We still hope.

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They say it takes 30 days to start or stop a habit. Today is the 30th days since Lamar went missing, and I have found myself adjusting to a jillion new habits. I no longer reach for my ringing phone hoping to hear a funny story or a lighthearted conversation. Instead, I have a knot in my throat with each ring, hoping that it’s news about Lamar. I no longer scroll Facebook to look to get myself all worked up about political races. Now, I comb social media for stories on unidentified people being found. I call random police stations all over the country hoping to hear that it’s him. Gone are the days of internet time warps of online shopping and blogging. Now, I open Safari to search for knowledge about dementia patients and wandering statistics. I no longer wake up to calculate how many times I can hit snooze and still get to work on time with my make-up on. Instead, I wake up and pray for Robin, Katie, Carson, Cindy, and Len to be able to get through the day. (Then I calculate my time. Nobody needs an emotionally drained middle school teacher without concealer!)

I apologize for the 25 day lapse in updates. Every day, I wake up thinking, “Today is the day when we will find him. Today is the day we will know something.” Every day I anticipated updating this blog with good news. I have tears streaming down my face this morning, as I can not have a two word post of, “He’s home.” I do however have a simple message from his family on which I will expound, “We still hope.

The Putnams are in what I am calling a grief-hope purgatory. They are well aware that the chances of finding our Lamar safe and sound decrease each passing day. But, how can you start truly grieving when you aren’t 100% sure that’s the reaction that is warranted in this situation? They know that their chances are falling, but how can they stop hoping and searching when they have no evidence that they should stop? They can’t. We can’t. I stood beside my sister’s bed in the ICU and kissed her cheeks as we turned the machines off. I know where she is. I still will start to dial her phone number. I still find myself picking up things for her in stores. I still have trouble accepting she is gone, and I saw her leave. We can’t give up on finding Lamar. We won’t give up on finding Lamar. We still hope.

The bulk of the “official” government-funded searching has ceased. That’s a tough pill to swallow. Because of the hearts, compassion, and courage of friends and strangers, the pill has been transformed into a liquid elixir that slides down just a bit easier. Just this weekend, over 80 volunteers combed an area 3 miles from the bridge. It will cold and wet, the terrain is treacherous, and it was a holiday weekend. We still hope.

Lamar wasn’t found this weekend. No clues to his whereabouts. There is more land beyond the 3 mile radius from this weekend. We are starting to look ahead. This weekend will be warmer. The terrain will still be treacherous, but we can cover more. We still hope.

Lamar has dementia. We are looking in the most logical (to us) area, as that is where his car was found. What we know about dementia patients, is their logic is different than ours. He’s now been without medicine for a month. There is no way to know what he is thinking or telling people. We still hope.

We can’t physically comb every square inch of the country. However, we have friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends who are sharing his information on social media, putting up flyers, and spreading awareness. We still hope.

Miracles happen every day. We still hope.

We are weary. We still hope.

We are fearful. We still hope.

It would be easier to give up. We still hope.

We are crying together. We still hope.

We are laughing together. We still hope.

MollyROCK was born out of a thought that radical, open conversation desperately needs to occur between adults and adolescents. While that notion has not diminished, the MollyROCK theme is being woven into every dynamic in the family relationship. 2 years ago as I began to breathe life into sharing Molly’s message with the world, I never imagined that the tragic story of the youngest member of our village would be sewn in with the current story of the eldest. (It seems tragic now, but we still hope for a triumphant ending.) The Putnams need us to be radical and open with our support. The conversations over the last 4 weeks have been tough. The kindness has brought us all to our knees in gratitude. We can’t stop. We still hope.

Our hope and love is…

More than meat loves salt,

EGG

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NEW INFORMATION! 1/22/16 PLEASE HELP When the face on the milk carton is your Daddy’s. PLEASE HELP

 

UPDATE 1/22/16 10:19 EST: Video surveillance from a convenience store has been recovered that shows Lamar on the morning that he went missing, several hours before he was seen at the salon in Cleburne County. We now know that he was wearing: a brown plaid long-sleeve button down, jeans, brown Merrell brand shoes, and a camouflage hat! Please get this post and information shared immediately! 

YOU CAN ALSO VISIT THE CARROLTON, GA POLICE DEPARTMENT FACEBOOK PAGE AT https://www.facebook.com/carrolltonpd/ THERE IS SURVEILLANCE VIDEO OF HIM WALKING, PLEASE NOTICE HIS GAIT. PERHAPS IT’S BECAUSE I KNOW HIM WELL, BUT I IMMEDIATELY KNEW IT WAS HIM FROM THE WAY HE WALKS.

** Please know that the clothing description that we shared was based on all the information we had at the time. We are thankful to have more specific information to get out. We are so thankful to the individual who was able to get us started with a general description. Now that we know specifics, PLEASE GET THE INFORMATION OUT TO THE MASSES!

Missing: Lamar Putnam, 79. Last seen in Cleburne, County, Alabama on January 16, 2016. He was wearing a brown plaid long-sleeve button down, jeans, brown Merrell brand shoes, and a camouflage hat He is 5’8” and 170 lbs. If you have ANY information, please call 911 immediately and tell them that a Mattie’s Call has been issued for his return. 

My entire life, I’ve had to explain that even though I technically only had 2 siblings officially, that I really had a dozen or so more. Growing up, if I couldn’t find my parents, I knew had 4 more sets of parents to call for anything from a skinned knee to bailing me out of jail. (Well, maybe only a couple I would have called for that.) When Molly died, the stories of my “friend family” suddenly clicked with many of my friends. They were in awe of the support and love that surrounded us. We were beyond appreciative, but we weren’t surprised. For my parents’ entire marriage, that was the norm. Hilary might have penned the words, “It takes a village,” but my my parents group of friends embodied the philosophy long before the Clintons emerged from Arkansas.

