Please excuse the radio silence. The last two weeks have been….eventful.
Late last Friday afternoon, at the end of a particularly physically and emotionally draining week, I scurried around doling out ice chips and wiping the sweaty brows of two of my kids, who lay writhing miserably on the couch with the stomach flu . I pondered the past week, how tired I was, what lay ahead that weekend and I thought that things couldn’t possibly get any more trying, (oh dear, one must never have that thought!)
My husband came through the door after running errands, ashen, to tell me that his dad had taken very ill, was at the hospital and not expected to survive beyond a couple of hours. I could barely process what he was saying. I think he was in an even greater state of shock and disbelief.
Over the course of the next hour, Aaron was able to say goodbye to his dad over the phone and then, he was gone. We were shell-shocked. He had suddenly become very ill a couple of weeks prior and it had been touch and go. We were shocked and unprepared then, but were given enough time to brace ourselves to say goodbye. But several days after emergency surgery, he made what seemed to be a miraculous recovery. Indeed Dr.’s predicted he would be healthier than he had been in years. He was released from hospital feeling healthier than ever and seemed vibrant and excited to finally retire properly and enjoy his new vitality and health. We talked about looking forward to spending more time with him since he’d be more free to travel.
And so it was a terrible blow when he was so suddenly…gone. It is still hard to believe. Aaron was very close to both of his parents. In the past I have been incredulous when he has told me that he cannot remember one incident of conflict with them. But I believe him. They were both his dearest friends. He spoke to his dad very frequently, consulted with him about everything. When our water heater blew up the day before he left for his dad’s funeral, he found himself going to the phone to call him to ask his advice about installing the new one, and realized that he was not there anymore. He was without his mother and now his father, too.
We find great comfort in the knowledge that we will see him again, that he is reunited with Aaron’s mom who died 7 years ago. We know he missed her terribly. But he was young. They both were. And we wish they were still here with us. Of course, sweet Aaron feels a profound loss. One the rest of us can only imagine. We all feel a loss though.
The children were devastated, they loved their grandpa very much. He was kind and tender and the happiest I ever saw him was when he was gazing at his grandchildren. From the day I walked into Aaron’s life, (this strange South African girl who snobbily insisted that jello was NOT a salad and who didn’t even try to be courteous when it came to red kool aid as a dinner beverage, ) he treated me with total love and absolute acceptance. He spoiled me with candy and little presents and told me I was now his daughter. He never questioned Aaron’s judgment or told us that we were being too hasty, he just offered us complete and unwavering support. Once we were married, he never left our house after visiting without thanking me for making Aaron so happy and for being a good mom to his grandchildren. He was a good, kind, generous, gentle and hardworking man.
When my dad met him for the first time (before Aaron was even remotely on my radar) he said, “that man defines the phrase, ‘salt of the earth’. "
Our hearts are aching.
Byron Sayer with Ellabeth, his youngest grandchild. They share a birthday separated by 66 years.
And when you are raw and vulnerable, and sad, and feeling lonely, every little mishap seems like a personal slap-down from the universe. Things that we might ordinarily take in stride or just be temporarily upset over, a leaking skylight, losing car-keys, the dog having a seizure, the hot water heater dying, Ella falling and hitting her head in the exact same spot where she split it open a few weeks ago, breaking the vintage cookie jar… all these injuries and aggravations, added to shock and sadness, compounded with Ella not sleeping for 4 days straight…well life was feeling a tad tragic Chez Sayer.
And here’s where it’s the best of times. The humanity. The kindness. The incredible generosity. The quiet consideration. Nobody is quite alike, but everyone offered a show of love and empathy in their own way and each person filled a need. Some are there to just listen, to patiently absorb the rambling, to non-judgmentally overlook the irrational angry rants, to validate, to offer a literal shoulder for us to cry on, to give gentle yet fervent hugs and whisper soothing words.
