Wisdom Comes Suddenly

Never Judge A Guardian Angel By His Cover

October 19th, 2015 · 4 Comments

Matt13

I had been trying to call Matt and couldn’t reach him, when this setting sun captured my attention on a hayride. I didn’t know this picture was his text message back to me.

I did it. I Chaired Grandparent’s Day at school. 400 guests, 60 volunteers, countless hours of prep, a full breakfast, program, grade-level activities, and favors. And coffee. So much coffee. I came home after the wild day in a daze, slipped on my favorite, rather ratty, grey cashmere sweater that has become my uniform this past week. As I looked around for the cozy slippers I am perpetually misplacing, I began the slow dance of picking up from what is known at our house as “event week”. Coffee mugs in every room of my house. Glue bottles, pounds of craft paper…sticky notes on every surface. I have no idea what I ate in the last 7 days, but I have some serious heartburn.

Matt14

I put down my sausage gravy and biscuits long enough to take this picture. Heartburn Clue #1.

I found an empty wine glass on my bathtub’s edge, and I sat down and let the tears fall. Filling my robe pockets with Kleenex, I headed into the attic, where I found another empty wine glass on my desk. I couldn’t find the energy to contact even one more person, as I sat down to stare at an inbox full of messages. My phone? Fully blown up. Texts and emails all saying, “WHAT THE?” Congratulations on a great event, and “WHAT THE?!!!!

What just happened? HOW did it happen? My mind refused to slow down and fully embrace the reality that after months and months of caring for my dear friend Matt, he passed away very suddenly this week. He finished in-patient physical therapy. His clotting levels were all in-check. His meds were refilled. His house was prepared and meal delivery arranged, and after 4 months away from his own home, HE GOT THERE. Thousands of miles journeyed to have life-saving surgeries, months of recovery full of setbacks and challenges, and he went home in better health than he’d seen in years. He was home less than 2 days when a massive stroke took him away from us. And I was left to host the event he helped me plan.

Matt10

Matt was not overly-excited about my themed utensil holders on his buffet line, but had he seen them in their full glory, I think he would have agreed…FABULOUS.

It was a huge blessing Goomommy flew to town a day early, because she was at my side when the call came. She was there to rush the girls out of the room as I lost my marbles with Matt’s sweet, sweet sister, “SAY SOMETHING ELSE! Say ANYTHING else!” She was there when the note cards had to be folded, when the pennant banner had to be finished, and when the floral arrangements had to be made. I couldn’t begin to count the friends who flew into school to help me finish the prep. Alyssa and her Mom hung 1000 feet of pennant banner (when you make that much, you measure it). Greg gave his full logistics-talent towards getting 450 packs of note cards wrapped in ribbon. QUICKLY. Jane kept my head together the moment I simply couldn’t. Dan made the coffee when the coffee delivery guy screwed up my order. Laura stood at the ready with my list to check off every last detail, making me appear as if I had it all under control. Sumi should have been packing for her trip, but came in to make favors instead. Tammy did the same. Kathy did everything but give me oxygen. Wait. Kathy may have actually had to give me oxygen at some point in the last week. Kellie dropped everything and brought me a blueberry-peach pie (sorry, I’d offer you a slice but I ate it all). Kristin just kept doing and doing and asking to do more. Courtney made so many things I didn’t have the concentration to finish. And of course Holly, Rob, and Taylor just did what they do best: everything. They DO EVERYTHING. I’ve forgotten names. Heck, I’ve forgotten half the things I’ve said in the past week.

Matt11

Decorative Vases x16, all with welcome signs in different languages. My Zhuzh-Pots rise again!

Amie (who had to take that very difficult first call from me), Jessica, Cindy, Michelle, Marie, LaTonya, Christina, Mayuko, Leigh, Julie, Zoey, Melissa, even the Middle School Division sent me helpers. Carrie. Especially Carrie who has stuck with Matt through thick and thin these past several months, showing up to keep us company, staying late on the back porch laughing with Matt, dropping everything to meet us for lunch. Carrie is a friend’s friend, always has been. Every time I turned around, someone had my back. Someone was there to catch me. Matt was there to catch me. I won’t bore you with the hundred little ways he surrounded me, but I promise you, he was there. He was so.very.there.

Matt15

My friends saving my event while I cried on the phone with half of my hometown. You can cry and tie ribbon at the same time, this much I’ve learned.

When the last glass was washed, and the last mess was put away, I sat down and reflected what it meant to share so much time with Matt these last several months. Because trust me, it was hard to get past God putting us through such hard times, just to take him home. The hint at wisdom started with Kelly:

Kelly: You say Matt is with God, but how do I even know God is real?