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Each extra parent that I have fulfills a distinct role. I know that I can talk Robert into just about anything. I even convinced him to let me skip school in middle school because he needed me to record an advertisement for a campaign at 7:30 A.M., but i turned into a day-long adventure. I know that Slick (Jane) will always be the one to tell me all about how tiny my legs were when I was a baby, and that no matter how ugly or stupid I feel, she will convince me otherwise.  Robin has always been the fun one who made us goodie bags for every occasion, let us eat all the junk food we wanted, would let us talk to her for hours about nothing. She instilled in me a deep love for casinos and laughing until I pee on myself. Her husband, Lamar, has always been the soft-spoken, gentle giant that every girl needs in her life. He never lets you come into or leave his presence without a hug and kiss. You never wonder if he loves you or not, because he never forgets to say it. He took us on adventures on tractors and cows as children, and he gave us stern advice as teenagers and adults when  we needed it. We would have been mad at someone else, but Lamar never gave advice from a judgmental perspective, it was always from his deep well of love and concern. His nature commanded respect and instilled comfort.

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Since this past Saturday, January 16, our group has once again been brought to our knees with tragedy. This tragedy is unlike anything we have experienced. From a devastating cancer diagnosis and quick decline to death with one of our mamas, to the tragic story of Molly, nothing could prepare us for this. Our Lamar has disappeared. Once again, the pages of the fictional tales we have read, and the scenes from cinematic masterpieces have become our real life. Lamar has Alzheimer’s Disease. On Saturday morning, he left the house early in his son’s old GMCTrailblazer. It was not unlike him to leave early in the morning to go check on his cattle and visit friends. But, Robin’s worries grew as the hours passed and he didn’t answer his cell phone. Later in the day, the vehicle he was driving was located in Cleburne County, Alabama, near a bridge that crosses the Tallapoosa River, off of Highway 431.

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An army of foot soldiers, canines, divers, water vessels, and helicopters have canvassed the area where his car was found since Saturday night. Countless government agencies have lent resources to the effort. A close family friend hasn’t slept in days as he has led the charge to find him. Nothing has surfaced. We believe he had on a black hat. It has not been found. We also believe he had on white tennis shoes, and as far as we know, they remain on his feet. No thread of clothing. No copy of his driver’s license that he kept with him. Nothing. Nothing. People do not just vanish from this Earth.

 

 

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Let me say that again. People do not vanish from this Earth. We are hopeful and in prayer that he is somewhere safe, warm, dry, and probably confused. Unfortunately, we are also keenly aware of the stabbing sensation in our hearts that signifies the reality that, with each passing hour, the chances of our prayers coming to fruition diminish. But, we are not giving up.

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Lamar has 4 children: Len, Cindy, Katie, and Carson will not give up  until they know where there Daddy is. As their extended family, we aren’t giving up either. Since I got the call on Saturday evening, I have played out about 23, 342 scenarios as to what could have happened. I know that that number barely scratches the surface. So, I have to keep the probable scenarios grounded in the truths that I know about Lamar.

  • Lamar is kind and gentle. He would not be a threat to anyone.
  • Lamar is in excellent physical condition. He could walk for miles and miles.
  • Lamar has spent his life working on the land with cattle. He has excellent instincts. If he was cold, he could fashion a shelter to keep him warm.
  • Lamar can talk to anyone. While we are not certain what decade of his life his mind is currently in, he could talk to anyone and easily convince them of where he thought he needed to go.
  • Lamar hasn’t had his medicine since Friday. This could mean that he truly does not know that he lives on Ferndale Road in Carrollton, Georgia.
  • Lamar could be a poster child for the fountain of youth. You would not look at Lamar and have any idea that he will be 80 years old in March. He is not feeble. He is not stooped over. He has good balance. He does not slur his words. He has a smile and a twinkle in his eye that put even the most anxious of souls at ease.
  • Lamar is 5’8” and approximately 170 lbs.
  • Lamar was wearing an orange and white checked shirt and khaki pants.
  • Lamar loves children. He is drawn to them and they are drawn to him. The same is true of his relationship with dogs and cows.
  • Lamar has lived in Athens, GA; Moreland, GA; Carrollton, GA; Calhoun, GA; Americas, GA; and Fairborn, GA. There is a likelihood that he could believe one of those towns to still be his home. If you know someone there, please alert them.

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This is where you come in. I’ve been told by a reputable media source that blog posts going viral have a way of sparking the interest of national media. A Mattie’s Call has been issued. But, from our understanding, that only goes out 40 miles from where the car was found. If he hitched a ride with someone, his soothing voice and lively stories could make a 100 mile car ride feel like 100 yards. With his listening ear, a person could talk for 200 miles before he’d interrupt them. So, he could be ANYWHERE. Please share this post. Please share it again. Please tell everyone you know to share it. We do not want this to be some sensationalized, Nancy Grace spectacle. All we want is for EVERY PERSON in the country to be looking for him. 

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In these last 4 days of absolute terror, I have had an overwhelming sense of gratitude about one thing. Molly has not had to experience this hell. Molly was the baby of our friend family. She and Lamar had a special bond. I’ll never forget the pain and emotions that overtook him when she died. Had Molly been alive right now, we would not have been able to keep her out of the river looking for her Lamar. I don’t know if her precious heart could have handled the realities of this world that we are in. For her sake, along with his children’s and his wife, all of whom I love as if they were mine, I will not stop until we find him. With every ounce of my soul, I beg you, PLEASE HELP US!

