Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What I Came To Say

(note: lyrics in italics from John Mayer's "Say.")
This week, each February, I think of him. Before you read this post, go to the sidebar and turn on the music as you read (or after). Trust me.

He was fifty years old and I loved him.
But I hadn't always.

I thought him gruff. Shallow. Far far removed from my sphere of compatibility. In fact, we had absolutely nothing in common save the one tether between us - his younger brother was my once-upon-a-husband.
And we didn't get along.

I thought at the time I couldn't stand him. We spoke only when necessary at family gatherings through the twenty-six years I was married to his brother. I was happy with that arrangement.
That is, until the day came when....

Take all of your wasted honor. Every little past frustration. Take all of your so called problems, Better put 'em in quotations. Say what you need to say

.....many years later one February morning in the middle of an early spring day of unlikely and brilliant daffodils, I watched my grown son lift his body - frail, thin, seared with cancer - and place him gently on the couch.
They'd counted on each other for two years. One for rides to radiation, chemo, and sworn secrets of doom in the doctor's office and the other for unlikely wisdom and guidance that can only be given by a dying man.
My brother-in-law requested the former.
My son desperately needed the latter.

A five year diagnosis slipped back to three.....then two...and then there was no time. Sometimes late at night when he was in pain and couldn't sleep, my son would put him in his pickup truck and ride him around to his old favorite haunts. He found comfort in the motion, and I suspect, a twinge of macho satisfaction out of kicking my son's stubborn butt, for lack of a better euphemism, when he needed it the most - and holding him accountable.
I would give anything, now, to hear what was said during those long rides down country roads.

A day came when he asked to see me even though I'd long divorced his family. I went. But I was not prepared for what I saw. Years of smoking. Laryngeal cancer. A voice box. A silent ravaged bear of a man.

Walkin' like a one man army,
Fightin' with the shadows in your head.
Livin' out the same old moment
Knowin' you'd be better off instead
If you could only...Say what you need to say

"Mama, he wants to talk to you," said my tear-stained boy who held his uncle's hand on the other side of the sofa bed - and then - without regard for a room full of people watching, covered his uncle's hand with both of his and kissed him.

Have you ever seen unabashed love flow between two grown men? It was, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful things I'd ever witnessed.

He gestured for me to walk over to the couch. I did not understand what he was trying to say. He would lift his arm toward me and touch the index finger to his thumb over and over again.
What is he saying? I asked.

"Just a little time,
" my son said, "he's trying to tell you there's just a little time."
I hugged him and he mouthed the words "I love you". I left in a puddle of tears, wondering how grace, unspoken and palpably real, could fall through silence like that.

The look on my son's face as he ministered to his beloved uncle day after day took on a spirit of devotion and pride. He was not well himself and struggling without a compass. Until Dee.

They were inseparable. He picked up his daughter at school for him, took care of his lawn, his hunting stands, his dogs, his medicine, kept his medical "secrets", the details of his life - while he tried to eek out one more day on this earth - and in doing so, without saying a word, left an eternal imprint on the face of my child.

It's funny, we'd never shared any semblance to what I considered a deep or meaningful exchange of words, barely more than a 10-minute nod to each other our whole lives. We were worlds apart intellectually and philosophically. He frankly irritated me. And I'm guessing life with me as his sister-in-law was no picnic either. My way wasn't his way and his way wasn't mine. He wanted to clean guns and fish on Sundays. I hated those things. What could I possibly have in common with him? Not a thing. I looked at him strangely. His values. His hobbies. His interests. Trust me, he was, as I've come to understand, just as thrown by mine. But he always had a certain twinkle in his eyes when he talked to me and a barreling laugh. Why couldn't I have appreciated, then, that silly laugh. I would give anything to hear it - and his grumpiness - again.
As the time passed and he grew weaker, I began to see a profound change in my son. Besides the "If you don't get your act together I'm gonna kick your ass" speeches (one of Dee's favorite phrases) that most assuredly occurred in that pickup truck late on more than one occasion, the man who could not speak could say more with one kick-pants look than all my mother-nagging speeches had ever done.

My waffling boy had gained a sense of self-respect simply because someone needed him.
Who knew it was that simple?

Have no fear for givin' in. Have no fear for giving over. You better know that in the end....

When I tell you that the transformation I saw in my boy during that time saved his life, I am not exaggerating. He changed. He morphed into manhood. An evolution that began on dark and deathly country roads in the middle of the night..... words doled out in loving bits and painstaking pieces by a man who could not speak - but had a lot to say.

So did I.

It's better to say too much, than never to say what you need to say again.