Others were there with solid, practical advice, ready to fulfill routine, yet critical tasks in our stead. People seemed to just understand the cloudiness that accompanies one’s brain at these times. The fact that you are on autopilot, that your focus narrows to tunnel vision. Friends who could easily and legitimately have said they were too overwhelmed with their own lives to help, stepped in quietly and willingly without being asked. With military like precision and a laid back demeanor, rides were scheduled and seamlessly provided (with a smile!) for my many children to and from their many activities, before I was even aware that they had activities by one of my busiest (and most sainted) friends. She also set up a meal train for us before the day was out.
Great generosity was displayed and sacrifices unhesitatingly made by my family, allowing Aaron to fly home to the funeral on short notice at considerable cost, relieving a huge burden from our minds and hearts. A client of mine generously offered me as much as an advance on my pay as I needed to help cover travel expenses. Yet others dropped what they were doing to help me search for the cheapest flights.
Again and again, we were shown the wonderful during the terrible. The best during the worst.
A lot was not fun about this week but man, did we eat well. People knew just what we needed. Just hours after we heard, people were baking muffins and delivered them to us fresh and fragrant on the sidelines of soccer fields on a dreary Saturday morning, simply to show us that they cared. (I get tears in my eyes, and a smile, every time I think about how extra enthusiastically everyone on the sidelines cheered for my sad kid that day. Whenever he so much as looked as though he might approach the ball, he got a standing ovation.) Through little acts like these, we felt a tangible sense of love, the knowledge that people genuinely cared and wanted to ease the burden, however they could.
They brought hearty meals to our door before we’d even started wondering what we were going to have for dinner that night. They thoughtfully provided easy to grab, kid friendly fare for crazy nights, like adorable mini meatloaves, and chicken tenders. They prepared healthy and interesting salads which delighted my salad fanatics.
My kids enthusiastically dished second helpings of the enchiladas and the casseroles, they lunched on the leftovers of the ham and funeral potatoes that showed up as if by magic so that neither Aaron nor I had to cook on Mother’s Day. Every day the kids cheered when they found out what was for dinner (this doesn’t often happen when I’m in charge. I’m not going to lie) They slurped lentil soup, shoveled in homemade spaghetti sauce, and liberally partook of fresh fruit and vegetables- already cut up for their convenience We found scones on our doorstep which provided breakfast and late night snacks for days. We opened a huge box to find it foil lined and stuffed with fudgy brownies. We were presented with an irresistible raspberry cake made with TLC (it even had a heart on it) to serve as Family Home Evening refreshments.
Apart from the hot cooked meals and treats, a thoughtful friend creatively stocked us with fun snacks, perfect for soccer and school lunches. There were delicious fruity popsicles and various enticing treats for fussy Ella which perhaps bought me an extra hour of sleep here and there when her tummy was full. She even provided the best type of allergy medicine as Gabe suffered through a particularly bad attack. I find I can’t breathe when my kids can’t breathe and so this was particularly helpful to us all.
Another beloved friend uncomplainingly made late night (11:30pm) runs for milk, ice cream and other random groceries, had notebook in hand helping me to prioritize jobs I needed done, sat with me in the late hours, sorting through the disaster of Ella’s room, showed impeccable timing showing up just when I was loneliest to endlessly distract and entertain my kids (and me) during the witching hours –you know when everyone is tired and done but there are a still million stages to work through before bedtime? Then there were the hours of babysitting Ella as I sat at orchestra concerts, filming shaky footage with the iPhone so that Aaron wouldn’t miss it.
There were slabs of luxury dark chocolate (with BACON IN IT) expressly bought for both Aaron and I (to comfort ourselves with when we were apart.) And oh, what comfort they provided.
It wasn’t just the steady supply of nourishing food, the crucial plane ticket, the incredible chocolate and practical service, the beautiful potted plants…. It was that these things represented caring, love, empathy, humanity. Solidarity.
We could have ordered a pizza, of course. I could have opened a can of tuna or poured the kids cereal. I specialize in such cuisine and my kids are used to it. Nobody would have physically starved without these good Samaritans but the nourishment for our souls cannot be overstated. Life would probably have gone on if someone had to miss piano or soccer practice and Aaron could have parked and paid at the airport, but the sense that we were not in this alone, that we were part of a community who were embracing us was everything.