Lamar, we all love you more than meat loves salt. We pray that our Molly is guiding you back to us.

EGG

Snap(e) chat

Those of you haven’t been living under a rock know that the actor Alan Rickman died today. If your social media is like mine, you are seeing many clips and photos from Die HardRobin Hood, and Love Actually. Your entire social media day has more than likely been inundated with photos quotes from his portrayal of Severus Snape, perhaps one of the most intricate literary characters ever created. His death has caused me to pause. Not because I remember having nightmares over Die Hard, and not because I remember hating him in Love Actually. I pause because he was a tangible symbol of a character that symbolizes the layers of the human spirit that we often only see at surface level.

I know that when the first books in the series were published, controversy swirled as fast and wide as the Joplin tornado. The magical world that the brilliant J.K. Rowling created was seen by some as evil. I admit, I was a bit late on the Hogwart’s Express. In 1999, as I was recuperating from a serious illness, a friend gave me the first book to help me pass the time. I chose the prescribed pain meds and reruns of 90210 as my time passers, and let the “children’s” book sit on the coffee table. A couple of years later, I was at church in October and heard a sermon that centered on the innocence of Halloween and Harry Potter. The man that resided in the parsonage was a man who personified goodness to me. He was a great preacher, but more importantly, he was an amazing pastor. He had a way of comforting you when you needed it while also gently pointing you in the way you should go. In his sermon he admitted that he read the series and declared that there was nothing evil about it. While I had left the book unopened, it was not because I thought it was evil. However, his homily sparked a desire to at least open the book. I opened it, and I didn’t put it down. In fact, I went directly to the store to buy the second one, and was a crazy person at the store on midnight each time the latest volume was released.

Rowling’s straightforward syntax mixed with her unparalleled imagination have a way of sucking you in and making you feel like you are sitting in a chair in the Great Hall at Hogwart’s waiting for your turn under the Sorting Hat. I don’t have any Harry Potter tattoos, and I don’t celebrate the characters’ birthdays, but I certainly don’t hate on those that do! I get it. If I could keep track of my real life friends’ birthdays, I would probably get in on the celebrations.

As with any good fiction, the series has its protagonists and antagonists. In the early books, when Harry is younger, the good guys and bad guys seem pretty cut and dry. Harry, Dumbledore, Hermoine, and Ron are the good guys. Snape seems to be a rotten, evil professor firmly in the antagonist column with Lord Voldemort. (Yeah, I said it Voldemort!) The movies of the series began rolling out before the final books were published, so it was cool to be a little bit ahead of the game, but still have many questions. The first movie came out on November 16, 2001, 4 days before Molly turned 10. Her birthday party that year and the following, were held at the movie theater. Molly loved the movies! Now, sister girl had no interest in answering my pleads for her to read the books, but she loved the movies.

I remember watching the first couple of movies with her at home and she had no reservations about sharing her detest of Severus Snape. “He’s evil! He’s so mean! I hate him!” As many films do, the first movies only presented characters at the surface level. Although I knew from my reading of the books beyond those couple of movies that there was more to his character, I agreed with her and blasted him right along with her.

At this point, you are probably wondering if I have veered from MollyROCK to a more Siskel and Ebert themed life mission. Don’t worry. It all ties in.

As a literature teacher, I am guilty of having my students list the words, actions, interactions with others, and thoughts that make characters “good” or “bad.” We drill this in to their heads from a young age. Big Bird and Elmo are good. Oscar the Grouch is bad. Do we ever stop and have our kids imagine what their attitude about life would be if they also lived in a trash can? No. If you just saw the first couple of Harry Potter movies, you would see Snape as an angry, vindictive, black soul who wanted Harry Potter to die. How many people do we encounter in our lives that we immediately label as an antagonist?

If i had taken the time and energy to force Molly to read the books, perhaps she would have discovered that the characters that she thought were all good had some bad in them and the characters that were bad had some good in them. If her life hadn’t ended, she would have seen that in the films. As Harry aged, the layers of the characters matured and emerged too. Unfortunately, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 1 was released on November 19, 2010. The eve of the 19th birthday that she didn’t get to celebrate. By then, she would have likely had the maturity to realize that the character she despised was putting up walls and smoke screens to protect the character she loved most.

Children learn through fantasy and play. They learn how to have faith in something they can’t see by believing in Santa Claus. They learn Spanish words by a little girl with a talking monkey. They learn to help old ladies cross the street by watching Superman do it. They learn good things from fiction. Unfortunately, they also learn to hate things based on small bits of information. They think that “the bad guys” are bad because they’re bad. They don’t have the cognitive ability to independently search for the reasons why a character is bad. When they see people in their lives who look or act like “bad guys,” they put them in a box too. They think the bullies in their schools are like the bullies on TV, mean for no reason. They can’t imagine that a peer might not have enough food to eat or a bed to sleep in.

Therefore, my friends, it is up to us to help the children in our lives make these connections. I do not think you have to do strict character analyses on each literary work that impacts your child, but you could throw in some questions that make your kid stop and think. We all draw inspiration in the way we dress, talk, walk, and live by fictional characters who inspire us. Children are no different. As adults, we know that when we buy a pair of shoes inspired by something we saw Kim Kardashian wear, we are not endorsing her blatant self-centeredness. We know that the neighbor down the street is in jail for embezzling money, but we also know that the cancer that took his son’s life left him swimming in debt. We can peel back the layers and see the good and bad. One day our kids will be able to do so, but we have to peel the layers and point them out for them until then.