Me: Well, God’s existence is like Matt. He was JUST here. You could reach out and touch him at the dinner table just last week. He was standing to greet you after school not more than 10 days ago. You gave him a gigantic hug. He was there. And now he’s not. Matt isn’t any less real just because we can’t see him. God isn’t any less real than Matt. He’s just somewhere out of our sight.

Kelly: OH! So that’s how it works. Matt will see his buffet even his he’s not there Mommy. This whole God-thing makes more sense to me now.

Sara: Seriously Mommy? She believes in Stuffed Animal Land, but she’s struggling with GOD?

Me: Zip It Duck.

Sara: Good call.

Matt2

The first time I introduced Matt to the girls, you could have registered the shock on their faces. He came walking out of a bar, legs covered in tattoos, walking slowly with a cane, arm contracted, his clothes packed in a ripped shopping bag, smoking a cigarette. I laughed out loud. That’s Matt. He’s a stubborn old Vet who proudly lives alone, no matter how hard it had become for him. He had help (his cousin will be SAINTED when he gets to heaven…SAINT-ED, along with his sister), but DUDE…Matt’s stroke a few years ago and his failing health had taken its toll. He’d tried time and time again to quit smoking, but the stress of losing his parents and losing his health had worn him out. If he apologized once, he apologized 100x times for mistakenly allowing the girls to see him smoke. He didn’t want to be a bad influence. I laughed out loud, “Matt, you’re a barely-walking anti-smoking campaign. After seeing what you’ve been through, they won’t EVER smoke!” We were known for teasing each other without mercy.

Matt8

Goomommy bravely beginning the pennant banner which I created (with A LOT of help) because I didn’t want to throw away scrap paper. 1000 feet of scrap paper. Good heavens.

He jumped in the car and immediately asked them if they were “Knuckleheads”. They liked Matt immediately. Kids are smart. They can separate quickly the adults who CAN talk kid-ese, and those who can’t. Matt was fluent. Plus, he bought them loads of milkshakes. If we were picking up Matt, it was a guarantee he had chocolate in his pockets for his little Knuckleheads. His speech was slower, so he listened longer. His advice came after serious thought, and was carefully worded. And if he wanted to coach them through a problem in their day, he never repeated himself. They were skeptical a guy who couldn’t lift 5 lbs could teach them to bowl, but by the end of 2 games, they were rolling strikes. As we left, Matt was missing. Sara headed outside and said, “Matt! We know you’re out here smoking! Finish up so we can go home. WE KNOW YOU SMOKE KNUCKLEHEAD!

Matt1

After some rough months (Gulf War Syndrome SUCKS, my friends), Matt’s health improved. He began showing up in ironed khakis and polos, just as he had worn in high school. His hair was washed and combed. We hosted a dinner party. His PT-athletic wear returned to the preppy-style he preferred, and he no longer needed an oxygen tank to climb stairs. He was finally able to get out and about, and I began checking him out of PT for longer stretches. He had the energy to cheer Sara through a Cross Country practice (“She’s a natural! She’s a born runner!”) I thought he was crazy, but he was so bored, he begged to come to Event Planning meetings. In what turned out to be his final days, a stubborn, unmarried, childless Vet joined the PTA. I thought he might be losing his mind, but as luck would have it, he loved it. He spent decades working in the Food & Beverage industry, and Matt KNEW how to host an event. Getting 400 Senior Citizens through a buffet they’d enjoy in a short span of time was nothing for him. He took my plans, threw them out the window, and rewrote my playbook. In the last 2 months, and for the first time in almost 30 years, Matt stopped smoking. He was still using e-cigarettes, but he no longer craved actual cigarettes. [This had nothing to do with the PTA, and everything to do with a thyroid setback which caused him to forget for a brief time he smoked at all. Some setbacks come with gifts.]

His menu was a tremendous success. Despite my puffy eyes and fragile state-of-mind, the event went very smoothly. You would not have known I was working with a 100-lb weight on my chest. But when I returned home with nothing on my schedule: it hit me quite hard: Matt is gone. I worked tirelessly to nurse him back to health, and it didn’t work out like I planned. Matt moved to heaven, leaving me with a bottle of whiskey, and a dinner party without a guest of honor.

Matt12

Oatmeal Bar, Yogurt Bar, Fruit, Danishes, Sausage Gravy & Biscuits. BAM! In budget! Great for people with limited diets (and possibly limited teeth). Options for diabetics and affordable proteins. Easily and quickly feeds 400 if set up correctly. Tier your pastries because you know everyone will want to grab a pastry. Holds up great on a buffet line. Matt knows his customers.

But then the girls started talking, and remembering, and crying, and hugging…and I realized: God didn’t send me to help Matt. God sent Matt to help me:

My daughters learned God is REAL. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. No…don’t. I was being ironic.

You can’t judge people based on how they look.

