Dreaming Your Life Away

My mom grabbed a spadeful of dirt with an unsteady hand as she stood at the very edge and gazed down below. She looked every one of her 81 years, maybe even a few more, as she made several unsuccessful passes, unable, it seemed, to empty the spade of its contents. Or unwilling, perhaps.

Whichever, fall, the dirt eventually would. All at once, in fact, landing on the coffin with a clumpy thud, an eerie sound which visibly disturbed my mom. And me, too, for that matter. I think it was the finality of it all.

Mom’s oversized sunglasses looked out of place on such a frail woman. Though they did provide an effective shield from the anguish that was most certainly beaming from her weary eyes. It wasn’t fair. That much we all knew.

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My Late Father

Me and my parents a month or two before Dad died.

I was recently asked if I wanted to contribute to a series called “Thanks, Dad,” over at ManOfTheHouse. I jumped at the opportunity, even though I knew that in many ways, the exercise would prove to be a difficult and emotional one.

I was wrong. It wasn’t difficult. But I was also right, as it proved to be an extremely emotional endeavor. That said, I’m so glad I wrote it. I was happier still to share it with Mom on Thanksgiving Day. It was invigorating to feel Dad’s spirit as we sat around the table.

I hope you’ll take time to read it. I think you’ll like it. It may even spark some memories of someone you love who’s no longer with us. If it does, I hope you’ll share some of those memories with me via a comment. After all, it’s the holiday season. And there’s no better time than now to reflect upon the people we love.

Here it is:

*  *  *

Early one morning in 2002, my brother picked me up from the airport and drove me to the hospital to see my dad. He had been unresponsive since the afternoon before. His rapid turn for the worse was what had prompted the previous night’s phone calls urging me to catch a cross-country flight – if I ever wanted to see him alive again.

The second I walked into his room, I was devastated. So that’s what it looks like, I thought, with equal amounts of fear and awe. It was dehumanizing. Which made sense to me. What was happening to Dad is what sets our spirit free. And our spirit isn’t human.

I sensed that though he was still with us, he was gone nonetheless. But I was wrong. Dad came back to us later that very day. Shortly after he regained consciousness, he told Mom something she’ll never forget.

“I died last night, Martha Lee.”

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The Goldsmith And My Sister

Before molding his precious metal, the goldsmith must first melt it down until the material becomes ideal to work with. The gold reaches that point only when the goldsmith is finally able to see his reflection staring back at him each and every time he casts his patient gaze upon it. When this occurs, he’ll take possession of the metal, then carefully create the form in which it will forever remain.

It appears as if the Goldsmith is satisfied, indeed, with my sister. I have no doubt that He’s able to see the reflection of His likeness whenever He looks deep within her soul. As such, He’ll finally turn down the heat. Throughout the years, however, He has melted her time and time again, but Holliday never complained. She simply endured, and as she did, all who witnessed were warmed by the glow of her bravery and determination.

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My Sister, the Great

This past weekend, Lovie and I went down to Atlanta to be part of the M3Summit — the first ever conference dedicated solely to blogging men. Throughout the weekend, I gained incredible insight from many experts in the ways of social media and or fatherhood. But the most important meeting I would attend happened far, far away from the downtown Sheraton. In fact, it went down in a different city altogether. The most important meeting I would attend this past weekend was held in Stone Mountain, GA.

There were no powerpoint presentations, but there was a powerful presence. No conference room with with rows and rows of tables in front of countless chairs, but instead a small kitchen equipped with a wooden table which sat just four. No keynote speaker carrying on in a booming voice. Just a brave woman speaking in a soft but clear one that didn’t need the help of a microphone to reach my ears.

Much less my heart.

As many of you might recall, my sister Holliday has been battling cancer. And her fight took a dire turn for the worse just before the fourth of July weekend when, after her second round of a hellishly aggressive chemo, she fell into an unresponsive state for nine days. Toward the end of those nine days, virtually all hope was lost.