Molly saw Snape as evil because of his actions. She didn’t know the history of and future behind and ahead. She did the same with her own actions. Just like Snape was overtly nasty to Harry so that he could protect him from Voldemort. He couldn’t stand to look at Harry, because he looked just like his mother, Snape’s true love. Molly saw things as black and white in the movies and television she watched, and it translated into how she saw herself. She made a mistake of having unprotected sex. To her, that made her bad. All bad. Another popular literary work tells us that there are fifty shades of gray between black and white. Sorry, E.L. James, there are 50,000 shades.

Don’t have a literature circle with your ten year old discussing Christian Grey, but consider reading the Harry Potter series as a family. (Start now, they’re dense.) It’s heartbreaking to learn that one of the most beloved characters (not going to spoil that one) has some evil in him, but kids need to know that even good people make mistakes. It’s astonishing to relish in the redemption of a hated character. Fiction inspires reality. If you can build a foundation for radical, open, conversation on the marble of fiction, it is sure to turn into fountains of reality.

Alan Rickman, thank you for bringing Severus Snape to life. You emulated my mind’s movie of his walk and his talk. You revealed his secrets in brilliant ways, and you made us all ponder the motives behind the antagonists in our own lives. I hope you don’t have a Severus hair-do in heaven, because Molly would be sure to run. Please scoop my sister and nieces up. Tell her Snape’s real story. Tell her that life isn’t black and white. Make her know that she and those babies are the most perfect shade of gray, and that I won’t give up util the whole world is painted with it. Always.

More than meat loves salt,

EGG Read More

6 years… 6 lessons… I can’t give another 6 because that’s the sign of the devil…

6 years. 312 weeks. 2, 190 days. Almost to the hour, it has been six years since my family walked out of Tanner Medical Center and departed  the world we knew. The world we knew was full of love and joy. We were no strangers to medical crises, but we always left the hospital, eventually,  with whomever danced with dying. We were suddenly thrust into a world that too many people were already citizens. A world where the miracle that we wanted, was not the miracle that was in store. A world where nothing made sense, and even breathing became a taxing task. A world we knew we didn’t want to be a part of. I can’t believe that it has been 6 years. In some ways, it feels like a lifetime since I kissed those cheeks for the last time. In many ways, I can still feel the way my lips curved over those big cheeks. I can feel the coolness that was such a contrast to the warm flesh that my lips had landed on for the 18 years before. In some ways, I long for this to be the one year anniversary. That would mean that a mere 12 months separate me from the sound of her voice and the feel of her towering presence. Keeping it real, this shit is weird.

Ever the teacher, I find myself honed in on the lessons that I have learned over these 72 months. Now, a good teacher plans the learning outcomes at the beginning, but I was only just finishing grad school when she died, so it wasn’t ingrained in my brain yet. Please forgive me that these learning outcomes have not been purposeful. In honor of my nieces’ 6th birthday, I’d like to share 6 lessons that I have learned over these last 6 years. If you are my friend, maybe this will help you understand the haphazard state of my brain. If you just stumbled upon this entry over the Googler, then maybe you have a friend who has been living in traumatic, profound grief and this might help you understand them. Maybe you read it and take note of all of my comma splices and syntax errors. Either way, today is the 6 year anniversary of my baby sister dying suddenly and almost inexplicably, so I don’t care what you think.