Even though I haven't had much time to sit and properly absorb it all, I am already stunned by the all the wonderful that accompanied the terrible this week and the best we have seen of humanity. I have been making mental "notes to self " over the course of this last week, resolving to emulate and pay it forward, as I have been taught by example, over and over again about true generosity, compassion, selfless service, and love. We have been shown all these things in every possible way.
One sunny afternoon a friend of mine arrived with a posse who in a whirlwind of cheerful efficiency turned a barren, weedy flower bed into on orderly vegetable garden (which was, as Aaron the farm boy pointed out,) far better looking than any we’ve ever had before. If we manage to salvage anything from the bunnies and the squirrels I know it will be extra delicious as I remember the kindness with which those seeds were sown.
Later that same night, before Aaron flew out to Idaho, our backyard was crawling with activity.It looked like an Amish barn raising. Just with Mormons. And no barn. And power tools. And jeans. Also no beards or bonnets. Ok it looked absolutely nothing like an Amish barn raising but it was just as efficient, hard working and good natured.
An epic amount of work was accomplished in just over an hour. Wood was chopped and hauled away, paths were swept, sticks were picked up, flower beds were weeded and rototilled, plants were carefully dug up and transplanted, trees were trimmed, saplings were removed. You read that right. All of it. In less than 2 hours.
I so wish I had taken before and after pictures because it had to be seen to be believed. I really do believe it was something of a miracle. Much of the work had to be done before a particularly noxious weed took over for the rest of the Summer and Aaron was really worried about having to leave before it was done. The selfless donation of a few man/woman and child hours has made all the difference to us being able to use and enjoy our yard this Summer versus miserably doing battle with it until Fall. While the buzz of activity happened outside, there was tireless work going on in our tiny scary little basement. Starting with hauling away the rotten water heater which had thoughtfully died just before Aaron left, then procuring and carrying down the new one and lastly, installing it. Then there was the fun of driving around town all evening to find the necessary attachments to make it work. The last of our kind helpers crawled out of our damp basement at 10:30pm, and our children were able to go to bed clean. They were His hands.
The gratitude and relief we felt after this day and evening of service was overwhelming. The love we felt was deeply comforting. The night before Aaron left, our Bishop gave him a blessing. The change in his demeanor after that was distinct. He seemed stronger and more peaceful immediately. He was able to offer each of us a blessing before he left. All four of the older children eagerly accepted, and after watching each of them receive their blessings, Ella sat uncharacteristically still and completely peacefully, as Aaron laid his hands on her head to bless her too. My heart overflowed as I watched their tense little faces relax as the Spirit spoke to their souls. That night we were all strengthened as we felt the Spirit more strongly in our home, “the peace which passeth all understanding”. That night we experienced the Best eclipsing the worst.
Yesterday was our 18th anniversary. It was also the day of the funeral. Aaron was there, I was here. After yet another night of practically no sleep, my fatigue making me hyper fragile, I turned my phone on to find a few texts from Aaron. He was very un-dramatic but clearly struggling. It broke my heart. To see him struggle is so foreign, and I felt so helpless and far from him when I knew he needed me most. Despite all the love and help we had been blessed with, at that moment, I felt exhausted and alone and desperately inept to ease the pain my husband was feeling. I felt such sadness for his grief and his loss.
I remembered being together with both sets of our parents supportively and joyfully standing at our side, 18 years earlier. We stood on the steps of the beautiful Salt Lake City temple, threw our hands in the air, and cheered for a cheesy photo. They were so there for us. And now they were all so far away. His parents now both beyond the veil, mine on the other side of the earth, unable to be reached even by phone that day. I desperately wished to be back on those steps with them. I knew we would be reunited as a family one day because of what happened in that temple that day, but I wished so badly to have everyone back in the peaceful sunny sealing room, when life together on this planet seemed infinite and bright.
As my awesome kids entertained Ella (she who never sleeps) downstairs, I lay in my dark bedroom crying. Benjamin heard me and came into my room. Almost fifteen year old boys are generally not big on demonstrative displays of any kind. Benjamin is my most reserved child in this sense. He is quiet and controlled, slow to anger, non-effusive. He is his father’s child. Self sufficient in every way. He is not one for emotional outbursts. He just deals. He’s never been much for physical affection, even as a baby. But he heard me sobbing and he came into my room. He knows that I am generally more of a yeller than a crier. I find anger an easier emotion to navigate than sadness, and so the weeping mess he encountered must have been extra uncomfortable for him.