I penned five excrutiatingly painful posts which were laced with unspeakable sorrow to convey the experience from my perspective during that time. I just read them moments before I began writing this post, and oddly, though sad, I also found them beautiful.

Just like I find her.

Much has happened since she came back to us, yet I stopped chronicling Holliday’s story with Tidy Little Boxes. Today, I come to you with an update.

Since last I wrote, Holliday has checked out of MD Anderson much to the dismay of her oncologist. I can’t speak for how everyone else sees the situation, but as for me? I believe that this (pathologically egotistical) doctor mistook his limits for my sister’s. And while she did, indeed, have some limits with regard to fighting her disease, he had none.

After all, this particular cancer is of such an aggressive variety that he was in a no-lose situation. Kill the cancer, and he’d land on the cover of a medical journal, thank you very much. Lose the patient? Hardly his fault. The odds were stacked against him all along.

So onward he pushed, in spite of the fact that Holliday had voiced concern about the toll the medicine was taking on her. The end result was that horrifying nine-day stretch which saw my brave sister seemingly hovering between worlds before her remarkable resolve led her back to this one, albeit with a body that had been compromised along the way.

You see, what Holliday’s doctor had forgotten was that the cancer he and his ego were hell bent on slaying was growing inside of a real, live human being.

The very one who opened the door for Lovie and me this past Saturday. The very one who led us (slowly and with the help of her walker) down the hallway and into her kitchen. The very one who held court at the head of our four-top table for as long as her energy would permit — the twenty best and most meaningful minutes of my weekend.

The very one who, as of yesterday, has officially resumed her fight. This time at Emory Hospital. This time with a less aggressive form of chemo. This time with two things in mind — fighting for her life, yet optimizing it as well.

I’m happy to say that Holliday made it through the first infusion yesterday much better than she had the ones prior. She’s back in the ring and has successfully finished round number one.

Still, my sister is far from well. She’s far from strong. But my sister is also far from giving up.

And if you knew her, that would come as no surprise. Because she’s great. And the great ones never give up. Ever.

A Troubling Question

Henry Louis Granju was checked into a Knoxville hospital on April 27th, 2010 due to complications stemming from a brutal assault coupled with a drug overdose. He was the eighteen-year-old son of my close friend Katie Allison Granju and Chris Granju, who graduated from my high school a year before me (in Lovie’s class). He was the step son of two supportive and loving step parents. He was an idolized big brother to three born children, as well as to the one unborn child in Katie’s womb. He was a beloved grandson. He was an incredible cousin. He was a friend to countless. He was a gifted musician. He was bright, charming, sensitive, irreverent, kind, gentle, and funny. He was also addicted to drugs.

And now, he’s dead.

Katie and I were emailing back and forth one morning, but our flurry was interrupted by a meeting I had. After the meeting, I texted her to see if she had time to finish our exchange via a brief phone call. She responded with “I’m in the ER. Please pray for my son. He’s been beaten up and is on life support.”

So quite literally, from moment one, I’ve read each and every single word of her horrific account as it’s unfolded and have given each and every imaginable element of this tragedy great thought. I’ve stood in awe of Katie’s candor and bravery and watched with great pride as she used her enormous platform to share her story, in hopes of preventing other families from living the hellish nightmare which befell hers.

And I’ve watched with great frustration an investigation that seems impotent at best, a charade at worst. I’ve also watched with great anger how some of the media as well as some of my city’s high-ranking civic employees have portrayed her. As a nuisance. A pest. As a unjustified squeaky wheel.

But all I’ve ever seen is a mom who loves her son.

Katie has posed a question for her readers today on her blog. A troubling question. I’d like very much for you to click on the link below and read that question. And then ask yourself what you would do if you were Katie. Would you be as brave as she’s been? Would you open yourself up to great criticism, to controversy? Would you continue to mother your child in death? Because that’s what she’s doing.

