Good Night Irene

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I were on our driveway cleaning up from the yard sale we had this weekend. We looked behind us and saw a familiar figure cutting through our backyard. He had his head down and was making hurried, deliberate steps our way.

From a distance he appeared to be the 93 year old neighbor man we have known for 8 years who lives on our block. As he approached though he was almost unrecognizable. His always slender frame was now reduced to skin and bones. His face had an ashen hue to it and his eyes, once bright and lively were now replaced with a lifeless stare.

Bill and his wife Irene have always been some of our favorite neighbors. Bill owns a big tractor snowplow and plows everyone’s sidewalks on the block. They grow a huge garden in their backyard and deposit bags of tomatoes on our doorstep. When we are out walking we always stop by to visit them if they are sitting on their porch. They dole out Dum-Dum lollipops to the kids and invite them to sit on the large porch swing. Then they love to regale us with stories about the “olden days” and we love to hear them. I have heard the story about how they met no less than 10 times. Bill used to date Irene’s younger sister but then Irene stole him away from her. Irene tells me her secrets about how they had the perfect marriage. Irene has taken my kids into the house on several occasions and played piano for them while Bill takes me to the back room to show me his WWII memorabilia. He was in the Coast Guard and stationed in Hawaii during that time. He has several medals and plenty of photo albums that he has proudly showed me. He always takes out a picture of Irene in a bathing suit from that time and whistles.

As Bill sauntered over to us yesterday I said, “Hi Bill, How the heck have you been doing? I haven’t seen you in awhile.”

He stopped and looked at me and said, “Well, you know Irene passed away last month.”

I didn’t know.

I quick grabbed him and gave him a hug and felt his jutting spine beneath my hand. I told him how sorry I was and how much we adored Irene. He just nodded his head. I asked him if his son was at the house with him but Bill said his son lives too far away and has only been able to make it up a few times to handle all of the paperwork.

Bill started to tear up then and he threw his arms up in the air and said, “I’m all alone now” in a jagged voice.

He abruptly started to walk away again and we asked him if there was anything we could do to help out. He just shook his head and muttered, “I’m just all alone now.”

My husband and I watched him walk away in his old straw hat, his jeans cinched at the waist and his flannel shirt draping on him. We were paralyzed and didn’t know what to say or do. I wanted to run to him and tell him just to sit down with us but inside I knew his pride would have denied him from doing that. I just stood there in sadness for a long time watching that 93 year old man walking down the street alone. The same street that I have watched both him and his wife walk down together many of times.

Later last night, I looked up her obituary online and discovered that Bill and Irene would have celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this coming Wednesday, May 1st. On Wednesday I will be paying Bill a visit with some chocolate chip cookies in hand. I hope he invites me in and I hope he pulls out those photo albums.

I hope he pulls out that picture of Irene in her bathing suit and gives a whistle.

Good night Irene, good night Irene. I’ll see you in my dreams.

There Might Be a Story There

There might be a story there.

Have you ever witnessed a parent who forbid their child to do something that yourself wouldn’t think twice about letting your own child do? You find yourself wondering why that parent is being so strict.

There might be a story there.

I consider myself a laid-back parent as to what I let my children do. I want them to experience life, take risks and feel free and unrestricted to a certain extent. There is one thing however that I do not let my children do.

It’s because there is a story there.

When I was in 3rd grade, there was a boy in my class that I was good friends with. We sat next to each other and would giggle and laugh during our lessons. He was part of our group that played tag at recess. He was sweet and nice to all of the girls.

One day he didn’t show up for school.

The teacher sat us all down and explained that he had died.

She told us that the boy had been eating a hard candy called Lemon Drops. He had tilted his head back and tossed one in the air in the attempt to catch it. He did catch it but it got stuck in his windpipe. His Mom was sitting right next to him and witnessed this. She was a nurse and immediately began doing the Heimlich maneuver and other things to dislodge the Lemon Drop. She did not succeed.

Two girls and I sang at his funeral. It was the first funeral I ever attended. It was the first death I ever experienced. It was something very confusing to me and I remember holding out hope that he would come back. I didn’t understand the finality of it all.

That story has stayed with me forever.

It became even more profound when I had children of my own.

People have offered my children pieces of hard candy and I have politely declined on their behalf. My children have asked for hard candy and I have told them no. I go through their Halloween bags every year and remove it.

I do this because there is a story there.

