Your dad would just be…rolling his eyes, cracking up, slapping you silly, losing his mind, squeezing your neck, beaming with pride…this is an endless list. The amount of times I have said those words in this last year alone are countless and to some people, even annoying. I had someone tell me just yesterday that they don’t talk about their deceased relative the way we talk about Shane. It is hard not to when these boys are all still young and I am constantly channeling what we would have done together in any given situation, to solve a problem, to encourage, to discipline one of these boys when the times call for it. And, yes, if you are uncomfortable with hearing about my dead spouse…you might just be uncomfortable around me. No apologies for that. So, on what would have been our 21st wedding anniversary, I will break down the last year for my own records and in the hope that it will give someone a reason to smile today or a reason to realize that nothing is too big for God. He has equipped this family with the armor to hit just about anything head on and take what gets thrown our way in stride.
This world has lost its ever-loving mind. The pandemic alone would have had him speechless. Masks, no masks. He would have fought wearing one on occasion but certainly done what needed to be done to work, shop, and do everyday life for his family. He indeed would have been rolling those green eyes at the amount of obstacles a group of people can face in a short period of time, or at the next hurdle that would come our way. It’s been a year for our family. A year of firsts for so many globally and just a full, at times difficult year for us. One of the almost year long, not so glamorous highlights was Lane tearing his ACL in the first official pre-season scrimmage of the year. In his full-length, pegleg brace, pre-MRI reading, pre-surgery, pre-leg bending machine for days on end, we had a neurology appointment that had been scheduled for months. We didn’t dare reschedule, as we had been awaiting any clues on how to manage some persistent migraines that Lane had been dealing with off and on for the past few years that had suddenly become very regular. Our pediatrician is the greatest! Super thorough and considers family history at every turn. We had done sugar testing, ekg and echos, blood pressure monitoring with and without and even during workouts, food journaling, allergy treatment, sinuses recauterized, the kid had been through it. None of these things were pointing in the right direction for any type of solution or cause. They took a look at his brain. It was still there (of course, a bad joke from his brothers and I) and showed no real issues. The neurologist drew a line straight back to his multiple concussions over the past few years. Sitting in this office with LJ, slated to be a varsity starter and breaking records left and right with pre-season lifting, yet about to have at minimum 6 months of rehab for his knee, has just been told he should never play football again.
The months that followed were dark. Could he still play and risk more permanent neurological damage? Yes, but this isn’t an ACL. You only get one brain and believe me when I say that a lot of well meaning people have had a lot of opinions on our decision. The lack of impact alone has improved his daily symptoms and that is enough for me. My friend recently finished a class on sports psychology and has a valid point. That starting in high school, there should be a sports psychologist on hand for students who have such devastating, career ending injuries. If you are a non-sports person reading this, that may sound extreme, but taking away someone’s ‘identity’ as an athlete and something they have loved since the 1st grade is no joke. They have to find themselves again. I am happy to say that I feel like we are finally getting there. The kid did virtual school, I was able to get him back with direct teacher instruction as soon as he was mobile, he fought COVID, quarantine from exposure, missing for physical therapy appointments, trying meds for migraines that backfired emotionally, and working through this loss of self that occurs when you lose a part of what you loved and enjoyed with your dad who is no longer here. Everything comes back to that. Shane would have known what to tell him, what to do, how to choose how far to push himself. Shane would also be proud of how he has handled it and how he has made new plans, new goals, and taken new opportunities in stride. There were bribes/rewards in the form of a new tattoo which was not my idea (Tate’s) but certainly motivated him to keep pushing through the first semester alone, and I know he will continue to break records. He has always been so mature and his calm spirit has gotten me through some rough days. I get so excited to see where God takes Lane and how he will use all he learned about life in this last year. He gets stronger every day, in every sense of the word.
Some other dumb highlights…we ALL had COVID. We were so short on subs when I had it that I would be teaching from home while teachers on their planning times monitored my class in session with me on the screens with the kids. Educators are amazing people. We all made it through by helping each other all year, every step of the way. Nervous about coverage and the state of the world, I then put off a surgery until summer that I should have had over Christmas break, only to drive myself to the ER during a snow day because I was convinced that my insides were falling out. The surgery could be put off no longer and with just a few weeks until Spring break, they scheduled a total hysterectomy. What is sometimes a 6 week recovery was negotiated down to 3 as long as I behaved. I needed to be with my students, as I only get them for such a short time and STEM is not conducive to subs, especially in short supply…it is a lot to ask of someone when it is project based and full of hammers, duct tape, hot glue, etc. Again, thanks to my sister and the help of countless teachers and our principals, handwritten notes from me were delivered to a student I was concerned about, dinners were brought from even the very substitute that was saving my year, and my household ran like clockwork thanks to grocery store trips by my teen drivers and our new favorite friend…Door Dash!
