, something that had been unattainable for the last several weeks.
When the sun first peeked through the window, I heard Charles rustling around. I asked what he was doing, and he quietly said, “I’m going outside to dig a hole.”
I joined him, helpless, but wanted to give my emotional support. As I watched him dig into the dirt, I was reminded of how fortunate I am to have raised such a wonderful young man. In fact, I was reminded of the two young men—the adults who, just a week earlier, had said goodbye to the only grandfather they ever knew. During this emotional, grueling time, I witnessed their maturity, kindness, compassion, strength, and love over and over again.
And as my youngest son placed Scout into the hole, and shoveled dirt over the blanket she was buried in, my heart was full because the seventeen-year-old boy who wanted another cat was now a man. And a great one at that.
I was ready to walk inside, but my caring son wanted to give Scout a proper farewell. He talked about her life and commented that she never stopped being who she was. He ended by saying, “Scout, I know you loved us. You just did it differently.”
Charles then took it upon himself to alert the rest of the family in our group text. Here are his words:
Death brings with it casseroles, and cards, phone calls, and flowers. When the food is gone, and the flowers have wilted, the ones left behind must begin to piece their lives together. The journey through grief is different for everyone. For me, it took many years to understand, process, and fully allow myself to let go.
I’ve learned many things through the grieving process, and I think the most important realization is this: be still. Shut out the noise. Turn off your mind. Stop making lists. Take a break from questioning why it happened. Take a breath. And listen to the quietness that surrounds you. It is in that solitude that you will hear and see what God is saying and doing in your life.
Had I understood this when I was younger, my grief journey might not have taken so long.
With the happenings of the month of June, I have also been reminded of the sad reality that life goes on. While our family is still processing the loss of our leader, and mentor, and father, and friend, life outside of us goes on. It’s a harsh reality, and sometimes it can be soul-crushing that others don’t understand the place where we now reside. Sometimes you want the world to be a bit kinder and gentler, for the sake of our broken hearts. But. Life. Goes. On.
And the life goes on feeling begins as soon as the news of death is heard. Not that you are moving on, but the world around you is. And as difficult as it might be, during those first few hours and days, it is necessary and important to be silent. To shut off the noise. To take time to listen to the sounds around you. It’s in those moments when God will reveal ever-important lessons and revelations of His never-ending, undying love for us.
In my mind, I see the last several weeks like it’s a movie that reveals the important events in a flashback from the main characters. It’s in slow motion, and it’s set to music that evokes an emotional response. I remember the hugs, and tears, and smiles, and support, the many acts of kindness. I’ll always remember the music—the songs that were sung and played at the funeral: Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on That Mountain,” and a beautiful song requested by my sister-in-law, Lisa, “Another Soldier’s Coming Home.”
As much as my sadness seemed the same, it was different. I knew that most of my old wounds had healed.
For the first time, the smell of flowers didn’t make me feel nauseated— a scent that for many years made me ill, reminding me of the stuffy room full of people giving their condolences for my dad’s sudden death. I was pregnant at the time, which amplified my sense of smell, but after Dad died, whenever I attended a funeral or visitation, I was overcome with sadness, and memories of the days immediately following the death of my father. The sweet smell of beautiful floral arrangements became a suffocating reminder that my dad was gone.
A few days before the funeral, Brian was trying to repair one of the big mowers that wasn’t working. He shared later, that in the midst of his frustration, he looked up in the sky and said, “Dad, I don’t know if I can do all this without you.” A moment later a dove, the biblical symbol of peace and new beginnings, flew over his head.
Before the funeral service, my precious granddaughter Harper was in Brian’s arms. I was standing in front of her. She kept staring at something, and then began reaching for it. She tapped the funeral program I was holding. The first time this happened, I didn’t think anything about it, but when she did it two more times, I realized the front of the program was facing her, and she was tapping PaPaw’s picture. And with each tap, she gave a smile and coo.
My eyes filled with tears when I looked at Brian and said, “Miss Harper finally got to meet PaPaw.”
The evening after the funeral, Brian and I took Mrs. Keith (MaMaw) to the cemetery. The sun was slowly setting, and there was a slight breeze, making what had been a warm June day bearable. We walked around looking at the gravesites of family members. We ended our tour by stopping again at PaPaw’s grave. We gathered the baskets of flowers that had been placed around the grave, knowing they wouldn’t last long in the Texas heat. We loaded them in the trunk of the car, and headed back home.
We were quiet and still.
When the car started, I heard something, and I looked on the dashboard to see if it was real: The song “Go Rest High on That Mountain” was playing on a classic country music station. I quietly said, “That’s not a coincidence.” MaMaw agreed.
The next morning, as we were visiting before we headed back home, there was a knock on the door. MaMaw answered it, and a man whom she didn’t know asked, “Is Jacky Keith here?”
MaMaw froze, not knowing how to respond, so Brian stepped toward the door and said, “We buried my father yesterday.”
The young man bowed his head and began apologizing profusely, adding, “Boy, I have great timing.”
He introduced himself and explained how he met Mr. Keith through a mutual friend over a year ago. He was shaking his head while he said, “For over a year, I’ve driven past this house wanting to stop, but I didn’t have the guts to do it. And of all things, I chose today to get up my nerve.”
Mrs. Keith and Brian reassured him that it was okay. It was a wonderful reminder of the impact Mr. Keith had on every person he met. The fact that the young man showed up on that day was another reminder of God’s love, and the legacy that PaPaw left behind. He never met a stranger, and his kindness, humor, and putting others at ease is evidence of that.
Grief is never easy. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. There is no expiration date. If I’ve learned anything at all about grief it’s this:
Great grief comes from great love.
I know next to nothing about Physics. In fact, everything I know I learned from Sheldon and Leonard on the television series, “The Big Bang Theory.” However, I do understand Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
I’m sure my interpretation isn’t very scientific, but it makes a lot of sense when I apply it to the waves of emotions one feels when they are experiencing the loss of a loved one:
For as much as we feel joy, we will equally feel sadness and sorrow. Our grief is as great as our love.
This might make some sad, knowing that one day they will experience such a deep and relentless loss. I hope that those who suffer through great grief understand that it’s a tribute to the immense love and joy the person gave them.
In the last several weeks, I’ve learned some other lessons:
- Always be who you are.
- We’re all different. Respect the way others grieve, especially when it’s different than how you grieve.
- God is good, even when life is not.
- God is all around us. Every single day, He speaks to us. We only need be still and quiet, and then we will know of His Greatness, and Glory, and His infinite love for us. Take time to be quiet each day. Listen. Reflect. Breathe.
- God will always glorify His name in your circumstance.
Whenever I think back on June of 2022, I will be reminded of a gentle giant, and a cranky cat, of songs, and signs from above. I’ll think of doves, and kind strangers, and a baby’s innocent touch. I will be filled with gratitude for the gestures of love, and comfort, the cards, the flowers, the donations to favorite causes.
I’ll remember the importance of accepting each person as they are, and knowing that as different as we are, we’re still a part of a whole lot of “sameness.”
I will listen more intently to songs, and in my solitude learn to see signs from above. I will embrace those moments of silence. I will remember the sadness of saying goodbye, but I will forever hold in my heart the great love that was shared.
But mostly, in times of loss and grief, I hope to give love, support and encouragement that meets the needs of others, and not my own.
And as my blue-eyed cat with a snarky attitude taught me, I hope to understand and appreciate how others love me.
Even if it’s differently.