The Last Pair of Shoes

Happy New Year! I hope you all have had a wonderful first few weeks of 2018. Holidays bring so much excitement into our home that it seems to take the first half of the new month to get adjusted and back into the swing of things.

Honestly, I would have happily taken another few days off, but I couldn’t.

For the last week, my uncle has been begging me to talk to him. Incessantly pestering me. Do you know how annoying that is? He showed up in my dreams. When I should have been concentrating or working on something else, he would pop in and disrupt whatever train had been chugging along.

The last straw was a few nights ago, when I found myself dreaming of him, once again. It was time to do some super sleuthing. Well, not that much, because how hard can it be to gather information on a 7 year old boy?

Apparently, getting to know a 7 year old boy, whom several of your immediate family members knew, is actually pretty difficult.

Ancestry, of who I have come to rely on to pick up the sent, kept coming back to me empty-handed. I swear she just walked to the doors of her cavernous rooms, glanced around and then came back and said, “I didn’t see it.” I sent her back three or four times to double check and each time, it was the same, unapologetic response…

Family Search wasn’t much help, either, though it did return with a headstone picture. This would have been fantastic, if I hadn’t taken the picture.

Mom and Nana were of minimal help. When asked to tell me about him, both immediately began to describe for me his last months- the hospital stay, what he looked like at the time and his and their reactions to seeing him thusly.

 

Born on April 3, 1954, Edward Lothario Jackson was a happy boy. He loved running and playing outside, especially with his wagon. He probably played the most with my mom, because they were closest in age among all the children. He learned his recitations (poems Nana and Granddaddy selected for the children to memorize and then recite on request) fairly quickly and loved to recite those poems for anyone who would ask. Though he went to school very briefly- a single semester- he did very well and made good marks. He smiled a lot and was very loving. He was given the nick name (which is was only used by the family and surely would have faded away by the time he reached 10) of Turdy Boy- though no one could recall how he came to acquire such a name. Perhaps, as Nana suggested, it was because Lothario was so hard to pronounce or maybe they were teasing him because of his habit of thumb sucking.

According to mom, he resembled my brother a bit (an interesting tid-bit, because when he visited with me in my dreams, he had a cherub face-  mixture between my brother and the baby)

One morning, in March of 1961, he fell over as he got out of the bed. When Nana tried to help him stand up, he could not. He was taken to the only hospital in the area, Mary Washington, located in Fredericksburg, Virginia. There was only one pediatrician in the area and he called MCV, a bigger hospital, an hour south in Richmond. The consulting doctor came and the two concluded he was being affected by encephalitis or lead poisoning. It was suggested that he be transferred to the big hospital for treatment. This was not to be, as Nana and Granddaddy didn’t know anyone in Richmond, who they could stay with for the duration of his hospital stay. Instead, he went north to Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC.

Lothario's Shoes.jpg

These are Lothario’s last pair of shoes. Shoes, he would never outgrow and never wear again.

Almost immediately upon his arrival, doctors discovered he was afflicted by neither of the aforementioned illnesses. Little Lothario had a tumor on his brain. After two surgeries, doctors would know that his cancer would lead to a fast approaching death. There was no mass of cancer for them to operate on, as it had latched on and spread throughout his brain, like a spider web.

One week before the arrival of death, his brother and sisters, as well as other family members gathered in his hospital room to say good bye to a brother, son, nephew  and cousin. This is the traumatic memory that has stuck with his survivors… In sharing his story, I hope to erase this vision, which has cemented itself in the minds of those who remember him and replace it with the delightful boy he was.

I imagine his imminent death would be painful and stressful, as he would loose his faculties… First his speech and then his sight, it is unclear if he lost the ability to feel, but doctors assured Nana that he could hear them up until the end.