And so it was....one day....the call came. "Mimi, it's time. It won't be long. We thought you should know."

Predictably, it was his way. Again.
And he had one more lesson for me.
About speaking up.
And having no regrets. And leaving nothing unsaid.

asked to be alone with him. I had to let him know what was in my heart. I wanted to see those midnight rides in his eyes. I wanted to tell him what he'd done. He reached out for me and smiled. After a hug or two, I couldn't postpone my words one more second. His 190 lb. body had shriveled to well below 100. He was fading. I thought my heart would explode with sadness.

Even if your hands are shaking, And your faith is broken. Even as the eyes are closin',
Do it with a heart wide open.....

I shut the door and took his hand. "I had to come today and tell you....I had to thank you....for what you have done for him." The tears started to flow between us and mine fell on his face. " He would not be here today if not for you." As we talked and laughed about the twists and turns through the years and this uncommon thread of precociousness between us, a peace came over his face and a sigh.... I wondered how all those years ago I'd missed this part of him. And suddenly, it became abundantly clear that the superficial differences paled in comparison to the one thing in the world we had in common and loved with all our hearts.
My son.

He smiled. He cried. He nodded as if to say, "He'll be alright, Mimi."

And he was right.

"Of all the wonderful things you have done in your life, I told him, "know that this is one of the most important things you've ever done. I love you. I've really always loved you."

I kissed him for the last time and left with a sense of closure and faith. Somehow, between the morphine, mercy, and loving friends and family, he'd found his peace with God. I felt it with him there and knew he was not afraid that day. About a week later, I sang Amazing Grace at his funeral service. I was so proud to honor him - and so humbled. His simple acts of kindness - and unspeakable insight into my flesh and blood heart and soul- placed him in my book of angels on earth. Only he and I really knew just what his dying days meant to my wayward young man - whom he'd entrusted to carry his body to his final resting place, laid ever so gently - you guessed it - on the back of his pickup truck.

And this man, whom I once thought inarticulate and aloof, pulled a fast one even that day.... in the form of letters - individual love letters he'd laboriously dictated to his Hospice nurse and sealed until the time. He could not tell us how he felt so he'd written it down. As she stood to open the envelopes in the chapel - one by one - we all heard him speak. The big and burly man of few words and little education hovered ever so strongly above us. The power of well-chosen eternity laced words that slayed me.

I have never heard a finer sermon delivered.
Nor one filled with more love.

Say what you need to say Say what you need to, Say what you need to... Say what you need to say.

Do yourself a favor and listen, please, to John Mayer's "Say." It was the inspiration last night for me to finally put this story into words.

"Say" lyrics John Mayer
Copyright © 2006-2009 Mimi Lenox. All Rights Reserved.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Beautifully written, Mimi.

Kitten said...

Man, that post sent chills down my spine. What a great tribute you wrote, Mimi, not only to your ex brother-in-law, but also to your son.

Mojo said...

Note to self: Get Mimi to write your eulogy.

I've seldom read a finer tribute to anyone. And I'm glad you got the chance to tell him, and he got the chance to hear it.

Finding Pam said...

Beautifully written, Mimi. I think you said it best, "say what you need to say". I love that song, but then I love all of his music.

Note to self: ask Mimi to sing at my funeral.

How can one ever thank him enough for mentoring to your child.

Mark said...

I am choked up and the tears are streaming down my face. Thank-you for sharing such a visual of love. Beautifully written! All of you are blessed.
May we all learn to listen and be thankful.

Anonymous said...

That's one of my favorite songs right now. It seems everyone takes it differently. For my mother, it's a battle cry to break her usual silence. For me, it's a reminder to use just enough words to be heard, instead of using too many.
It seems you've had many special people touch your life, Mimi. I wonder if that's what makes you so special, or if it's the other way around.

Summer said...

The tears were flowing down my face. Beautifully written and a wonderful experience. Thanks for sharing it with us, Mimi.

Bud Weiser, WTIT said...

I know this story. You could not have done a better job in its telling. God bless...

Bud Weiser, WTIT said...

I know this story. You could not have done a better job in its telling. God bless...

Bud Weiser, WTIT said...

I know this story. You could not have done a better job in its telling. God bless...

Speedcat Hollydale said...

So many people have an untapped beauty inside them, unfortunately we tend to hear the loudest voices first.

Well done Mimi

Mimi Lenox said...

Jean-luc - Thank you. He was a beautiful man.

Mimi Lenox said...

Kitten - They needed each other. It was that simple. And that beautiful.

Mimi Lenox said...

Mojo - Note to self: DO NOT THINK about Mojo's funeral. Bah!! Bad luck!

