Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Aaron met me at the entrance where I was waiting in my car parked beside one of the stone pillars that welcomed visitors. The steady rain was no deterrent to him as he quickly exited the city pickup he was driving to come to my window. Though he did not smile, he had a pleasant look on his face and approached me with his eyebrows raised ready and willing to do as I needed. I rolled the window down and said “I’m just so sorry that you had to meet me to do this on a day like today, if I could do it without your help I gladly would.” He smiled and two gold teeth right in the front sparkled as he said “no, ma’am, not at all. I’m glad to do it and would do it any time.” And, I didn’t doubt him, but a part of me wanted him to say, “Nope, sorry, ma’am, we can’t do this when it’s raining. It messes up the landscaping.” But, he didn’t, and his smile leveled out as he waited for me to speak again. Eli has had a really good day today. He has been in a great mood. The stem cell transplant yesterday went well. It only lasts about 15 minutes, but I think it makes him feel funny and puts a bad taste in his mouth. And, literally, it smells like cream corn, it really, honestly does. He, and anything that comes out him, even smells like cream corn for a while. I use to really like cream corn. His physical stamina is starting to show some wear, but I’m hoping we can do better about exercising him before the next round. He had a CT scan and x-ray of his shunt but it seems unchanged from last month, which I guess is good. It’s at least not bad. His ANC is already down to 800 today, so it will be at zero by Thursday, then he and Vic will be quarantine until the number comes up. The picture I’m including tonight is of Eli “tebowing.” A still picture doesn’t show it, but he is incredibly weak so he is shaking from trying to balance. And, it took great effort for him to get down there, I had to help him. No, he doesn’t know what it is, but I thought it appropriate for his success in completing round three of chemotherapy. To God be the glory. I didn’t really know how to direct Aaron and was really hoping he would take the lead, but I said, “ok, I guess, since it’s raining, I will just drive around until I see a spot that seems pretty open and point it out to you somehow, right?” Tiny rain drops rolled off the bill of his hat as he gave a looping nod and said, “That’ll work. I will call it in and let you know what she says. If she says it’s sold, then just look for another one and I’ll check that one.” This seemed so incredibly inefficient, unorganized, and time consuming; in other words painful, even without the stinging ambiance of gloomy rain. But, I wasn’t offered any alternatives, so I raised the window and began creeping the car along the paved grid of Roselawn Cemetery. Three of the kids and I had come home from Memphis where Eli is being treated at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. They had dentist appointments and wanted to attend Vacation Bible School at our home congregation. Eli was doing well. Having completed radiation and two of the four chemo courses at this time, he was really having some good days. A week or so prior to this I was reading the blog of a mother whose daughter fights the same brain cancer as Eli. The little girl had been hand-in-hand with death waiting for the door to open when she made an extraordinary turnaround almost literally from one day to the next. The mother wrote in a blog post about the sudden change. I’m paraphrasing, but she wrote that one day she was picking out the white dress in which her daughter would be buried and the next day was doing something like basically planning a vacation. Though the thought as a whole was positive and was describing the upswing, my heart stuck on the white dress. This wearied young mother, during what was thought to be the last precious moments with her child on earth, had chores. I became terrified. Envisioning now what those moments were for her lead me to thoughts of what it would be like for me. I can only say again that I was terrified. My weakness during Eli’s fight so far has been manageable; but if this were me, my heart and soul would be crushed rending me devoid of emotional, mental, and physical strength. How was she able to do this. How was she able to plan her child’s funeral during those last intensely focused moments at her bedside. I would not have the strength. I would not be able to focus on anything but watching his chest rise and fall with each breath wondering if it was the last. Neither would I want someone to plan my son’s funeral for me. I was troubled by this peek into a possible future scenario, but was grateful for the unintentional forewarning. It made common sense that we should prepare for such an event while I was emotionally stable. I could approach the chore just as that, a chore. It may seem like I was giving up, or had lost faith, but that is not true. It just makes common, mature sense to prepare for any kind of event that may require planning and money. On the flip side, we are also saving for his college. Plus, with Vic working less and making less money, we needed to know how much money we would need to save out of the donated coiffeurs to pay for such an event. So, with a slight aching dread in my heart I secured a babysitter and made an appointment with a funeral director. I had only been to Limestone Chapel one other time for a visitation, and didn’t really remember much. I trotted up to the door trying to lessen the affects of the rain on my hair, and it gave a soft chime as I entered. A man greeted