Friends might come from unlikely places. Get to know people. They might surprise you.

Just because you’re too sick to pack a suitcase, it doesn’t mean you don’t have value to add to this world.

It is important to take care of people, even if it’s hard.

It’s OK to risk caring for really sick people, even if you might cry in the end.

Hanging out with someone who “knew you when” might feel amazing. Not all of us have deep roots to our childhood, but some of us have friends who were like family when we needed it most. You’re never too old to run about town with the windows down, blasting The Cure with an old pal from High School.

Matt16

I can’t decide if we were never this young, or how the hell did we get so old?

Smokers trying to kick the habit like candy. Kids like candy. I am ready for a break from taking these Knuckleheads on record-breaking candy runs to the drugstore.

Sundays at nursing homes are lonely, and you should bring cake.

Stubborn-Old-Vets might be amazing singers, and might know an unbelievable number of Broadway musicals. Kids who have recently discovered the awesomeness of Broadway Musicals might find this trait quite appealing in a dude who walks with a mysterious cane.

God doesn’t care if you have vices. He loved Matt, and Matt loved him.

People go to heaven on God’s timing, not on ours. We’re not in control here. Better to just get your head around it and realize grieving is part of the human experience.

Matt5

The girls and I climbed an apple tree and stared up into the sky for over an hour. They said they could see all the way to heaven from this spot. Agreed. Me too.

In the end, I don’t question God’s timing. Matt may have regained independence and better health, but he was never going to drive again. He was never going to be healthy enough to work full-time. His cane and partially contracted side were forever friends. He had plans for his future, but they would include mountain-sized challenges. I can feel Matt’s joy in heaven, where I’m sure he’s playing football, singing in a band, and watching movies with his parents.

Matt9

It keeps going and going and going…

I’m in pain, and I’m sad. I’m left with this space I carved out for an old friend, and it’s going to take time to stop looking out over the week, and pushing away the grief that my “Matt-Days” are over. But he left me with much to treasure; much more than memories, much more than time well-spent. Matt gifted us these final lessons, and we cannot unlearn what we know. We are forever changed, and blessed for having brought him into our lives.

The girls just gained a Guardian Angel who probably convinced St. Peter to let him bring his Gulf War Veteran hat into heaven. He doesn’t curse, and he never gossips, but he probably needs a haircut, he HATES doing his own laundry, and if there’s a smoking section in heaven, he’s probably there. Don’t judge. I’m certain my daughters won’t.  Matt taught them to look past the trials of being human and see the beauty buried within each of us. Wisdom Comes Suddenly.

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Thank you Matt. You saved me during a very difficult time decades ago, and it felt amazing to return the favor. I’ll save up these stories and we’ll catch up when I get there. YOU HAD BETTER GET ME IN. Seriously. Now I know a guy. If I’m super old and you no longer recognize me, I’ll be carrying a bag of candy bars from Walgreens, and your favorite lunch, a Cobb Salad. HOW is that your favorite lunch? That’s just weird. HEY! My new favorite combo: waffle fries and chili…oh…man. You totally would have understood that combo. Wait! Heartburn Clue #2. [Insert Matt’s snarky way of lifting half a smile and giving me a half a laugh at my goofy jokes.] Love you Sweetheart (his last words to me). Godspeed, Old Friend. Godspeed.

 

 

 

 

Tags: The Girls

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sara // Oct 19, 2015 at 5:25 am

    Lori I’m so sorry about your friend. How shocking and sad and devastating. On a positive note, this Goomommy is amazing. She is your MIL? Dang I wish she could be mine!!! Wishing you happier days ahead!!!!

  • 2 Emily // Oct 19, 2015 at 6:29 am

    I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of Matt, Lori. He sound like just the kind of guy you want to have in your corner. How very unexpected and heartbreaking.

    Thanks for sharing him with us. I hope you receive many more sunset-style messages from him and that they bring your heart a little more joy, and a little less pain, every time.

  • 3 Hands Free Mama // Oct 19, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Oh Lori, thank you for allowing us to know Matt and his impact on your life through these beautiful words. You have honored his life in such a profound way, my friend. Not only through your words, but your actions, and that is truly significant. I know he was blessed by you too. We are all. Thank you for this reminder that life is fragile and so are our people. I will be holding you closely in my heart as you mourn your beloved friend.

  • 4 Todd Lackey // Oct 20, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    To “see” Matt from another persons perspective is amazing. I knew Matt in high school, played football with him, did three plays with him, one of the was “Grease” and I was working the sound board. His number was Teen Angel. Back then Matt couldn’t care a tune if it was in a bucket, but I made him sound good and ethereal. I even ran into him during the Gulf War. I will miss my conversations with him. Bless you for the friend he had in you. We had his past and you had his future.