I'll be honest, I've had just a couple of people ask me if I ever thought that Eric was trying to send me messages from where he is right now. I can say that after 22 years of him hardly ever not talking to me, if there was a way for him to talk to me from the other side he would have certainly utilized it. Enough said.
But just because I don't ever hear his voice, doesn't mean that his words aren't all around me. I find his words in my head, coming out of my kids' mouths, on notes and on lists, lots and lots of lists. This weekend I stumbled upon his words in the form of a past Valentine's card. For those of you who want to know about our Valentine's Day traditions--or lack thereof--please refer to my post about Mother's Day and drop in Valentine's Day--but maybe not quite as bad. What I stumbled upon was a lovely Hallmark card that didn't have any tell-tale signs of frantically being purchased at Cub Foods. The card's sentiment was simple. "I love sharing forever with you. Happy Valentine's Day."
On a side note, we used to laugh because Eric claimed that nearly all Valentine's Day cards started with "You know that I never tell you enough how I feel...." and clearly that didn't apply to him. It was one of his reasons for mostly boycotting the holiday.
As I read what he had written on the bottom, it sounded so familiar. "What is one year when compared to forever? I would go through it all again just to be by your side. I love you." It sounded familiar because those words are nearly the exact words I tell myself when I stand still in the scurrying of my day to look at his picture on my living room wall. It's how I comfort myself when sleep escapes me on these cold winter nights. It's the encouragement that I cling to when I look out at the years ahead of me. What is one year compared to forever and yes, a thousand times, yes, I would go through it all again to be by his side. I thought these were my words of comfort and hope, but there they were in his scribbly handwriting, loving me so sweetly from years ago.
Just so you don't get the idea that every Valentine's Day was wine, roses and love notes, I also discovered another Valentine's card that was likely purchased the day after the holiday because some wife probably pitched a fit that there wasn't a card for her on Hallmark's favorite day. If you're Eric Rynders, you will find a creative way to make your wife smile even when you miss her holiday.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, several friends--work friends, school friends, church friends--rushed in and
organized meals to be brought into our home on the weeks following each
treatment. I was brought lots and lots of wonderful meals that fed me and
my forever hungry children. I really love to cook so relinquishing this
duty was not easy for me. Often times, even more lovely than the food
that filled our stomachs, was the sweetness of the individuals delivering the
meal. Some of them were dear friends who would give me a hug, offer up
some love and wish me well until the next time our paths crossed. Some of
them were nearly complete strangers who I had only every passed in a hallway at
the kids' school events. They knew about me from afar, but decided they
wanted to do something to help. They would express their sympathy about
Eric, ask about me, about the kids, about how all of this was working. I
was grateful for the meal, but I was more grateful and impressed by their
willingness to step their foot into our somewhat messy life. These people
were gifts to our lives during those long winter months.
I want you to know that we were delivered
some really wonderful meals and please read this post to the end before you
think of me as some kind of foodie snob or that I am one bit ungrateful for anything, gourmet or not, that was brought to our front door. If you were one of the many people that might have brought ham, then you're clearly wondering if this was your night. Go ahead and wonder. The story is not so much about ham, but about hope.
It was a frightfully cold night and my
taste buds were reeling from my latest dose of chemo. The meal that was
lovingly dropped off that night was ham. Fantastic. Something salty is
always the best option for me to be able to taste at least part of it. I
had kept all the dishes covered to hold the heat in while I quickly set the
table after coming through the door from work. After we had gathered,
offered up a quick prayer to bless the food, I started to uncover the ham.
The kids asked what we were having and I said, "Ham!" as I
uncovered the first dish. What I uncovered was like no ham they had seen
before. It was a processed pink color and the "string"
indentations across the top were not fooling anyone. They both leaned
forward and stared, "That's not ham," one of them said.
"Yes, it is," I said. "It's just not like ham that
you're used to." "Is it even cooked?" they asked, doubtful
that I had any idea what I was talking about. "Of course...it's warm," I said as I touched it to confirm my theory. I shaved
a couple of slices off the one end and laid it on their plates. They gave
me a look. I gave them a look back. "It's just fine.
Just eat it. I'm not making something else for you. Someone
made this just for us and we will eat it."
You have to understand that these were some
dark, very dark days after Eric's death. We went through the motions that we could remember from life before and
we prayed that each day would be a little easier than the one we were leaving.
I knew my kids were missing their normal and I was equally frustrated
that I couldn't be in the kitchen preparing their favorite meals and serving
those meals to a table filled with my people. There was emptiness and
sadness everywhere we looked. One of those kind of days where a bad ham
can send you right over the edge.
We sat in silence, chewing our ham.
I think one of the kids asked if they could warm something up from the
fridge and I probably said fine. Out of the blue, Bea said, "I want
to know what it feels like to punch that ham. Mom, can I punch the
I sat for a minute and thought about the
question--was it okay for my daughter to punch our dinner? My first
thought was "would Eric let her punch the ham?" I worried that
my chemo-clouded brain was probably not qualified to make this decision.
I asked her to repeat her question, certainly I had misunderstood.
She said more forcefully, "I want to punch the ham."
Knowing resistance was futile, I said, "Sure, punch the ham."
She walked around the table, looked
squarely at the mostly uneaten ham and wound up for a solid punch. The
ham made the same noise that a well-toned stomach makes when you slug it--not
that I've done that often in my life. Henry and I exchanged looks and
smirked. He followed his smirk with "I want to punch it, too."
I shrugged my shoulders and nodded in approval. He landed a blow
that was slightly louder than that of his sister. We all laughed.
Now everyone was looking at me and I just smiled and nodded and got in
line to blow off some steam at this unassuming piece of pork. Yes, I,
too, slugged the ham. By this time we were laughing harder than we had
laughed in weeks. Weeks where we wondered if we would ever really laugh
Needless to say the ham got slugged
repeatedly and might have even gotten juggled... Once our laughter
subsided and we had wiped away all the happy tears that had taken the place of
so many sad ones, we gathered around the table and thanked God for this most
amazing meal and for the wonderful hands that had brought it to us. Although this ham wouldn't win any culinary awards, it was,
by far, the most memorable meal that graced our table. God knew that we
needed something more than nourishment on that cold winter night. We
needed a way to remember the joy and laughter that had previously been so taken
for granted around out table--and he needed a ham to make that happen. We needed to break through the sadness and
once again experience the freedom to throw our heads back and laugh. It
was a turning point for our somber family and as I look back I am filled with