Tate started college and had a successful year one. Upon moving in, we found out that his roommate had recently been diagnosed with diabetes. His mom went through a list of, if this happens…do this, and the final item was…’if none of that is working, start chest compressions and call 911’. Well, Aunt Ashley was helping us move him in and we left there with her beside herself. I was trying to process the actual drop off of my child at school and the fact that he was going to be very responsible for someone else all at once, plus try and train for soccer and make good grades. She was ready to call the dean of housing and get him a new assignment. I told her I would see how he was feeling about all of this later in the day. PTSD is a very real disorder. It is not just reserved for soldiers, but certainly makes the most sense when describing situations that a soldier or first responder might go through. Tate is the one who dialed 911 for his dad, he spoke with them and took their advice, he managed to call me and allow me to talk to Lane and Wyatt while he monitored the situation until the paramedics and I arrived at the house. Does he have PTSD? Certainly. Did he tell me that he was probably meant to be with his new roommate because he might be the one who could handle it best? Certainly did. All I could do was cry and tell him that he was more mature than his aunt and I put together and thanked him for being this type of example to me. You don’t know your own strength until it is tested. A student once told me that I handled emergencies well…our emergency at the time was a hedgehog getting stuck under the classroom sink. I explained that I had been through worse, so this seemed like a breeze. I am encouraged daily by the moments when I want to say…”Oh, hellllllllll naw” and my boys just say…”Bring it!”
Kids are cruel. So are adults, but thirteen year old boys in a group can be cruel. Wyatt had been acting a little off for a week or so and then finally broke it down for me. A few boys had been teasing him. And when kids tease, it’s like they don’t have a ceiling. Nothing is off limits. I won’t get into the details, aside from me visualizing the fight scene from Happy Gilmore with Bob Barker because that was what I was going to do with these kids. Again, grace wins. He was going to show them by working harder than ever and improving every day so there was no more room to talk. He is following his own path to greatness and it doesn’t include letting others define him or get in his way. He is both compassionate for others in need and passionate about what he wants. He is a sponge for knowledge and when he’s not wowing us with his knowledge of the hierarchy of other cultures, he is studying and perfecting his next endeavor. He is a little old man and a teenager all wrapped up in a package that is changing a little every day.
This year has also brought hardships on several of my dearest friends. One lost her dad, another’s husband is a COVID survivor after weeks on the ventilator, another’s husband has bladder cancer and is fighting for his/their new normal. There is a helpless feeling as a friend when all you can do is pray, but I have learned to not look at it this way. There is no shame in that ‘all’ it is no small task. Prayer in itself is an action and a creation of movement and for years I am sure that many of my friends were worried that they were not doing enough for me, when they were doing everything by praying. I have continued to witness Christ move mountains through prayer. If you read the text thread alone from my group of close friends, you would read answered prayers at times almost daily. Tangible proof that there is a God who tends his sheep and that bringing your requests to him is not a small thing. Philippians 4:6 tells us to do that exact thing AND to not be anxious!
I recently read Dolly Parton’s autobiographical book My Life in Lyrics. She speaks about writing as her form of God-space. She feels closest to him when she is writing and in times of trouble and darkness she said, “I go to that God core inside me. Even when I feel like my little pilot light might have gone out, I know it’s still there. I just have to reignite it through prayer, faith, love, friends, and family.” After reading her book, I was inspired. I haven’t donated millions or started libraries. I haven’t written countless songs that tell stories, but I do think we could all relate to that pilot light. This year, a lot of people’s lights dimmed but I believe it is time to strengthen our faith and move forward like never before. I am grateful for the legacy that Shane left for his boys and I am thankful for the continual glimpses of him I get from these boys every day. I will never not be sad about his passing and I don’t believe there is an expiration date on grief. I believe that with each passing year, there is a deeper longing for his presence but also a deeper understanding of what life looks like without him physically in it.