Seriously, the moments with him in that Hospice room are etched in my memory as a blessing and a constant reminder of the sanctity of brevity of life. My God, he was fifty years old. What he accomplished....priceless to me.

Mimi Lenox said...

Pam - I will not talk about your funeral...

I could never ever ever ever in a million years repay him.

Mimi Lenox said...

Mark - I have so much to be thankful for. You have no idea...

Mimi Lenox said...

Autumn - Ahhh...good advice....about using just the right amount of words. I tend to "over-speak" at times because I can't stand the thought of not saying what I need to say to those I care about and value in my life. I need to learn to pick my battles a little more carefully I think.

And about those special people: Maybe I'm simply supposed to tell their stories.

Mimi Lenox said...

Summer - It was amazing to me how hearing the song sparked what I needed to say and how I needed to write it. I knew I would tell the story but couldn't go there for a very long time.

I'm glad I did.

Mimi Lenox said...

Bud - You do know this story and you also know there is much more to tell.....shall I?
We shall see how the muse visits.

Mimi Lenox said...

Eric - Drowning out the loud voices is a problem sometimes....but oh what beauty there is. Well said.

The Gal Herself said...

Gulp. This is the second beautiful post of yours I read today! It reminds me of a movie -- Marvin's Room. Bessie, who has spent all of her adult life caring for her father and aunt, says she considers herself lucky for having all this love in her life, for being able to have loved those two so much. Your brother-in-law and son were so lucky to have found one another when they needed each other most, and you deserve A LOT of credit for encouraging the relationship. Trust me, Mimi, lots and lots of divorced parents wouldn't want their sons getting life lessons from "the enemy" -- meaning former in-laws. I've seen it up close and personal too many times lately. So kudos to you for writing this so well, and for being a perceptive mom.

Dawn (Twisted Sister) said...

Mimi first of all... ♥Hugs♥
Beautifully written... I cried all the way through.
I watched cancer ravage the bodies of my parents, my niece and my sister... The familiarity of your words brought it all flooding back.

"Somehow, between the morphine, mercy, and loving friends and family, he'd found his peace with God."

Thank you for sharing your story.

Southern (in)Sanity said...

What an amazing story.

Julie said...

I came here hoping to laugh....I didn't want any introspection, Mimi. I didn't want to think of "undoneness" in my life. I didn't want to wipe tears from my face at 830 in the morning! How do you continue to push me into doing what I need to do...but don't want to?

You're a wonderful woman, Mimi...I love you.


Charles Gramlich said...

I remember something about this one that you posted before. Very powerful.

Mimi Lenox said...

Gal - I never understood their connection when my son was a small child - it didn't make sense to me. Later, I did.
What he did for him was immeasurable.

Mimi Lenox said...

Dawn - Cancer is a hideous thing. Where is the cure? I keep asking.....where? I don't get how after all these years we "still" don't have the right funds in the right places to slay this demon.

I'm convinced it's some common thread as simple as a virus. There have been studies to suggest this.

Mimi Lenox said...

Southern - He was an amazing human being and so loved in his community.

Mimi Lenox said...

Julie - I love you, too.

Mimi Lenox said...

Charles - I imagine I will re-post each year on the anniversary of his death. Thanks for commenting.

Angell said...

Too hard to see through my tears. This was truly beautiful and I thank you for sharing.


Lee (Tarheel Rambler) said...

I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes that make it difficult to see what I'm typing. This was beautifully written and a wonderful remembrance of this man who played such an important role in the lives of you and your son. It is a poignant reminder of how important it is to say what we have to say while there's time.

This is a reminder for me of the fact that there is purpose in everything that God does. The people that are placed in our lives, the experiences we have. The challenges that are placed in our paths. Even when the only purpose is to remind us of the power of love...which is what was behind your ex-brother-in-law's role in helping your son through the difficult journey to manhood.

Jamie said...

A beautiful tribute Mimi. It honors your Brother in law, your son, and even you for finally seeing truth instead of belief.

So often we don't see all of other human beings, only the small piece that touches us for good or bad. It took my son's deep love for his grandfather to finally bring me to terms with the father who had drank his way through most of my life and only defeated his devils during his last ten years.

My son was the one who saw and introduced me to the victorious warrior when all I could see or feel was the wasted years.

Travis said...

Well done my dear. Such a profound influence deserves an equally profound tribute.

Witch Baby said...

I'm blown away. I was just flipping randomly through the blogsphere trying desperately to forget that everything is going so wrong and landed on this page. Your beautiful heart felt words brought tears to my eyes & answer to my heart. Thank you.

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