Yet he did not flinch. He came in, calmly sat down on my bed, and hugged me. He was on a time crunch to get to where he needed to be for a soccer game and he needed me to take him there. Clearly I was not poised for action, but he did not mention it. He just hugged me and patted my back. He was the man of the house in the truest sense. He showed me the wonderful in the midst of the terrible.
Another wonderful/terrible thing (depending on who you are) occurred as I lay feeling tragic. An angel with a cleaning bucket snuck stealthily into my disastrous house. According to the kids she said that she was there to clean the bathrooms and asked to be directed to them. Then she instructed them to speak no more of it and to not reveal her identity. (One should never trust children with these matters).
Ok let me just set the scene. Our bathrooms were beyond gross. With five kids even when you are keeping up with your housecleaning, things get very sketchy very quickly. And I had not been keeping up with my housecleaning in this month of May(hem). The kids had been hit and miss in the chores department too.. So yeah…this was not a task for those with delicate sensibilities.
I didn’t hear a peep as she worked. She even cleaned the kids’ shower-which since I refuse to do on principle, was probably last properly cleaned when my sister was here 2 years ago…
(Gosh, I wish I knew for sure that I was exaggerating on this…)
This same angel had brought food earlier in the week and contacted me before Aaron left to tell me that she and her husband were willing to foot the bill to fly me to the funeral to be with Aaron and would help arrange for care for my kids. We are not close friends, we don’t have a lot of history together. She just cared. She knew I was sad, she knew we did not have family around, and that we were feeling alone and bereft. She just knew that we were God’s children and she took care of us for Him. She was His hands.
There was the ever willing friend who after doing so many other things for us that week, cheerfully drove Aaron to the airport, then took me shopping and cheerfully helped to heft and wrestle furniture in and out of my minivan and into our house with a smile. There was yet another friend who willingly sacrificed going to church to pick him up this morning.
There was the good neighbour who called to ask if I’d mind if he did a little more work in our yard. I suppose not. While he was there he saw my kids struggling with a little project they were trying to assemble and he helped them out with that. They were so excited when told me it was all done.
People have sent sweet cards, written thoughtful emails and posted kind words via text and facebook. They have all felt like love.
It seems redundant to say that so many have done so, so very much. I’ve left out so many other amazing acts of service, so many thoughtful gestures, just because this is already a tome, I’ve spent hours on this post when I should be catching up on my sleep deficit and I am getting carpal tunnel.
In truth, I’m already regretting chronicling all things in such detail because I hate that I’m failing to mention so many other things.. they were all recognized, it was all meaningful, it was all so very appreciated. Every little act were repeated reminders that we are not alone. That God knows us and and our needs, and that as human beings we are free to choose whether we will act as His hands or not.
I have had many very dark periods during my life, when nobody did step in to help. When help was perhaps even more desperately needed than it was over this last week. Perhaps those trials needed to be weathered alone for one reason or another, but I would never want to experience them again. I have only depressing memories of them, the sense of having barely survived, the visceral feelings of isolation and sadness when I revisit them in my mind. Whether or not it was needful that I had only God to lean on during those times, I do know that they were far more traumatic than they would have been if there had been support from others.
But this difficult time will leave different memories. We will remember this time with sadness but also with great tenderness. We will remember that even when we had nothing to offer anyone else but a bottomless pit of neediness, they were there for us. We will remember so many people acting as His hands, contributing their unique brand of comfort and aide, and how it made a difficult time infinitely more bearable. We will remember that this, one of the worst of times for Aaron, was made that much less painful and stressful knowing that he was supported and loved and that his family was cared for. The memories may be painful and sad but they will be infused with light.
We will remember the best of humanity from our family and friends as they acted as His hands, and we will be eternally grateful.
Please excuse the radio silence. The last two weeks have been….eventful.