me and alerted Mr. Blythe to my arrival. I only had time for one cleansing sigh before Mr. Blythe came out of his office. Now that I was in the building, I felt ready to get down to business. He led me to a plain white door that really looked like a closet door, but when he opened it and I stepped inside the room my breath left me. The showroom had a small conference table immediately upon entering, but to my left the walls were lined with caskets, small examples of vaults, and urns. Instinctively, I took a seat at the table and shook off the initial shock. Mr. Blythe spoke softly as he patiently walked me through the details of pre-arranging a funeral and we made a rough estimate of the cost. We talked about the material and size of the casket which would depend on Eli’s height at the time of his passing. I told him that if Eli lives to be 12 it would be a significant milestone statistically, so if it comes to this he would likely need a youth casket as opposed to an adult. There was also the cost of bringing Eli’s body home if he passed in Memphis. Through it all I was clear-headed and maintained my composure, although I did have to remind myself to do so a few times. There was only once when I thought I might drop the reigns. Mr. Blythe said that we could put anything we wanted in the casket and he gave the example of a man that loved fishing so his wife put a lure in his hand. So, my mind took off on its own envisioning a little blue Hot Wheels Mustang lying loosely in his fingers. I almost didn’t come back from that one, and struggle with it now. We completed the checklist and came up with an estimate, then he helped guide me in the direction of purchasing plots. He, of course, was familiar with the cemeteries in the area and spoke highly of the city cemetery for price and upkeep. Even though Vic is from Tennessee, he chose to move here and raise a family here, and will have lived the majority of his adult life here, so it makes the most sense to purchase plots in Athens. Mr. Blythe gave me a planning packet to fill out so that if the time came, the details would be outlined and on file for him and he could set the wheels in motion without bothering anyone at that time - which was my original motivation. When we were done, he gave me a Limestone Chapel umbrella and led me in his car to the Athens Cemetery Department. He walked me to the office and introduced me to Whitney who had access to the database of plots sold. Whitney had a map of the cemetery, but for some reason could not tell me what was available without me first picking something for her to check. I had never set foot in the cemetery so I knew nothing of the topography and couldn’t pick from just looking at a map of rectangles. She was very nice and helpful within her limitations, but it seemed a backward way to learn what was available since she had access to what was sold, and it was such a shame to walk around the cemetery in the rain. Nevertheless, she was insistent that it was the only way and that she would have Aaron meet me at the entrance. I could choose where I liked, tell him, he would call her with the number on the grid and she would look it up. So, with that plan, I thanked Mr. Blythe, and headed to Roselawn Cemetery. Nestled in the southeast quadrant of a major intersection, Roselawn is diagonal to the school I attended and that my kids attend now. I pass it multiple times daily (when I’m home) and have for many years. After meeting Aaron at the entrance, I drove around slowly toward an open area and stopped. The rain made the procedure even more awkward than it already was, but I took the umbrella I was given and got out. I just motioned toward the big empty area. He got out with a big laminated map that had turned yellow and soft from being rolled and unrolled for many years. He held it up and turned it around and around in his hands to get his bearings then called Whitney. Nope, that’s sold. We went a little further and did it again. Nope, that’s sold. Turned down another road and did it again. Nope, that’s sold. Finally, I drove down the back road which ran alongside a smaller city road. I got out and stood at an open area on a slope and just shrugged my shoulders at him. He turned the map around and around while he talked to Whitney and then gave me a thumbs up. I didn’t know what to ask about the plots. It seemed nice because of the trees. Across the city street is a thin area of city property that is wooded and runs alongside the trail on which I often jog. Did it matter? Not really. In 100 even 50 years, no, but I needed something besides it wasn't sold to base a decision on. So, I stood in the middle of the open area and Aaron walked the perimeter to show me exactly where the boundaries were. He talked about drainage and the landscaping that had been planted along the road. So, I said, “Ok, well, hold block 189 for us,” and then I told him that I had to discuss it with Vic but that he was in Memphis with Eli. I gave him an Eli bracelet with a quick explanation and thank you for helping me especially in the rain. He said thank you and stood kind of motionless for a second looking at the bracelet, then kind of shook his head and looked down, then back up and said he was sorry to hear about Eli. Then he held that bracelet in his hand and kind of pointed it at me and said “I’m gonna hold this block for ya, but you ain’t gonna have to use one no time soon, so don’t you worry about it.” He put his head down again and frowned and said under his breath “no time soon.” Then he hesitantly gave me a little half hug because I think he couldn’t help it and said he would pray for Eli.