Annie’s Song

Do you ever hear a song that stops you in your tracks and in an instant floods you with memories and an ocean of memories?

I was driving home from school one day this week when I was completely overcome by a song. Being with twenty-six ten year olds all day long is pretty noisy and chaotic, so most days I prefer to travel home in glorious silence. But this day, I decided to play my “Momma Chill” playlist to try and center myself and reflect on the day. As I crept up to the traffic light, the familiar guitar chords began.

It was Annie’s song by John Denver. One of my all time favorite songs ever. It is one of the first songs I ever really remember my brother singing and playing on his guitar. As I listened, the tears came in a torrent down my cheeks. I hadn’t heard this song in such a very long time. I had honestly forgotten it was even a part of this playlist.

The tears turned into violent sobs as I proceeded through the intersection. I even considered pulling over to calm down. I missed my brother. I kept thinking how desperately I wanted to hear him sing, just one more time. I wanted to remember the last time that I had heard him sing this song, and I was angry at myself that I couldn’t find that memory. When was the last time he sang it? I’m certain that when I heard it, I had no idea that it would be the last time. None of us knew or understood that we would be facing a lot of those “last times” when he found out he was sick. The yearning in my chest to go back and appreciate his music was smothering.

But here’s the thing, I can’t go back. None of us can, and none of us know when we share moments together that they could be the last time.

I am still wading through the grief of my brother’s death. Somedays I can smile about the memories and other days I can’t stop the tears. Some days I can sit in my memories of times with him, and other days a mere picture of him brings me to my knees. That’s grief, I guess.

I have thought a lot about this idea of “the last time…” watching my brother battle cancer and eventually succumb to it. I don’t understand for a minute why it was him that had to die so young. I have asked God a hundred times why our family has had to endure such a significant loss. I may never know why. But here is what I do know…I may never know when a moment with a loved one may be the last time. I believe that the best way I can honor my brother is to savor every chance I get to spend with family and friends. To be so present, and to treat every moment like it could be the last time.

Thank you for my love of music, and for that lesson, Todd.

It Should Be Five

We gathered yesterday to celebrate my Daddy’s 80th birthday. My sisters, mom, and I had spent weeks and weeks planning this celebration for everyone’s favorite Papa. We had cooked a huge variety of party food, ordered an amazing cake, decorated with balloons and banners, and were ready to host a huge invite list of family and friends. I had been so focused on crossing items off of our lengthy to do list for that day that I hadn’t really thought about the date. Of course, I knew the date – February 18th – but there was more significance to this date above and beyond my daddy’s birthday. Yesterday marked the two month mark since our brother had passed.

Two months. It has taken me two months to even try to write about my brother’s passing – and I’m certain that I will not be able to articulate all that I need and want to say in one post. My brother battled cancer for almost two years. Throughout that fight, he never lost his positivity. When I would go to visit him, I would feel anxious – not because I didn’t want to see him or spend time with him – but because I truly felt like I did not know what to say to convey what I was feeling. I would go to comfort him, but he would end up comforting me with the strength and grace in the way he battled. I am still walking through his death. I don’t think there is ever a timeline or roadmap for what an individual’s grief looks like, and sometimes I ask myself if this it really what it looks and feels like. I find myself smiling one moment about happy memories, and crying the next because he is no longer on this earth.

So yesterday, as we gathered for pictures to celebrate our daddy’s birthday, I was not expecting it to hit me so hard. My oldest brother, and two younger sisters posed wearing our new t-shirts with our favorite daddy sayings on them. Even as we had spent the morning choosing which quote we each wanted on our shirt, it didn’t hit me. Even as we smiled for the camera, it didn’t hit me. But later, as I sat scrolling through the hundreds of pictures from earlier in the day, it hit me hard. The four of us stood with our arms wrapped around each other, smiling and laughing. It should be five. He should have been here with us with his very own Daddy-saying across the front of his shirt. Five of us should have gathered with our parents for pictures at the end of the night. Five of us should have been singing happy birthday and watching daddy blow out his candles.

The day was filled with so much laughter and love. So many family and friends came with cards and gifts. We looked through old pictures of my daddy. We ate and drank and just spent time together. It really was a fun day. But just under the surface of all of those happy emotions, sadness and tears were dwelling. Yes, it was great to see everyone and be together, but we weren’t really all together. And we never will be again. We are so blessed to have our daddy still with us and going strong at eighty years old. But right next to that thankfulness lives sadness and anger about the fact that our brother is not here with us.

I am learning through my grieving process that there will always be these conflicting emotions. And that is okay. It’s okay to smile and laugh and enjoy life and be sad and angry that my brother is not here to enjoy life with us. I stepped out on the back patio yesterday during the chaos of the party to catch my breath and settle my tears. Perched on the railing of the fence surrounding our pool was a red cardinal. In my heart, my brother was with us yesterday, and that cardinal was my sign that it’s going to be okay. That I’m going to be okay. That its okay for me to feel all of the things I am feeling in every moment.

There are so many more thoughts and memories that I have to share about my big brother, Todd. Today was the first step in that process. I look forward to being able to process all of those emotions through my writing. Stay with me!