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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chris's gift

Like just about any parent,
I am ridiculously proud of my kids.

They don't even have to be doing much of anything at all
and I still think they're great.
Just by being my children,
they get my love, adoration (perhaps blind adoration!) and esteem.

But every now and again, one of them will do something
that catches me completely by surprise.
At that moment, I see them not as their mother
but as an individual in their own right.

Tonight, my son Chris did something that left me speechless,
profoundly moved and quite literally full of respect
for the steady, kind and compassionate young man that he is becoming.

We had gone to the viewing of Joe N.
Joe died on Saturday at age 43 of a sudden heart attack,
leaving behind his sixth grade son Joey and his second grade daughter Brooke.

Tragic. Completely tragic.

Joe was one of the assistant coaches on Chris's Padres baseball team
and his son is one of the players on Chris's team.
At their level, your baseball team is similar to a family.
Every spring season the team reconvenes and we spend hours and hours together each week,
huddled under blankets or sweating in the sun.
Same parents, same kids, year after year.
A family.

Big Joe was an enthusiastic coach to say the least.
He was big in every way, from his booming voice
to his face-splitting smile.

Rob and I were nervous about Chris going to the viewing.
He is blessed to have experienced very little loss in his life.
He still has two living great grandparents and thankfully, five grandparents as well.
However, he was adamant that he wanted to go to the viewing and support his teammate.

We tried to prepare him for the viewing and explained the procedure:
Walk in, greet the family and express your sympathy,
look at the open casket (or not) and then move on to let others in.
We explained it would be very brief, people would be crying
and that Joey and Brooke might not even be present.

That wasn't how it went at all.

We arrived to a PACKED, standing-shoulder-to-shoulder room,
so full we could not even see the front.
Someone was speaking when we arrived so we stayed where we were
and listened.. and cried.
Chris had left us with a quick whisper:
"I'm going to stand with Joey."

I couldn't see him, had no idea where he was in the room,
but when I asked Rob, he said he was fine and with Joey.

The person finished speaking
and Joe's other family members took a turn..
aunt, mother, father, brother.
They asked if others would like to speak and a couple of other men came forward-
a friend, a fellow football coach.

After a pause, a familiar voice rang out
and Rob and I both stiffened with surprise.

"Hi, my name is Chris .. and Coach Joe was one of my Coaches on the Padres.."
His voice cracked and the tears flowed freely
as his young voice choked out his memories
of a man motivating his team, cheering them on and lifting them up in times of defeat.
"Even if we were losing in the sixth inning, he would encourage us
and remind us to never give up hope.."

Rob and I stood, tears slipping down our cheeks as we listened to our son
offer words of encouragement and love to Joe's family..
and to his children.

Many more tears were shed as the night went on.
Unlike what I have known of viewings in the past,
this one was more a type of service-
in that following Chris and a couple of more speakers,
we were all invited to sit on the floor
and be a part of the Hindu ritual of preparing the body
for its departure to heaven.

The smell of incense filled the air
as swirling sing-song prayers circled around the room.
Joe's father laid flowers upon his son, sprinkled him with water,
covered him with fragrant herbs.
In closing, the close family went up and one by one put rice
and a flower in his casket, to symbolically provide food and lovely things in heaven.
We were then invited to each do the same.

As Chris approached, Joe's family members reached out to hug him
and stroke his face.
His words had given them comfort..
and I was grateful to my son for his unexpected gift.


Anonymous said...

Leeann, what an incredible, compassionate young man you've raised! Gave me goosebumps and brought tears to my eyes. You should be very proud of him. Imagine what type of man he is going to be!!!

Natalie said...


Gina said...

Oh Leeann! What a wonderful young man you are raising. I'm so sorry for Coach Joe's family and friends.