I could be wrong, but it seems to me that just as soon as school ended on June 11, I started to hear advertisements for Back To School sales.
During June, July, and August, we receive phone calls in the school office from retailers who would like a copy of the school’s supply list for students. I wonder how the caller would respond if I asked what would be the school’s cut for sharing this list.
Maybe retailers should put together a Back To School sale for parents, or teachers, or even principals. I can see the principal’s ad now— a year’s supply of Tums, Maalox, or Prilosec your choice depending upon your daily heartburn rating scale.
I’ll be honest, August does raise my anxiety level a bit. There’s the rush to make sure that everything will be ready for the return of the teachers. This is quickly followed by the arrival of those precious little creatures, our students.
But August raises my anxiety for another reason. August is the month that took my parents.
During the last week of August, my memory rolls back to their final days.
I remember the Sunday afternoon in 1992, when I had my last visit with my mother before I drove back to Richmond. A few days earlier she had been released from the hospital. Her doctor had told us that she might see the leaves change in the fall, but I don’t think the Hospice nurse was as optimistic. The cancer was taking its toll. All we were trying to do was to keep her comfortable.
On the morning of Monday, August 31, I was at work early at Hermitage High School getting ready for the start of another school year. Then the call came from my father in North Carolina, the cancer won.
The summer of 2002 found my sister and me focused on our father. His health both mentally and physically was starting to wear him down. Physically, his heart was misbehaving, and mentally some of his thinking was starting to catch our attention.
Knowing that we were putting him and ourselves at risk if he continued to live alone, we visited several assisted living facilities in the area. But, before we could commit to one with his blessing, he was back in Alamance Regional Hospital. His heart was a roller coaster. That roller coaster eventually earned him an ambulance ride to Duke Hospital.
I don’t think I’ll every forget Saturday, August 31, 2002, but one thing I remember distinctly was how restless my father was. He could not get comfortable. No adjustment worked. He might have slept for ten minutes, fifteen at the most during the day, and his chest rattled with pneumonia.
Somehow he made it through the day, and as my sister and I watched the hospital staff start to prepare him for a hopeful night of rest his vital signs rapidly went down hill. It was sometime after midnight when his heart sent out its last beat.
That’s why August isn’t my favorite month.
And while I miss them a lot, and I wish they were still here, I try to think of the positive.
My mother didn’t have to continue to battle the cheap shots thrown at her by the cancer, and my father never had to give up his independence by being forced to leave his home.
As I reflect back over these last twelve years, I believe my parents would be pleased with the foundation they instilled in my sister and me.
From their perch in the wild blue yonder, I’m sure they have learned that my sister earned her National Board Certification as a special education teacher, and that her husband has been recognized nationally and internationally for his friend of the environment management style.
For my family, I’m certain that despite my driving her nuts sometimes, they recognize that Betsy is the absolute best mother that our three like night and day children could ever hope to have. Lauren’s mission work, Andrew’s Eagle Scout, and Elizabeth’s creativity with art for sure have caught their attention.
As for me, I think the one thing that would flutter their angel wings the most is that I have a church family. You see for many years I didn’t have a church family, and I know this worried my parents. But my parents should be at ease now, because I have the best church family that any person could ever hope to have.
On one of those dreary cancer laden August afternoons, my mother shared with me her main request from the good Lord. It was very simple— she only wanted to live long enough during her life to see her children grown and successful.
Small in stature, but feisty in spirit my mother’s prayerful request only served to remind me of the sacrifice and commitment our parents made in providing for my sister and me.
And I know this will sound crazy, but sometimes when I’m working out in the yard on a warm, humid August day, my peripheral vision will project a fuzzy image to the screen in my brain. It is like someone has walked into the backyard. I quickly look up to see if a neighbor has come over to visit, but no one is there.
During these moments, I wonder just for a minute if that fuzzy image was a wayward parental angel making sure that my weeding was up to par. Who knows, perhaps it was just another reminder that my eyesight isn’t what it used to be .
When you lose your parents, life will never be the same. But, you don’t lose everything with their passing because you still have memories.
Luke 6:21 is kind of an awkward verse, but with time, it makes sense to me: “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.”
For sure tears came when I lost my parents, but in those tears I also hear the shared laughter they found through their families, friends, and their church family.
When life hits you with the challenges of a personal loss, your family, friends, and church family will with time help you find and hear the laughter in the tears.
But, don’t be like me, when for years I had no church family. Without them, I’m not sure I would have found and heard the laughter in the tears.
Let us pray:
As we walk through each day of life, help us to appreciate the extensions of our families where we find support and love to sustain us in our ups and downs. In your name we pray, Amen.
Author’s note: This piece was written in 2004, and I believe it was shared with the Outreach Sunday school class as a devotional during the month of August, but I’m not sure of the year.