6 Year, 6 Lessons

  1. Grief changes you. I know, this seems trite and you’ve probably read this in every grief book at Lifeway. From what I recall, those books pointed to the fact that of course you’ll change because someone you loved very much has died, and part of you has died, and blah, blah, blah. That’s true, but also stupid. Here’s how it has changed me.
    1. My taste buds have changed. After 29 years of the smell of chili powder stirring up bile in my loins, now I eat Mexican food. Um, sometimes I crave it. Weird.
    2. I’m pessimistic. I don’t walk around and think, “The whole world is terrible and we’re all going to die anyway.” But, if I hear that there has been a car wreck anywhere near where someone I love is, I have a straight up panic attack assuming they’re dead until I talk to them. If someone doesn’t answer the phone when I call, I do not assume they’re busy or in a movie or something. I assume they are dying beside their phone and they are trying to answer their phone but their hands have been cut off by a chain saw or eaten by piranhas.
    3. I’m more introverted. I used to be a text book extrovert. I was labeled a spa because my energy was always apparent when I was with people. I didn’t care if they were peers, kids, an old lady water aerobics class– I just needed to be around people. Now, I often get anxious about being with certain groups of people. I try to hide it, but I’m always trying to determine the quickest way to get out of social situations. Before, it was hard for me to justify staying home on a weekend night in fear that I would miss out on something. Now, I dream all week of curling up on the couch with Netflix and take-out.
  2. You have to allow yourself time to be “not okay.” At first, you don’t have a choice. Every ounce of you is far from okay. As time moves on, you find yourself able to face small chunks of the real world. Incrementally, you find yourself immersed in your new normal. There are still days now, and I imagine that there will be forever, that the thought of putting on real clothes and trying to fake it makes you feel like you can’t breathe. You have to give in to that on occasion. The emotions of profound grief are mightier than even the most stubborn soul. Whether you like it or not, those feelings will overtake you. Therefore, I like to pretend that I have a little control over the beast of grief. When I am feeling the grieving waters start to swirl, and pull of the tide of pain, I take a time out. I call in sick from work. (It’s okay though, a medical professional told me that I would have to take sick days for the rest of my life on occasion for this. He’d probably write me a note if I needed it.) I either lie in bed and sob, eat a spoonful (or 3) of cookie butter, and curse the world. Or, I make special plans with a friend who makes me feel good, do a leisurely brunch, a little shopping, and then I lie in bed and sob and curse the world. I have found that if I allow myself times to be sad and give in to the pain, I can get through my days a little easier.
  3. Your core group of friends might change. This goes along with #1, but I think it’s merit deserves its own place in the list. Because grief changes you so, it makes sense that you become a different person. Sometimes your friends accept and support your metamorphosis, and sometimes they want you to go back to the carefree, silly person you were before. I’m still that silly person most of the time, but more often than not, I am lost and broken. It takes all of my energy to get through each day. I only have time to worry about how I get through each day, and how my family is getting through each day. I don’t have the energy to worry if my random outburst of emotion are going to offend a friend. I realize this makes me sound a little bit like I will end up on 60 Minutes or Dateline one day. Truthfully, 98% of my friends have put Job to shame with their patience with me. Some of my relationships have changed, though. It’s scary to let people in to see how much baggage you’ve packed, it’s even scarier to let them carry a suitcase or two.
  4. You become a part of a club. Now, my family is no stranger to secret societies. We have Chi Omega, Sigma Nu, the Masons, and Gridiron covered pretty well. I mean, I will still giggle and give the secret Chi Omega handshake when the opportunity presents itself. However, nothing can compare to the immediate bond you feel with someone who has experienced traumatic loss. Luckily for my brother and I, because of the age difference between us and Molly, all the experts say we are experiencing parental and sibling grief. (I prefer 2 for 1 on my beers, thanks though.) Since we lost Molly, two of my best friends lost their brothers, and more dear friends lost their child. I was already close to all of these people, but I probably would only organize meals if they needed a kidney transplant. Now, well, I would give them my crappy kidney, share a morphine pump, and drive them to the hospital. Today, members of all of these families reached out in support of this anniversary, and my overwhelming thought was, “God, I wish that they didn’t know exactly what I am feeling today.” But, they do. They know. They know that I know. I know that they know. I know that they know I know. You know?
  5. People are good. Now, I say this in full light of what I said in #3. I may secretly be mad at people because they seem to have all of their children and siblings here on Earth. Truthfully, we ALL have terrible things at some point in our life. I may have a pity party and think, “Sure, but they didn’t lose their sister and nieces in one swoop. If they did, I bet it wasn’t akin to a Lifetime movie script.” But, everyone has their own terrible tragedy to endure. Maybe it’s public, but more often it’s private. From meals and  gifts, to random hugs and, “I miss your Molly,” the small acts of kindness shown to my family have often been just the nudge we needed to get through another day. We could never express our gratitude.
  6. Love doesn’t end when Earthly existence does. I have experienced loss before Molly’s. I have wept as family members and dear friends left this Earth for the glorious yonder. I have never stopped missing them or wishing they were here. But, my sister was a part of my every day life. I remember every moment of her life from when she was 5 days old. For 18 years, 1 month, 1 week, and 2 days, she was one of my 4 people. I guess, even a few months after she died, I thought that her absence would make me feel the love less, which would make the hurting stop. I had a pair of brown, suede pants in college. I loved those things. Back then, every night you went out with a pair of black pants and a fancy shirt. I felt so edgy and unique with my brown pants! I wore the heck out of those pants for like 2 years. At some point, they disappeared. For several years, I searched for the pants, and I always thought of them when I was putting together my socializing outfits. I missed the smooth suede, and the way they didn’t have buttons or zippers. As time went on, I learned to live without them. Then, the year 2011 happened and almost no pants had buttons or zippers! I miss those pants, but I have found more that make me feel special. I guess I thought that losing my baby sister would be like those pants. I’d think about her, but I would move on and a new version would come along. I guess, when it comes down to it, those pants didn’t love me back. I got those pants one Christmas and they were already made. I didn’t nurture, torture, and go on adventures with them. I didn’t watch as they took their first steps. I didn’t giggle when they used a cuss word in front of our Baptist preacher at the ripe old age of 2. They didn’t cut all of their hair off while I was babysitting them. Those pants and I didn’t spend a whole day baking Christmas cookies each year. I didn’t cry every year on their first day of school or birthdays because they were growing up too fast. I didn’t drive to Tuscaloosa 6 weeks before they went missing to bring them home. They didn’t send me text messages every morning. So, that’s been the weirdest thing. I haven’t stopped loving her, so I haven’t stopped missing her. I tell her every day that I love her. Some days, when my eye is open and my heart isn’t black, I hear her telling me that she loves me back.

So there it is, the 6 things that I have learned in 6 years of grief. The time between Christmas and New Year’s is a bit awkward and melancholy for all, I think. Having this anniversary during this time is a notch above melancholy, ,trust me. Don’t let this be your reality. While you have all the grandkids around, while you’re bowling with your nieces and nephews, tell them about Molly. Tell them they’re going to screw up. Tell them it’s okay. Tell them that no screw up is worth their life. Tell them.

More than meat loves salt,

EGG

Sweet baby Ray

  

Dear Gray Gray,

I’m writing this to you on the eve of your fourth birthday. December birthdays are a double-edged sword. Everyone is in a festive mood for the holidays and already in party mode. On the other hand, the holiday season can overshadow the celebration of YOU that you most definitely deserve. So, I hope that forever we can ignore the lights, frenzy, and over commercialization of December and spend time celebrating that the two most awesome girls around (you and me, kiddo) were born! You are sassy, fearless, funny, and strong and you deserve a day to be recognized!