Having so little to share about him, I have to wonder why he has so persistently been at me to visit with him…

Lothario

 

A few months ago, just before my children’s father left this land of the living, my father came and visited with me. He didn’t speak, didn’t present a story or nugget of information- he just sat with me a moment in my dreams and then disappeared leaving two butterflies behind. When my father died, a group of butterflies flew up into the sky as they were bringing him out of the church… From that moment on, every sighting of a butterfly has brought with it a peaceful understanding and remembrance of him. And so, I knew deep within the recesses of my brain that my former husband would soon be taking his last breath…

Earlier this week, doctors said that there was nothing left they could do for a family member- who has a brain tumor, which from my understanding has spread out so much cannot be operated on or removed… Could little Lothario be coming to prepare me for yet another death?

No one knows and certainly, only God can determine the time when someone’s dash is at an end. I find comfort in knowing that sometime’s the stories the dead tell me help to make be better prepared to accept things happening today.

Have you ever had an experience where an ancestor’s story seemed to mimic a story of a living family member? Did it bring you comfort and/or peace or some other feeling? Leave me a comment and let me know. And you know, I’ll never turn down a like or a share- so be free with those, too!

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When Death Comes Knocking…

I have to apologize to those of you who have become accustomed to my snarky and somewhat sarcastic writing style, because this won’t be like that… I can’t even bring myself to apologize for not writing for so long, can’t bring myself to say things like life got in the way, because that isn’t what happened… Yes, my family and I were living life, but we were doing so much more than that… We were making memories with a loved one and we were preparing for death.

Nine months ago, my friend, the father of my children and at one time in life, my husband called me to tell me there were some concerns about an illness he just couldn’t seem to shake. There would be tests to evaluate these concerns further, but doctors were sure it was one of three things and they were all serious. I can’t remember if it was a few days or a few weeks, but the news came back- it was the most serious of all the possibilities: colon cancer. Less than one month later, we would be told that it was stage 4 and it was aggressive. (But truthfully, we didn’t need a doctor to tell us either of those things.)

Two months after finding out, we made the decision to tell the kids… I wish I had told him then, “thank you for trusting me with this”, but I didn’t. I just dutifully made sure all of the kids were gathered at his home at the appointed time. I will never forget that day…

By the time, graduations would roll around, two months later, you could see the horrible effects of cancer already taking its toll on him, but he soldiered on. He made a point to attend graduation ceremonies, watch another child in a horse show, and take two more children home with him for a weekend.

As a member of several online genealogy groups, I have often read or heard stories of people who have been unable to write the death date on someone’s profile on their respective trees. Of course I sympathized, however, I didn’t quite understand. To me it was just a date, just more information to add to a tree, more clues to a puzzle, if you will.

But then November fourth happened…

Folded-American-Flag

I didn’t immediately reach for my genealogy materials or look at my tree and I surely couldn’t write an end date. Eventually, I would try- and still be unable to complete this task… (I was finally able to do it last night, but it was hard and I went back several times and erased that info, because even though we’ve buried him, my brain screams that this isn’t the end.

Life and death happen. I think we, as family historians and genealogists and lovers of history, know and understand this, especially from the perspective of our collective jobs or hobbies, but it is a completely different road to travel when it is close to us; when it is personal.

I didn’t really have an outlet and I needed a release and so I wrote…

When Death Comes Knocking

When death comes knocking,

It is a slow progression

that makes you think and want to believe

that it isn’t real and it isn’t happening… right now

When death comes knocking,

It’s seeing a hospice letter posted on the fridge,

hung by magnets that should be hanging pictures made by exhuberant babies

and post cards from far away places

When death comes knocking,

It is wearing a winter hat on a warm breezy May day, because

you are always cold

and you’ve forgotten what it means to be warm

When death comes knocking,

It’s not being able to eat-

not even knowing what the desire to chew, swallow and repeat even is anymore.

