Friday, April 27, 2012

That Place

It's been a particularly rough few days for me. The kids are fighting more, my fuse has become short, and I wear lethargy like a lead apron.  The boxes are becoming more and more difficult to face each day.  The high of moving is gone and we are all feeling the downturn.  There is much more to it of course.  There always is.

We've made several trips back to the rental to gather up straggling items, do a final walk through, take out garbage and set aside our Amvets donation. On each visit I've remarked to myself how glad I am to be out of that place with it's crumbling pathway walls, waist high weeds, wobbly faucet, 1950's insulation and chronic smell of smoke and ash.  That place that until two months ago had no heat. That place so poorly managed.  That place where Phil died.

If you ask the kids are they going to miss that place they'll say "No" very emphatically and might even call it a slum.  I'd have to agree with them.  But our hearts are sorely hurting for having left that place all the same.  For no matter the condition of that house, it was our last home with Phil.  It was the place where we witnessed his final hours of courage and humility and the place we gathered to share our heartbreak and sorrow.  It was the place where neighbors cradled us in their collective arms and cared for us day after day after day.  From this point forward we will only move further away from that place ~ which is both good and sad.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Life is a gift.

It's Monday morning now and it's clear that the vacation is over. Life is a gift, let us live and love accordingly.

I received horrible news last night that a lifelong dear friend of my family had died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving behind a wife and two daughters in their early 20's. He was in his early 60's, a surfer and runner and very full of life. He, like Phil, wasn't supposed to die young. And he, like Phil, was one of the really good guys. He loved the Lord and made the world a better place by being in it.

Now his wife and daughters will embark on the journey the kids and I are on - learning to live without a husband and father they thought would be there. Diving deeper into a faith they've only begun to plumb the depth of. And coming to terms with the edges of themselves that are raw and uncomfortable and need grace and mercy in the most difficult of moments when they are fatigued, overwhelmed, grieving and missing their loved one.

But having walked this road ahead of them I know a few other things they will find on their journey as well. They will find good Samaritans who will feed and cook for them, wash their laundry, clean their house, take care of needs they don't even know they have. They will find peace and comfort in memories and in the letters and cards that come their way. God will comfort them with deep refreshing sleep that defies explanation given the circumstance. And He will provide sweet moments of relief from the pain in the form of joy for old friends reconnecting and reunions with loved ones to shoulder the burden of sorrow.

As I dropped my kids off at school this morning they were so eager to run off to share their vacation experiences with their friends. I hadn't told them about our friend's passing yet. There will be time for that this afternoon. I wanted them to have their day today. For me, I have had a different attitude toward life for a while now and this just solidifies it. I agree whole-heartedly with my sister Anita who says she has no more naïveté thinking everyone is going to live a long life. There have been too many early deaths in our circle.

Life is a precious gift. Let us live and love accordingly.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Burgh

The kids and I just returned from what they are calling the vacation of a lifetime. We spent six days in Pittsburgh for a celebration and memorial of Phil's life followed by almost two weeks in Orlando to enjoy "the happiest place on earth" as well as Universal Studios and the wild beauty of the St John River and the promise of gators. The entire trip was a sacred, healing and outrageously fun time for us and was filled with moments of emotional connection and communion with the friends who loved Phil so well. Each of us was deeply affected by our time spent with those friends and I am so grateful, on behalf of my children especially, for the stories, love and affirmation that were poured into us.

Our time in Pittsburgh was exactly as I hoped it would be. There were not too many tears but instead numerous good stories were shared and I had the chance to meet a lot of the people from Team Conrad whom I'd come to love over the last year. Rob Hamilton and Jeff Breland's eulogy's were eloquent and individually captured the spirit of friendship they shared with Phil. And the video montage that Brad Bruckman put together encapsulated the times of Phil's life wonderfully - hearing Phil speak at the end took me by such surprise that I was immediately besought with tears. It was both a gift and a sad reminder of what we've lost.

I lost count of the times I heard people comment on how much Bennett looks and acts like Phil. Of how he has Phil's vibrant spirit and character. As his mother it made me proud and overjoyed for him to hear this and I loved seeing him beaming as he heard it repeated over and over again throughout the parish hall. And Olivia, quiet and contemplative by my side, missed nothing as she heard every compliment about her beauty and gentleness. The "buddies" as Phil called the guys who went on yearly trips together, made sure she heard what a miracle her dad thought she was and how much love he held in his heart for his special girl. It was love, love and more love.

As some of us gathered later to share leftovers, raise glasses in Phil's honor and continue sharing stories, the tears shed were more of laughter than anything else. Phil left quite a few whoppers behind and gave us ample material to work with. And, as if it were ever in question, he has the best friends. In the midst of coming together to mourn the too-soon passing of their dear friend, they were also having a really good time being together and celebrating this place called Edgewood that gave them a sense of shared identity, belonging, community, and connection. Be it comparing a Vinnie Pie to Mineo's pizza or rehashing the latest Pen's game against the Flyers, these Pittsburghers are the real deal - they bleed black and gold for sure. And to a person, they love life, they loved Phil and they let us know again and again how much he loved us.

Bennett commented that he felt like royalty while we were in Pittsburgh. The mere mention of his dad's name seemed to open doors and gain him access to things. When we went to Mineo's for pizza one day he mentioned to them that his dad worked there in high school. The next day at the memorial the owners came up to him and Olivia and invited them to come in to make pizza's and spend some time behind the counter. They had the time of their lives and came home with T-shirts and ball caps to boot! While there Bennett made plans to come back for a summer job and was already negotiating a salary.

Phil's brother Jamie had written a letter to the folks who now live in their childhood home, asking if we could stop by for a look. Steve, the owner, was incredibly gracious and opened his home to a dozen or so of us and gave Bennett a Pittsburgh hat and Olivia a bag of Jelly Bellys. We spent an hour walking the property, checking out the house and even crawling into the attic which David had called home for awhile. Jamie and Jeff Breland pointed out the various marks on the doors from stereo wiring and David cleared up some mysterious decals left behind in the attic for Steve. It was great fun and awesome for the kids to see where and how Phil grew up. Across the street was Jeff's house and the family there also graciously let us in, during their five year olds birthday party no less. Just another example of the friendly small neighborhood they grew up in that remains today. Standing in those homes was spiritual and bringing my children there was important.

By the time we left Pittsburgh for our adventure in Orlando we'd played in Frick park several times, eaten Mineo's AND Vincent's pizza, I'd seen the Pen's play and we'd seen some of the amazing architecture and history that makes Pittsburgh so beautiful. Bennett now knows where Mike Tomlin lives and he and Olivia have new Steeler gear to wear home. Pittsburgh and it's people have wound their way into our hearts big time and there is no question that we now bleed black and gold too.