 

Don't worry, my kids still get plenty of sweets!

Don’t worry, my kids still get plenty of sweets!

She Was Thinking About Him

Last week, my 7 year old daughter, Iris came home from school and said she had a sad day.

This was the first time she has ever come home and made this statement so I was very alarmed and immediately asked why.

She said, “I couldn’t stop thinking about Papa Bency (my husband’s Dad). I miss him so much. I was thinking about him all day at school and didn’t even feel like playing at recess.”

My husband walked into the room and asked what we were talking about. When I told him, his jaw dropped. He said he too had been thinking about him all day as well and had not been able to shake it.

The strange thing about this is the fact that Papa Bency passed away 12 years ago and my daughter Iris had never had a chance to meet him.

Papa Bency comes up in conversation occasionally but it had been awhile since we talked about him so there was no real reason he should have been on her mind that day and she herself couldn’t explain what caused her to think about him.

Papa Bency

Papa Bency

My husband who was still in awe that he and his daughter had been having parallel thoughts that day called his mother to tell her.

His mom was surprised too because earlier in the day, one of my husband’s sisters had been talking about how much she missed her Dad and another granddaughter who is also too young to have ever met him expressed her sadness about Grandpa Bency as well the very same day.

Is this all a huge coincidence? I have no idea. No one can know for sure.

In the past week, I have tried to wrap my mind around why four people were all thinking about the same person on the same day. Of course, I couldn’t come up with a concrete answer as to how this occurred.

I realized I didn’t need to know why it happened either.

What I did realize though is that this is a comfort to me.

Whether or not Papa Bency whispered into my daughter’s ear that day and held her hand, I do not know. I don’t know if Papa Bency guided one of his family members out of harm’s way. I don’t know if he helped them understand a problem they were struggling with. It would be nice to think this happened and that there is someone looking out for us and our loved ones.

What I am most comforted by is the fact that our loved ones can live on in our memories and be shared through our stories. That the ones we have lost or never met can always be remembered.

(when Iris was 2 1/2 she also had an experience with Papa Bency that I have posted about before and you can read here.)

Wednesday Morning at the Cemetery

The other day when we were driving, Iris, our 7 year old, asked, “Can we go there?” I looked all around trying to figure out what she was referring to because all I saw was a cemetery. She said, “I’ve always wanted to go to where people are buried so I can read the tombstones and learn about the lives of people who are no longer alive.” I found this a somewhat strange request.

I thought long and hard about her suggestion for an outing. Is it an appropriate place to take children for a field trip? Bency, my 5 year old, has been going through a phase where he is afraid of getting old and dying. It has become so bad lately that I have had to promise we will not celebrate any more of his birthdays and he can stay 5 forever. Iris, on the other hand, is the opposite. She talks about Heaven and angels. She tries to calm Bency’s fears by explaining Heaven is a beautiful place and we all turn into angels to help others here on Earth.

What finally sealed the deal to take the kids to the cemetery is when I found a list on Iris’s desk entitled: Places I Want to Go for My Next Birthday. The list included: A farm, the library, a cemetery and the magical forest (she believes this is where the unicorns live).  I have no idea what kind of birthday party she was expecting at a cemetery but I figured we would just make her dreams come true on a regular Wednesday morning!

Off to the cemetery we went, pen and notebooks in hand (the kids wanted to write down what they found out about people). Iris squealed with delight when we pulled in. Bency was equally excited just because it looked like a huge place to run and there was lots of mud puddles from the rain the night before. Cesar, the almost 2 year old, was just excited to get out of the house.

The kids had so much fun! They ran from tombstone to tombstone reading the names and figuring out how old they were. We made up fun stories of what we thought their lives were like and celebrated them. They filled their notebooks. It was quiet and relaxing. Iris’s curiosity has been satisfied but she does want to go back again. Bency seems more at peace with death and getting older and Cesar had fun playing in the mud puddles!

The kids have been lucky that they have not lost any loved ones. I hope when that day comes they can look back on this day and it will be a comfort to them. They will remember that we can visit the ones we have lost at any time and celebrate them in a fun and happy way…..perhaps our loved ones will be visited and celebrated by three strange kids as well…smiles and notebooks in hand.

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Iris and Bency writing down information

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Bency’s favorite tombstone

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Iris wanted a picture of this one because she felt her and this person must have had a lot in common….she loves “baking” too!!!