When death comes knocking,

It is a ‘fuck cancer’ shirt on chemo day,

echoed by a rallying cry from friends and family to kick cancer’s ass

When death comes knocking,

it is a phone call at 2:30 in the morning,

a sucker punch to the gut- taking all the breath from your body

and a howl of grief mixd with an unproportionate amount of hurt

When death comes knocking,

it is your son crying big fat ugly tears,

as he sees you for the last time

and begins to understand what everyone meant when they said,

“he won’t look the same”

When death comes knocking,

it’s children standing before a crowd, reading letters of love

and grandmothers breakingdown

the baby looking at you; trying to get to you and wake you up

When death comes knocking,

it is emotions you don’t quite know what to do with

and attitudes you aren’t sure how to relinquish

Whewn death comes knocking,

it is not a peaceful walk into the sunset;

it is good Christian girls questioning, WHY GOD???

When death comes knocking,

it is a resounding FUCK YOU CANCER!

 

Thank you for reading. Thank you for allowing me to use this blog as an outlet fro releasing and dealing with my grief. I appreciate these things greatly. Often times, grief is lessened and made easier to cope with, when others share stories or advice… Other than things like, ‘life goes on’, ‘just take it one day at a time’ or some other equally offensive and useless words to my logical thinking self, what have you all done to get over/past/through personal grief?

The Dash

Generally, I find one interesting story to share with you that correlates with one or sometimes two or a few people from my tree. That’s what I do, right? I tell the stories of the dead. This adventure will veer from the path of tradition I have created, if only slightly…

Earlier this week, Monday, April 10- to be exact, John Thomas celebrated his 70th birthday. Or he would have, if death had not intervened on April 30, 1993. 

In any event, I would like to tell his story today. I guess therein lies the problem… John isn’t just someone on my tree, who I researched and am now telling you about; He was my dad. 

My dad and I in the early 1980s

So. Instead of trying to pick one story to entertain you as you take a brief break in your day, I am going to tell you about the dash.

Growing up, he was called Johnny. Spend an afternoon with his cousins and you will know that Johnny was a joker, who loved to have fun. 

Some of Johnny’s many cousins…

One memorable story, I am often told is when Johnny would pull all the kids around in a blanket throughout the house. I know this was great fun,because he continued this tradition with his children- even pulling us down the stairs! I remember screaming along with my sister and brother as my dad yanked us through the hallways of our house. It’s great fun and if you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend you do it right away!

At some point, this fellow met my mom (a pretty wonderful lady) and they decided to get married- lucky for me and my kids and Johnny became Mr. J. 

Johnny and Valerie circa 1980 something 

Mr. J was a neighborhood favorite. Kids coming to the door to see if Mr. J could come out and play was just as likely to occur as them coming to see if I or my sibblings could come out to play. During the summer months, he could often be seen throwing kids into the backyard pool. 

If you were lucky, you caught him eating watermelon or crabs- because he was always willing to share that deliciousness with you. 

Summer evenings were reserved for trips to Carl’s Ice Cream (you may recall me telling you that this is a mandatory bucket list item) with friends and days were packed car rides to Kings Dominion- whatever it was, it was always fun with Mr. J.

When the rains came and the weather was bad, Mr. J could be found playing an involved and seemingly unending game of Monopoly (probably where my healthy affection for board games stems from) or Tetris on Nintendo (where my sister’s video addiction probably began)

Sundays after church, Johnny would claim the most comfortable spot on Nana’s floor, where he would either be cheering on his beloved Redskins (nothing I could do about that- much as I tried), playing Gin Rummy with Grandaddy and my Uncle Bruce or sleeping- especially if he had just finished eating Nana’s good home cookin’!

As you can see, a lot happened in the dash. More than is written here and that I will ever remember. Which is why I do what I do- to celebrate everything that happened between the numbers on either end of the dash.

As much as I enjoy talking to the dead- I encourage you to spend some time with the living and create some memories that others will enjoy celebrating some day. 

I love it when you click the like button and share, share, share! Don’t forget to leave a comment and tell me what you’re doing with your dash! I can’t wait to hear all about the memories you’re making and the fun you’re having while you’re doing it!