Thank you to everyone who prayed for my two students, Ricky and Matthew, who lost their dad 3 weeks ago. Yesterday was our first piano lesson again after the incident, and I feel that it went very well. Already I have been blown away by how brave they all are- it is a huge testimony to what a strong family they have together.
One example of their extraordinary strength was near the end of our lesson, when their mom, a dear sweet woman named Patti, came up to me and asked me a question, prefacing it with, “If you think this is in the least bit weird, please feel free to say so, don’t be worried about hurting my feelings in any way.” She proceeded to ask me what size shoe Jesse wears.
Patti and I have had many talks about how alike our husbands’ physiques are- super tall, long arms, narrow feet. We have bemoaned the fact that our body types are the polar opposite and shared tips about where to shop for longer sleeves and bigger shoes for them.
Jim worked at the Dillard’s Men’s Shoes Department. Patti’s question was whether or not Jesse could use 11 pairs of brand new, tags still on, in-the-box-shoes.
My first reaction when seeing all of these was shock. I tried to talk Patti into selling them- I know enough about Mens Shoes to know that brand new leather Cole Haan, Ecco and Rockport shoes are expensive. In fact, I just looked them up and Ecco shoes run for around $190/pair. What we’re looking at down here is around $1500 dollars in shoes.
I tried to convince Patti to sell them, but her only response was, “It’s what Jim would want. Take them all.” Five minutes later, all three of them were helping me load 11 boxes of shoes into my trunk.
I’ve had a couple days to think about this generous act of kindness, and I am deeply moved and perhaps convicted. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been very emotionally attached to material things. [Haha, I know what you just said to yourself, and you might be right. But for once, I’m not talking about the fact that I love to shop and decorate.]
I will try to explain what I mean in a round-about sort of way. Part of the reason that I have always been a very gift oriented person is because I was always aware of death and its imminence. Every time my parents gave me anything, I wondered to myself whether or not it was the last gift they would ever give me.
It was for this reason, I became the world’s most maniacal pack rat. My dad knew that I loved to make cardboard cities, so he would bring me home all sorts of various objects to cut up from the office. Long after I passed through that phase, he would continue to bring me boxes and I never dared to throw them away. At one point I had 3 huge bags of toilet paper rolls and staples boxes stashed away in my closet. They just accumulated until my mom cleaned them out while I was at Camp Good News. I also still have every single Tooth Fairy note that my mom ever wrote me. And, yes, I knew it was her, that’s why I kept them. I never would have bothered to keep a note from some stupid fairy.
I also had a huge fear of someone leaving before I could properly say goodbye. Again, I had the thought in the back of my mind that it could be the last time I ever saw them and so I should make the most of it. I had to, at all costs (and I mean all) watch and wave at my parents as they drove away until they were completely out of sight. My parents first found this out when they dropped me off at preschool for the first time- the teacher wouldn’t let me stand in the parking lot to wave goodbye. The preschool called my mom 4 hours later because I was still sobbing hysterically. From then on, we reached a compromise. They found a special “Kelly window” where I could see the parking lot exit. [As a side note, thank God for Bill Hawk’s Little Lambs Preschool. I realize now that not many preschools would have put up with my antics!]
Pictures and other objects, whether they were gifts or not, seemed to somehow deeply represent something to me. Once they were gone, that moment, that memory, or even worse, that person was also gone. My cousin Ellen and I were scrap booking once and she decided to cut up a picture of my mom for a “family collage”. I still remember the intense pain I felt when she cut my mom’s head from the body. Even though it was just a picture, I couldn’t stop crying for fear that that was one less picture I would have of my mom when she died.
They say that the real reality and pain of a loved one’s death comes not at the funeral, not in the immediate days afterwards, but when their stuff has to be sorted through. When I was 11 my last grandparent- the mother of my mother- passed away. Sure, my mom was very sad, and I was just realizing that even as a kid I could reach out and give comfort in my own way, but I remember that there was nothing to ease the pain of going through my grandmother’s stuff. It was one of the earliest memories I have of my mother crying. It seemed as though she would never stop.
Would I be able to give Jesse’s shoes away, only 3 weeks after his tragic death?
I don’t know, perhaps I need to chalk it up to personality differences- some are simply just not as attached to things. They don’t see them as a representation of much of anything, it’s just stuff.
Then again, death changes pretty much everything. My mom, for instance, is the poster child for those who see it all as “just stuff”. Material things, even our bodies, are just material. When we were planning our wedding, my mom’s famous quote became, “Do you really need a wedding cake?” She was the one who would purge my room of it’s “priceless” trash when I was away. She was the one who tried to convince me that I only needed one pair of pants in high school- heck, we had a washer and dryer! What did I need more than one pair for?
And yet my mom couldn’t throw away any of my grandma’s “stuff” for the longest time. After a few months, she eventually gave my grandmother’s clothes to Goodwill. Weeks later, we were shopping there (it’s where I get my bargain hunting roots) and she saw one of my grandmother’s shirts for sale. It was about a year before we ever went back.
So perhaps it isn’t a personality difference. Perhaps there’s a strength inside Patti that one day I hope to understand well enough to imitate. Perhaps she knows something that we all don’t.
Or perhaps her love for Jim was just too strong for her pain.