And it fills my eyes with tears. For countless reasons.

I have a feeling this local story will one day become a national one.

Katie, our family continues to hold you and yours extremely close in both thought and prayer. Don’t give up, girl. I’m on your side. And I’ll do anything humanly possible to help you and your family.

http://mamapundit.com/2010/08/something-i-find-difficult-to-understand/

Tidy Little Boxes

This is the fifth post which chronicles my sister’s battle with cancer. You need to start at the beginning, though, with a post I called The Club. You’ll be able to link through the rest from there.

* * *

“Do you know just how incredible your sister is?”

I stared awkwardly at the nurse who had asked me this seemingly rhetorical question. And she stared right back with big brown eyes that sparkled with hope. They told me she believed–the cross hanging around her neck, their echo.

Though well aware that my sister is, indeed, incredible, I had actually been stumbling upon that very question all week. Specifically the just how incredible part. Frankly, it was difficult for me to reconcile the reports I was getting from Mom with the image that was etched in my mind — that of Holliday lying unconscious in her bed in the ICU.

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Mind Over Matter

This post is a continuation from the last three and details my sister’s brave battle with cancer. To read from the beginning, please start with the post called The Club.

* * *

I don’t think the nighttime nurse liked us very much. She had a valid reason. Generally speaking, shaking martinis in a hospital room is a no-no. But we didn’t care. Not because we’re raging alcoholics, but simply because that’s what we do. We drink two martinis before dinner. Well, I don’t. I mean I sometimes do, but only when I’m with my parents. Because that’s what they do.

With Dad withering away in his hospital bed, the task of shaking our drinks fell to yours truly. I brought in the ice needed via a large Styrofoam cup and smuggled the vodka, vermouth, olives, and glasses in my backpack. When the nurse caught me red-handed, she gave me a look of admonishment, one that all but asked me to stop. Before she could articulate her thoughts, I shot her a look of my own.

“He’s dying,” I told her with my eyes while slowly shaking my head. “So why don’t you let him live a little?”

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The Beautiful Fight

This post is the third installment of Holliday’s story. Part I is called The Club and part II is called The Class.

* * *

Within the melancholy exists miraculous beauty.

Early one morning in 2002, my brother picked me up from the airport and drove me to see my dad in the hospital where he had been unresponsive since the afternoon before. It was his rapid turn for the worse which had prompted the phone calls urging me to catch a cross-country flight that very night if I ever wanted to see him alive again.

The second I walked into his room, I knew that though he was technically still with us, he was gone nonetheless. But I was wrong. He came back to us later that day.

“I died last night, Martha Lee,” he would tell my mom. She believed him.

And so did I.

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The Class

This is a continuation of my last post, The Club.

* * *

I didn’t take much. Everything fit into a small backpack, even the laptop which I carefully got out and placed inside the gray plastic tub. As I watched it glide away, I was overtaken with déjà vu. It was just like the last time.

Well, not really, I suppose. The last time I was a bachelor. That day I was the married father of four. The last time I was unemployed. That day I was a small business principal. The last time I was flying back to a home I had abandoned right after college. That day I was leaving the same home I had eventually reclaimed. The last time it was right after Halloween. That day was the Fourth of July. The last time I was lost as a bat and searching for answers. That day I knew exactly where I was, but not because I had found those answers. I just better understood where to look for them.

The last time I was going to see my dad. That day I was going to see my sister.

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The Club

I pulled up around back just past 5:30. The blanket of pre-dawn darkness concealed virtually everything, except, of course, the ivy-covered stone house of my youth. The one in which my old yet beautiful mom still lives. Nothing could ever conceal it.

That’s where the five of us grew up. Only my brother and I still call our hometown home, and neither one of us moved back until we were well into our thirties. Before that, my siblings and I were spread all over the country. Atlanta, Seattle, New Orleans, Dalton, GA, and Oakland, MN — geographical evidence of an undeniable fact: we were never a very cohesive unit.

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