Sweet Baby Ray, your impending arrival was a shock to us all. Wilkes was not even 1 when we found out you were coming.  We were smack dab in our second year of grieving the loss of your aunt Molly and cousins, Mary and Martha. Wilkes’ sweet nature and gentle spirit were an indescribable gift when we most needed it. I could not imagine living a child more than him. So, we were kind of in shock from disbelief of your existence and our grief while you were in your Mom’s belly. I couldn’t come home the Sunday you were born. The next 4.5 days were spent showing your picture to my students in Nashville, packing up for Christmas, and counting down the hours until I got to you! December is hard, and I always think about your cousins, Mary and Martha, and imagine what they would be like as their birthday approaches. As soon as I scooped you up and kissed your face, a part of my soul was restored. My love for Wilkes was something I thought could never be emulated. But you, well, niece love and nephew love is equal, but different. I finally got back a piece I’d been missing! 

I know that you feel like you know your Aunt Molly. We’ve all shown you pictures, told you stories, and pointed out when we felt her presence with us. You do know her. She is a part of you as much as she is a part of me.  But, I want this in writing. I hope you’ve felt our unwavering love for you over your life. We have some faults, us Garners, but we do know how to love each other. Molly received the same amount of love from us too. Like you, she opened parts of our hearts that we didn’t know existed. Molly was a good kid. Really, she was a better person than 95% of the adults I know. She was a friend to everyone. She loved animals. She was passionate and confident in her faith. But, she made a mistake. We didn’t do a great job of letting her know that as a human, you have no choice but to screw up sometimes. She didn’t feel like she could tell us that she made a mistake. She felt like her mistake was to great to be forgiven. Her mistake didn’t not kill her. Her life ended much too soon because she thought telling us her mistake would change our love for her. Gray, you must know beyond a shadow of doubt that NO mistake is too bad that it can’t be worked for good. You can’t do anything that will make me love you less. You are always enough. You are always more than we deserve. Never let anyone or anything make you feel differently. 

I know your teenage years are hard. You are certain that EVERYONE is watching you. Here’s a secret: they aren’t. In fact, all of your peers are too busy worrying that everyone is watching them to watch you! In the 4 years I’ve known you so far, you have brightened every room you’ve entered, you’ve made everyone you meet have a belly laugh almost as deep as your own, and you’ve had NO fear. I pray every day that your sense of humor and courage remain in every thread of your fabric. 

Some people might say your stubborn. Those people are correct. You are named for your great granddaddy. You get your keen sense of humor from him, but your obstinate nature is also a gift from him. We called him Duck because his famous saying was, “If I tell you a Duck will plow, hitch him up.” He stuck to his guns, sometimes it drove us crazy, but it was his trademark. As much as his contrary nature was a curse, it was a blessing. He was loyal to a fault, and if he wanted to help someone, he’d move hell and earth to do it. As you age, this part of being stubborn will make you a better person. Okay, maybe you’re laughing now. Yes, I got a few of those DNA cells too. Maybe it’s why I’m more patient with your meltdowns. 🙂 (At least you don’t look like him. It doesn’t do much for a girl’s self confidence to be told her whole life she looks like an old, bald man.)

All of the things that make you Gray are beautiful. You love makeup and girly things as much as I do. Makeup and clothes are a fun hobby; but know this: they are fleeting and surface level. No amount of makeup can hide a mean person. Enjoy the fun of decorating your face, but know that your true beauty is found in the way you love to make people laugh, the way you randomly give people hugs and tell them that you love them, and the way you make others feel good about themselves.  

You love your, “brudder,” more than anyone else in the world. You fight. You get mad. But you always have to know where he is and if he’s okay. I love watching you and Wilkes be brother and sister. More than that, I love watching your Daddy, my brother, be yours. He loves you two more than anything in the world, and it’s made me the most proud little sister in the universe. I hope that one day, you’ll find that you are the happiest when you are with his kids. I hope that one day, you’ll write a letter to his daughter. Tell her about your Aunt Molly. Tell her that no mistake will make you love her less. Then, bring her to the nursing home so that your Toto can tell her too. 

I love you more than meat loves salt,

Toto

Lady Liberty’s Baby Daddy

Tonight the President addressed a nation that is scared and broken. The terrorism and gun violence that Hollywood has spent years portraying have changed residence from the fictional movie screens to our television screens. Actors and actresses no longer make us feel thankful that it’s just a movie. Instead news anchors are holding us down as our faces are slapped with the reality of today’s world. Tonight, I arranged all of the tasks I’ve procrastinated all weekend to be sure that I could focus on the President’s address. I wanted to hear him give a clear plan for how we will get guns off the street and defeat terrorism. He spoke forcefully and passionately, but as Wolf Blitzer began speaking, I kept thinking, “Wolf! Shut up! Surely he’s not finished. I think he’s about to tell us to bring our assault rifles to local authorities or risk imprisonment!” Alas, the POTUS was really finished. 

I was irritated, but then I put myself in his shoes. (I hope they’re comfortable and a women’s size 8!) As I dug a little deeper into my reaction, I started to think about the intricacies and scope of terrorism and guns. My political fire is fueled mostly by domestic, social issues, so I quickly realized that I had NO CLUE what we need to do to fight terrorism. What the President did, however, was assure me that he is navigating us through these waters. He reminded me of what America is founded upon. As I continued my Sunday night rituals, 4 minutes in to my hair deep conditioning, I began to think of President Obama as our (Americans collectively) daddy. Now, I know that 87% of my real life friends are cussing me out and screaming that there’s no way that Obama is their creepy uncle, much less their daddy. But either quit reading or hang with me, my fellow Americans. 

