SHE WHO LAUGHS

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SHE WHO LAUGHS

My stomach hurts.  It’s been hurting for three days now, but that’s not a bad thing.  It hurts because I laughed so hard with Gail on our road trip this week.

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I’ve shared this picture several times before, and it bears repeating once again.  Mom saved calendar pages, quotes, clippings and other small ditties that spoke to her in this box, with the drawing from one of her favorite artists, Mary Engelbreit.

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If this is true—which we wholeheartedly believe it to be so, then Gail, Suzanne and I should last a long, long time.

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Gail and I took a road trip last week.  Suzanne, while she enjoys—and often creates– raucous laughter just as much as we do, doesn’t enjoy live music as much as Gail and I do.  This time, it was a repeat for Gail, but a new experience for me. 

We took a look down this eastbound road,

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and right away we made our choice.  East to Columbia, Missouri to hear one of Gail’s favorite rock-n-rollers:  Bob Seger.

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He played in the Mizzou Arena to us, and approximately 14,998 other fans like us.  And by that, I mean I saw no one in the arena who appeared to be under 40 years of age.   

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29535.jpegGail saw him last May in Tulsa (Concert Quests and College Towns, May 5th), and when he added more dates to his farewell tour, she talked me into the 4 ½ hour trip  (almost 8 for her).  How do you say no to that?  Quite simply, you don’t.  While he was not technically on my Bucket List, how could I resist such an excursion with Gail?  Gail, who has enjoyed Bob’s music for years, Gail who makes any event—sometimes even funerals—an occasion to have a good time, Gail, my dear, one-of-a-kind big sister.

Of course, without hesitation, I said “yes.”

She took a look down her east-bound road early Thursday morning, and arrived in Abilene to pick me up when I finished up my day early. 

Because if you are Gail’s friend, then you are her friend for life, she had the occasion to renew an old friendship when she arrived at the Abilene Hospital.

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Gail and Katie were roommates in college in 1978, and hadn’t seen each other since 1983.  Katie has been a nurse here for 25 years, and I have had the pleasure of working with her for almost six years.  When we realized this was the perfect opportunity, Gail and Katie had a brief, but meaningful reunion.

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We arrived in Columbia with a little time to spare, so we made ourselves at home.

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We planned to walk the short distance to the arena from the hotel, but when a mini-van taxi had only two people in it as we stepped out, we asked if we could split the tab.  They hesitated a bit, but then agreed.  In the four minutes it took to get us to the show, the passengers and driver were laughing too, courtesy of Gail.  Walking the rest of the way through a parking lot, we saw this:

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I thought Gail was a diehard fan, but I think this fan has the edge over her.

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I’m pretty sure that the best wordsmith around couldn’t come up with words to describe the show, because there are none.  It was, perhaps, a life-changing experience—at least for the night.  Bob still rocks with all of his “Old Time Rock and Roll,” doesn’t miss a note on the piano or the guitar and played so many memories for us, and everyone else too, I’m sure. 

He introduced The Silver Bullet Band toward the end of the show, with each one taking a bow—most of them were well over forty as well, and had been with him for most of his career.  When his drummer stood up, his T-shirt caught my eye.  In July, I wrote about the classic car show that came to our small city (Travel Therapy, July 28th 2019).  His shirt was a souvenir tee from that show, the “Leadsled Spectacular,” with “Salina, Kansas” printed below that. 

It made me smile, and so did this, when I found it on the step as I approached my seat at the show:

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As the really good ones always are, the show was over too soon, and we made our way back to the inn.  It was later than my bedtime (which doesn’t take much), but we stayed up later than that, because it is impossible to sleep while one is laughing so hard.  We traded banter using Bob’s lyrics, twisting them into jokes, most of which could be understood only by us. 

We thought about going out and making it an even later night, but we decided that Betty Lou’s not  getting’ out tonight.  We weren’t up for a Shakedown, even though we could still feel The Fire Inside.  Call us losers, but deep inside, we were fulfilled from the show, and felt like Beautiful Losers. 

It was time for sleep, so we got some.

The morning came too soon, and we were forced to take a look down this westbound road.  We had no choice; duty was calling at home.

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About an hour into the trip, we couldn’t help but notice this license plate, jumping out at us on I-70 as we passed it:

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As you can imagine, we got a little excited, feeling sure there was a kindred spirit inside that Jeep.  Gail promptly rolled down the window and waved with three fingers, and she waved back. 

We kept pace with her for about half an hour, but the ebb and flow of traffic eventually separated us.  We had hoped for the slim chance at an opportunity to meet this woman who obviously was one of three sisters, but we let that hope go.  Apparently, it was not meant to be.

At our next pit stop, however, I came out and there she was, filling up with gas.

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Meet our new BFF Irma from Alton, Illinois, sister to Velda and Robin.  Not surprisingly, we had no qualms about introducing ourselves and sharing our story.  She already feels like an old friend. 

