Monday, December 28, 2009

silent night

today when i was driving down some small street out of fort oglethorpe, georgia, i was humbled by a stranger. he was walking towards me on the same side the road and had stopped in his tracks. he had taken off his camouflage ball cap that matched his camouflage shirt and pants and had covered his heart with it. his head was bowed. he didn't know me and he didn't know my family. but despite not knowing us, he was still in some way acknowledging my aunt who was four cars in front of me. i like to think that he was saying a prayer for her and maybe even for the rest of us. we all needed a few because none of us wanted to be driving down that road to bury her.

christmas 2009. it'll be a day none of us will ever forget. after my little family woke up and had a wonderful celebration tearing into all of the treasures santa had left, we went to my mother's house for her annual dinner. my kids and i walked up to the porch and in good christmas fashion, i started singing silent night while we waited for the door to open. ya know, we were mimicking carolers. my step-father opened the door and just stood there without chiming in on the song shaking his head no. he said it's not good. what's not good? vicki. vicki has been in an accident.

vicki is my mother's sister. she's my mom's baby sister. she has always been a beautiful girl with wonderful blond hair and legs a mile long. some of my first memories of my aunt vicki are of being at her home in hattiesburg, mississippi and lounging by the pool while watching days of our lives. even though i wasn't old enough, she let me watch it with her. but that was her. she just treated everyone with respect . . . even bratty little kids she treated as a peer.

what do you mean she's been in an accident? she's okay right? no, she's not okay. he shut the door behind me. well, she's alive though, right? no. no, she's not. at that moment, i had that feeling where your heart seems as if it's literally been punched. it makes it hard to breathe. i took my heavy chest into my mother's room where she was standing with my brother. she looked like a child. they had just found out moments before we arrived. she still had the phone in her hand. she was so confused. she looked at us and said, i don't know what to do. what do i do? it's a hard moment when your mother, the one who is always there to tell you what to do when you are lost and scared, is the one looking to you for answers.

aunt vicki had a best friend joanie. they talked on the phone at least once a day during their lunch breaks or on their way home from work. they talked on the phone because they didn't get to see each other too often since vicki lived here in tennessee and joanie lived in mississippi. but this christmas, vicki was going to go spend some time with her best pal. so she got up christmas morning, told her husband, randy, goodbye and started her long drive to mississippi. she drove about 2 1/2 hours before something went terribly wrong and she was killed in an accident.

somehow at some point in the evening at mom's, the rest of us managed to eat some food. the set dining room wasn't stepped into as we were all sort of just standing around looking at my mother and trying to console her with the plates in our hands. then in the best spirit we could pretend to have, we let the kids open their presents. the only extra gifts that night were from my aunt vicki. she had dropped them off the day before. it was heartbreaking to hear my 10 year old read his card out loud that was signed aunt vicki and uncle randy. the rest of the night, we just spent trying to figure out who to call, what would be done, where we go the next day, etc.

when saturday morning came, jeff came by to pick up the kids and i immediately went to see my baby cousin who had just lost his mother.

eric. eric is a neat young man. he's no longer a baby. he's 27 in fact. but i still see the sweet little 5 year old every time i look at his face. he's an only child. his parents split up when he was younger and he and his mom moved to tennessee. when they first came back, they lived with us for a while. i loved having them there. i was a busy young girl with stuff to do, but it was so great having another kid in the house and another dog around. of course all mama's love their children, but it became obvious to me then that those two were something else. those two were as close as a boy and his mom could be. they had a bond like you can't imagine. it was very clear that god put those two together. they were just meant to walk on this earth beside one another.

he came outside to my car standing tall and stellar. we hugged and he was okay. he was definitely holding it together. i had known for some time that he had grown up to be smart and spiritual, but i had no idea that i'd be greeted by such a strong man. i was so proud of him and so sad for him at the same time. we talked for a while and he only teared up once. his girlfriend was there and so after our visit i left him in her good care to go check on my mom.

mom. my mom's parents are no longer alive. we have a really small family and my aunt vicki was all she had left. they were friends. they finished each other's sentences. and the one true thing about their relationship was that they had each other's backs. boy did they have each other's backs!!! mess with one of them. just try. see how that works out.

she was at my uncle randy's mom's house.

uncle randy. uncle randy came into our lives many many years ago when he married my aunt vicki. he's always been as kind as can be, just like her. they have both always been more than generous to every single soul. he has a tremendous heart that only matches hers and their love was something you could see beaming between each other. when i saw him, he also looked child like. it's just so hard to see grown people hurting in such a confused way. he had just lost the love of his life.

my step-dad and i forced them to eat before they went to make arrangements for today's service.

and then today came too soon. today wasn't suppose to happen. not yet. it just wasn't the right time to be driving down that road while my aunt rode in a box four cars ahead of me. she had always been just such a strong roll model for me. the women in that family are tough. her, my mom, their mom . . .all tough cookies. they each had been dealt some pretty interesting cards in their lives and they each made a winning hand out of them all. so i looked up to to her. and just like her and my mother did for each other, my aunt vicki had my back. she also had my best interest in mind. in college, she wrote my some very poignant letters that helped me out of some pretty dark times. she had been there and she loved me and she helped pull me out of there with her simple, graceful words of hope and strength.

so after we made that drive out of fort oglethorpe and passed the sweet soul that payed my aunt some respect, we reached a hill where her body will lie. my step-dad hauntingly played amazing grace on harmonica while the brisk wind blew through us each and my heart fell apart watching my mom, eric, joanie, and uncle randy say good bye to their best friend. she was a best friend to them all. i imagine she would say that she was also a pretty lucky lady to have been blessed with those best friends. some of us go a whole lifetime with only one such treasure if even one. but she had a few. and they had her.

tonight .. . .this silent night . . . .as my heart is breaking for my family, i'm grateful for the kind man on the side of the road. and i'm grateful for his reminder that it is only a simple gesture that we often need to feel love. make a kind gesture in honor of my aunt vicki's friendly heart. make a kind gesture to a stranger and friends and family. and if there is someone that you keep thinking you'll call next week, do it today. love them today.


Ashley said...

Crystal, I am so sorry for your loss. Your words were beautiful and I feel like I know a little about who your aunt vicki was. You and your family are in my heart and prayers. Love you.

Melissa Loyd said...

What a beautiful tribute to your aunt. I am so sorry for your family's loss.

allyson said...

so sorry for your family's sudden loss. praying for you all.