It has been my experience that many children who idolize their parents grow up to be adults who are shocked to their core when they learn that their parents have been up to some shady business on their pedestals. I feel fortunate that each year I get older and become more inspired and in awe of the people that my parents are. Stereotypically, Southern girls see their Daddy as their hero and believe he can fix any problem. My dad is my hero, and he can fix most problems. What I have learned over the last 6 years, is that he can’t fix EVERY problem, but he can lead and support us as we learn to live with the problem. President Obama can’t magically fix this country, but he can lead us and support us in growing stronger. 

There are gaping black holes in my memory of this grief journey. But there are some memories that are so clear, I can smell the smells from certain moments. The day Molly died, I’ll never forget getting off of the elevator at the hospital, and seeing Daddy waiting on me. He was wearing his taupe vest that he still wears, a plaid shirt, jeans, and his Crocs. (God love him.) He pulled me in, wrapped his arms around me, and I felt his tear on my shoulder. I could smell his Clubman hair tonic. The feel of his embrace and the scent of his potions threw me back to every other embrace we’d shared. That scent was there when we found out I wouldn’t need hearing aids. That scent was there when he came to get me from school in 6th grade to tell me that Mom’s breast biopsy was clear. It was there when I hugged him after I introduced him as my high school commencement speaker. It was there when he told me that my dog Lucy had died. It was there when he hugged me before every surgery. That scent, and his embrace, had always meant that things were okay. Things were okay, because he was there, and he is my protector. Tonight, President Obama spoke from the Oval Office. I’ve been in the Oval Office, but I don’t remember the smell. I do remember thinking, “This is where I’ve seen presidents speak. This is where they are Presidential!” This evening, President Obama was presidential and Daddy-like. He spoke to us from a symbolic place. 

An hour or so later, my family was standing around Molly’s ICU bed. I remember looking at my dad, the strongest and happiest man I’ve ever known. There aren’t adjectives to describe the sight I saw. It was counter to everything I knew about him. I distinctly remember thinking, “What the hell, Daddy? You can fix any problem. You fix EVERYONE’S problems. Fix this now!!!!!” It’s sort of what I was thinking about President Obama tonight as he spoke. 

That thought floated in and out of my mind for weeks in the aftermath of Molly’s death. I probably even voiced it to him. (Sorry, Dad. Way to kick a man and throw a snake on him when he’s down.) Dad couldn’t fix the problem.  What he did, even in the midst of his own agony, was help me learn how to manage. He sat with me and basically wrote papers for my grad school class. He took me to the doctor when I was sick. He held my hand as I wailed. He poured me wine and listened to me scream obscenities. He sent me to Vegas. He told me he loved me. He cried. He told me how deeply he hurt too. He told me that we had to put shoes on.  He even put them on for me. He reminded me that I was strong. That’s what the President did tonight. He showed that he was angry. This is his country too. He told of ways we can cope and try to begin to solve the problem. He reminded us that Americans are united, not divisive. 

One thing that I remember Daddy saying from the beginning is that we only have each other. That we needed each other. With his guidance, we have learned to help each other through this grief journey. We support each other. We let each other cry. We encourage each other. We accept each other where we are each day in our grief. He’s reminded us of who we are as a family and what we believe. The President did that tonight. He reminded us that Americans bind together in tragedy. It would have been easy for my family to divide and lay blame. Each of us would most assuredly have imploded if we hadn’t have hunkered down, linked arms, and trudged through the mud together. America has to do the same. 

Maybe you didn’t vote for President Obama. He’s not who you would have chosen. For the next 13 months, he’s our President. He’s who we elected to, “be our daddy.” The great majority of people can’t choose who their Daddy is. That’s up to your Mom. So pretend that the people who voted for him are your Mom. (Okay, that’s weird.) if I could choose a Daddy, I’d choose mine 999,999,999 times over. (The billionth time, I’d have chosen Charlie Gibson because he’s the second love of my Mom’s life.) 

Terrorism is a lot like grief. It paralyzes you. It’s complicated. It’s difficult to predict. It doesn’t end. There’s no clear answer. In my grief, my dad remained my protector. But he became my compass, my sounding board, my safety. America needs to rest on the protector of our nation and constitution to do the same. 

When it comes to politics, kids have the market cornered on radical, open conversations. Despite hearing words to the contrary from their parents at home, most kids are enamored with the President because he’s the President. In times like this, we must too. I’m not saying we worship him, but we honor the office and the officeholder as the leader of our country. He can’t fix it. He can guide us until a new Daddy (or Mama) comes to take his place. “Freedom is more powerful than fear.”

More than meat loves salt,

EGG

Katniss and Prim and my identity crisis

If you haven’t been in a bunker hiding from terrorists for the last several years, then I am sure you have heard of The Hunger Games. You might think it’s a spin-off of The Biggest Loser, but you’ve heard of it. To keep you on the up and up, I’ll give you brief synopsis of the trilogy. In a dystopian society, the government holds a competition between a chosen male and female from the 12 districts of “Panem,” in which the contestants fight to the death. The choosing of the contestants, or tributes, is done at a reaping ceremony. In the first novel, a young girl named Prim Everdeen is chosen, her sister, Katniss volunteers to go in her place in order to spare her sister’s life. The rest of the trilogy centers around the games, and Katniss’ quest to overthrow the corrupt government that uses the games as a way to scare people into following the prescribed order of society. not really uplifting, for sure.