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Music can be a healing balm.  It certainly is for us.  We felt fulfilled, and I know we are both still a little high from the show.  The pounding rain on the last half of the trip home didn’t dampen our spirits, even though we had to drive Against the Wind, then say goodbye too soon.  I had to pay all my attention to the road as we passed through downtown Kansas City as it rained, so Gail fed me my Burger King lunch.   We thought we had laughed ourselves dry, but not so. 

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In three weeks, she will accompany me on a westbound road, making our fall trek to our Rocky Mountain High.  Suzanne is planning on joining us this time, and we are counting down the days. 

Just as with this trip, we will tell some, but not all. 

“Laughter is the best medicine.”  This idiom is so true, literally and figuratively.  I’m pretty sure one could never overdose on it. 

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Unless something begs to be written, I am taking a fall break from writing.  I will be back with another travel story if, and when, we return from Colorado.  Until then, keep laughing. 

We parted ways back in Abilene.  We got out and went to the back of the Outback to get Gail’s stuff out of the back of the Outback.  We backed up to the Outback, and snapped this parting shot after she emptied out the back of the Outback.

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There.  We made you laugh, didn’t we?  Keep it up. 

 

 

 

FITTING FINAL FAREWELLS

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FITTING FINAL FAREWELLS

When the former leader of our country shed tears on live television this week, I shed them, too.  He was saying goodbye to his father, another former leader of our country.  At this moment, his most important role was that of son, and the purpose of the funeral was to celebrate the life of a father and husband first—perhaps even a friend—before the life of a former United States president.

I had a lunch date with a home health patient at the time the funeral was televised.  He was watching it, and my job was to watch him eat to make sure he was not having problems swallowing.  So, with a few sideways glances to lessen the feeling I was indeed staring at him—its my job, I, too, watched the funeral.

This man was almost as old as George H.W. Bush.  He, too, had lived a long and storied life.  Unlike George Bush Jr., though, he didn’t shed tears when his own father died, he told me in between bites.  When he was thirteen years old, his father died suddenly.

From that point in, he was taught, boys and men don’t cry.  A series of further tragedies befell his family.  Still, he reported, he never cried. I tried to hide my obvious tears as I, too, held my hand over my heart in a salute, just as they did on TV.  Unlike him, I wasn’t very good at not crying.

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The next day, George H.W. Bush’s body arrived in Houston by train for burial.  It was noted during the television coverage that the last president to be transported to his final resting place by train was Dwight D. Eisenhower, 49 years ago in 1969.  He was carried by train to his boyhood home in Abilene, Kansas, the very place I was at that moment.

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71-456-279 Funeral of Dwight David Eisenhower – Abilene, Kansas 2 April 1969 The funeral train arrives at the Union Pacific Station 2 April 1969

I tried to imagine this small town of less than 7,000 residents alight and alive with glory, respect and honor for their hometown boy; a meaningful, but sad parade of people from far and near.

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I was three years old in 1969, living two hours away from Abilene.  Now that I am aware enough,  I wish I had been old enough and close enough to Abilene to witness the history of Eisenhower’s burial.

Now, in 2018, this town still resonates with the spirit of the Eisenhower presidency.  I see it around town, especially when I visit or drive by his museum, which includes his final resting place in a small chapel.

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I wrote about Abilene in Someplace Special (September 10th, 2017). If you have never visited Abilene—and especially the Eisenhower museum, I highly recommend it.

 

 

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I recall a funeral procession I was part of in Wichita in 2006.  My aunt Jeanne—my mother’s sister—passed away, and her funeral was on the east side of town.  Her burial was on the far west side of town.  For a nominal fee, she was allowed a grand police escort on her final ride, with the procession cutting all the way through this city, stopping all traffic along the way.

And it was grand.  I wish you could have seen it.  I wish she could have seen such a procession while she was alive.  You see, she couldn’t see.  She was blinded at 18 months of age from retinal blastoma—cancer—in both retinas.  She never knew sight, but it didn’t stop her from leading a full and vibrant life.

Then, the day before our parents died, we were back in Wichita for our grandmother’s funeral.  Gail, Suzanne, several of our brothers and I were in one vehicle in her procession to the cemetery from the church.  In his signature dry, monotone comedic style, our brother Ryan posed this deep question: “If a funeral procession meets a fire truck or ambulance, who has the right of way?’

We laughed it off, knowing such humor was his gift to us.  We left the cemetery after the burial to go back to the church for a dinner, no longer in procession.  It was a large cemetery, and yet another funeral procession was headed to the cemetery as we left.  Then, as if he had sent out a freak vibe with that question, a fire truck headed swiftly toward the oncoming procession.

Apparently, urgency for the living supersedes respect for the dead.  The procession had to pull over.

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We paid loving respects to our grandmother, celebrating her 90-year, long and blessed life.  We had one day of reprieve after her funeral before we started planning another one.

Now, we are not a family to brag or gloat over our achievements, but we will hold fast to the honor of having received the most floral arrangements for any funeral ever in the lone church in our small hometown—95, if I got the number right.  Granted, it was a double funeral, but it was still one funeral, so we will argue that should the record ever come into question.

We had to find joy in whatever small ways we could.

In those four days between their deaths on Tuesday and the funeral on Saturday, we clung to each other; cried mostly, but laughed some, too.  We propped each other up and picked each other up, with grace and faith ensuring that a majority of at least four of us seven were relatively strong at any given moment to pick up the other three or less, both literally and figuratively.

The only good thing about the time between the deaths and the funeral was the fact that our actions were already prescribed.  We didn’t have to figure out what to do.  We simply mourned, made arrangements, accepted food, flowers and friendship, and waited.  We were in the socially expected shroud of mourning, and we did that well.

Still, knowing exactly what we had to do, the pain was unparalleled for all of us.  No one is prepared for such soul-searing pain, but I am glad we weren’t warned.  That would have been worse.  We loved them fiercely, just as they loved us.  We collected ourselves for Saturday morning, and even found ourselves comforting some of the mourners who had come to comfort us.  We were experts at comforting each other by this point, so we had it down.  We found strength to make it through the funeral.

Since then, we have all became stronger than we ever dreamed we could be.  They are still with us, and we celebrate them in our own ways now, every day of every month of every year.

Their funeral helped us do this.  There were tears, of course, but just like President Bush’s funeral, there were happy moments, too.

When George W. Bush eulogized his father, I felt his pain.  I recalled the eulogy we delivered for our parents.  All seven of us composed a written eulogy before the funeral, and Gail, Suzanne and I delivered it.  We agreed ahead of time that we would take turns reading, and if any of us were to become emotional and unable to read any further, we would simply step down, handing the baton to the next one, even if it were mid-sentence.

None of us faltered.    I suppose we were perceived as strong, at least at that moment.  I suppose we were strong, at that moment, anyway.  This isn’t to say that anyone who does falter while delivering a eulogy is not strong.  We simply were given grace and composure to get through this difficult moment.  We know where—or shall we say who—provided it for us.

At this moment, let me interject my expert advice on how to comfort the mourning.  I hate to brag, but we are sort of authorities on this subject:  It is not accurate to gauge how the bereaved are handling the loss by the way they are acting at the funeral.  The real test comes in the days, weeks and months—perhaps even years—after the funeral.  Trust us on this.  Trust me when I say that it is never too late to express condolences.  There is no statute of limitations.  For me, I found some of the most meaningful expressions of sympathy arriving not immediately, but after some time had passed.  It let me know that not everyone in the world had moved on, there were actually some people who knew that we were still suffering.

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Because funerals really are joyful celebrations sometimes cloaked in heaviness and sadness, it is important to keep a positive perspective regarding them.  Which is why I asked Gail for her contribution of funeral humor.  This is what she came up with:

A woman is sitting at her deceased husband’s funeral.  A man leans in to her and asks: “Do you mind if I say a word?”

“No, go right ahead,” the woman replies.

The man stands, clears his throat, says “Plethora,” and sits back down.

“Thanks,” the woman says. “That means ‘a lot.’”

Just before press time, I asked Suzanne for any large or small contribution to this post.  I wanted to keep it light, I told her.  And she is just the person to give me that.

Um, you are writing about five funerals, five funerals for six different people.  Good luck.”

I knew she would give “light.”

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We did cry a lot.  But more important than that, we found joy in those early days, even laughter.  Ryan, our dry-witted younger brother was 34 when Mom and Dad died.  Gail is his godmother, one of two adults appointed at baptism to be a spiritual leader to the child as he or she grows.  In earlier times, this meant also that they would be the guardian to the child should something happen to the parents.

At the wake the night before the funeral, Ryan was seated next to me.  He leaned in and whispered, “Does this mean I have to go live with Gail?”

As we greeted people arriving at the wake, our childhood dentist, who lived across the street from our parents then, arrived with his condolences.  He re-introduced himself to me very seriously, thinking perhaps I would have forgotten him.  I hadn’t; he was a good dentist and is a good man.

“Of course!” I said.  “I remember you.”  Then I flashed him a wide smile, and asked: “Do you remember these teeth?” 

“Yes, yes I do!  They still look great,” he replied.

Thank you,” I said.  “I floss every day.”

“I can tell,” he said, smiling as he walked away.

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To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”—William Shakespeare

It takes a strong man to lead a country, especially the United States.  I think George W. Bush’s tears as he bade farewell to his father were a sign of strength.  I cried with him at that moment, sweet-bitter tears for a life well-lived.  Sweet-bitter tears that recalled fond memories of my own father.  Tears of strength that keep me going through my life, reminding me of all I have to be thankful for.

And all I have to keep laughing about.

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