I remember when I read the first book. I was in the thick of grad school and had no business reading for pleasure. I stayed up all night reading the first book and neglecting my studies. Further, I was straying pretty far from my typical chick lit or political thriller pleasure reading. I was hooked, and read the first two books within 24 hours. That was in 2009. A few months before all hell broke loose. As I read the books then, I was fascinated with the whole dystopian society thing. In college, I was required to read The Handmaid’s Tale for a class. Most people hated it, but the dystopian vibe intrigued me. (Perhaps I should be the one living in a bunker?)

My first midnight movie attendance was for the first Hunger Games movie. (Sister girl right here loves her sleep, can I get an amen?!) Somehow, I managed to stay awake for the entire thing. More shocking than that, was my visceral reaction to Katniss (the protagonist) volunteering to take her sister, Prim’s, place for the Hunger Games.

I was not prepared to have the Morton’s salt girl pour herself onto my gaping scrape in the middle of the night at a theater in Nashville. I also wasn’t prepared for the identity crisis that I would face. It hurt so badly, because I could identify with the emotions of Katniss and Prim. As the big sister, when I saw my baby sister lying in the ICU room with machines keeping her alive, I remember thinking, “Oh God, this should be me, please let me take her place.” If you know any of our history, it would have made more sense for me to be the one dying. Our story parallels Joei Piccoult’s book, My Sister’s Keeper. Molly wasn’t born to be my bone marrow match, hello adoption. But, in so many ways, she had to take care of me, and in this cruel twist of fate that should have been limited to a dramatic novel, she was the one dying. Katniss was doing what big sisters do. Prim’s refusal to let go of Katniss also reverberated in my guts. As much as I wanted to take her place, I knew I couldn’t, and I was screaming at the thought of letting her go. Dang you, pop culture, teen phenomenon, bull crap.

I saw the sequels to the first movie, Catching Fire and The Mockingjay, Part 1.  In the fun part of grief where you don’t remember things, well that is where those memories are stuck. I don’t remember them. Today, I went to see the final installment, because I learned that you have to finish what you start, unless it’s a glass of red wine that is making my throat close up. I also read the final book, but those memories are hanging out with the movie memories, so I was in for a surprise! ALERT: Spoiler ahead!

I spent the first 75% of the movie curled up on the recliner covering my face and holding my breath. (HOLLA to ever decided that movie theaters need recliners, I will name my next dog after you!) I do not enjoy suspenseful and action-packed movies, and I am already anticipating tonight’s nightmares. About 3/4 of the way in, I got blindsided again (the right side is my blind side) and was longing for the suspense and action to distract me from the emotions of Katniss. Here it is: she watched her sister get blown up.

She watched her sister get blown up, and it was terrible. It was a blip in the movie, but it was a 5 hour miniseries on the BBC for me. Everything after that was her trying to reconcile her sister’s death both emotionally and physically. She wanted to kill the person responsible. She allowed the truly responsible party to manipulate her into thinking it was someone else’s fault and she took that person down. Most people probably didn’t pick up on it, but Katniss’ whole demeanor changed. She once was fighting for justice to heal a broken society, and now she was fighting for a revenge that would never heal her. NEVER. The last 6 years flashed before me. Oh how I have tried to lay the blame on other people. I’ve tried to get all sides of the story and think of a way to get revenge on whomever I deemed responsible at the time. (Luckily it was only in a fictitious manner. i wonder if the author, Suzanne Collins is also a grieving sister?) I could see into Katniss’ heart and mind to know that nothing mattered but her sister being gone. Maybe she could see into mine also. (I used to laugh really loud when I watched Family Ties because I thought the laugh track or audience was people laughing at their houses all over the country, and I wanted to be heard. I was pretty sure Alex P. Keaton could see me, so why can’t Katniss?)

I can’t find a video clip that shows the next scene, and I am not interested in being fined or arrested like my sorority sister was for downloading on Napster in the early 2000s, so I will just tell you. When Katniss finally gets back to her home, she awakens to Prim’s cat. Some might say that her reaction was hokey, but as a girl who’s lived it, let me tell you it was real. She started throwing things toward the cat, intentionally missing it, screaming that Prim wasn’t coming back, and then she scoops it up and breathes in the cat hair. As a person who is allergic to cats, it makes me want to drink Benadryl, as a sister who came home from watching her sister die, it takes me back to smelling her dogs and cats just to get a memory of her scent planted in my brain. I had to tell them she wasn’t coming home. I know, they’re dogs and cats, and they probably speak Mandarin, not English. They saw her before the ambulance took her. They knew before I did. But, I had to say it for me. Katniss had to say it for herself, and saying it makes it truer than seeing it.

I remember talking about these books with Molly during Thanksgiving of 2009. She was just getting into reading for pleasure, and I told her that I had read these “teenager” books and she should read them. She told me they were stupid and she didn’t like to think about a crazy world like Suzanne Collins had imagined. In that case, I was Prim and she was Katniss, schooling me on what was practical and what was not. i wish she had read them. Would she have picked up on the love between Katniss and Prim? Maybe she would have realized that I would have volunteered as tribute. Maybe she would have kept me from living in my own dystopia without her. Maybe she could have given me more insight on why Katniss loved Peeta, he was so annoying. Maybe she could have held my hand during the suspenseful part of the movies so I wouldn’t kick so many of my fellow viewers who also paid good money to see it. Maybe.

Have radical, open conversations with your kids about what they are reading. Find out why they like something, why they don’t. It could be their way of telling you the truth about their lives, because it’s easier to point out our flaws in girls who can survive the Hunger Games than our own.

“How could I leave Prim, who is the only person in the world I’m certain I love?” Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games

More than meat loves salt,

EGG, part Prim, part Katniss (minus the impeccable aim with a bow and arrow)