(This post was started on March 10, which is why I mention that date and its significance.)
March 10 is a date that will always stand out in my mind. First, because it was my parents' anniversary. They made it 31 years and 11 months as a married couple before the papers were signed and the gavel came down (do they do it like that?) and they were declared no longer man and wife. That was in 1978.
From that day, March 10 took on a new meaning. It was the painful reminder of a union that no longer was, and of a marriage gone bad. And it was a day to try to figure out how to cheer my mother up or, more often than not, avoid her and her pain. I say this to my shame.
It was another 18 years after their divorce and a full 50 years after their marriage that March 10 took on a new meaning. All because of Reggie.
Reggie was special. Everybody knew that. Never had I met a man with such kindness and compassion and humor thrown into one person. After he and his wife, Carole, had their three children, they began fostering . . . and adopting. Over the course of years they adopted two special needs children from Korea, were guardians for 2 children, and fostered 65, some short-term and some for much longer. Reggie and Carole were a blast and one of the most down-to-earth couples you'd ever meet.
They lived in a doublewide on the side of a mountain way outside of town and drove an ancient baby blue and navy passenger van. When that van opened you never knew how many kids would come piling out. It was like a cheerful, rolling circus.
I first got to know Reggie when we worked the church nursery together. Every Sunday morning we, and another worker or two, would sit on the floor with the Crawlers. I love that age. They are old enough to play with but not so old as to boss you around. (I hate it when kids boss me around.) We would talk about anything and everything.
Now, I have been blessed—or afflicted, take your pick—with the trait of social invisibility. My husband didn't believe me until he saw it happen with his own eyes . . . over and over again. During that time in my life being invisible was particularly painful.
I could be talking to a person and they would, in the middle of our conversation, turn their back and start a conversation with someone else, as if I wasn't there at all. Or I could chime in to an ongoing conversation, only to be completely ignored. Or sometimes I would speak up, only to be cut off by somebody else, as if wasn't even there. I really hated being invisible.
But I wasn't invisible to Reggie. If I started to say something and got run over by somebody else in the room, Reggie would hear them out and then turn to me and say, "Now, Ginny, what were you saying?" Nobody had ever taken notice of me like that. He actually seemed to care that I existed on the planet.
Over the next few years, Reggie, who was 20 years my senior, became part father figure, part big brother, and part friend.
Then one day he had to go to Duke University Hospital. He had the worst of the worst diagnosis: Melanoma. Over the course of a year he would undergo treatments and surgery and treatments again. He was undergoing yet more chemo around Thanksgiving and didn't feel like eating any of the usual fare. We went out of town that year for the holiday, so I bought a turkey on sale and saved it.
By late January, Reggie was feeling better. Much better. And had just been given the incredible news that he was cancer-free. Time for a celebration!
I cooked up the turkey and all the stuff that goes with it. I wanted to bring him and his family a belated Thanksgiving dinner. Reggie said no. I was 37 weeks pregnant and there was snow on the roads and he was in NO way gonna have me going into labor out at his house. So instead, they came to ours.
I still remember looking out the window as they arrived. Their monstrous van was broken down so they came in their smaller car. To this day, I have no idea how they stuffed that many people into one vehicle. It was like a clown car at the circus. Kids just kept coming out.
After supper my husband was making coffee. He asked Reggie if he took anything in his coffee and Reggie said not unless it was really bad coffee. Well, we had instant coffee. Reggie took one sip and said with his characteristic mixture of gentleness and humor, "I'll have some milk in mine." We all howled.
On Valentines day we saw him at church. He said that the next day he was having to go to the doctor because he was having bad headaches and was hoping it was just his sinuses. I still remember where I was standing when he told us.
The next evening I gave birth to our fourth child. The following morning I called Carole and Reggie to tell them about the new arrival. Carole greeted our news with her usual wonderful enthusiasm, never hinting at what she now knew. Not wanting to upset me or diminish my joy in any way, she chose not to tell me her news. The doctors had discovered melanoma cells in Reggie's spinal fluid and this was the source of his headaches.
It wasn't long before Reggie was back in the hospital and then on to the local Hospice facility. Once he was at Hospice, I would go and visit, taking my 3 week old baby with me. The minute I stepped in the door, the nurses would run up and grab my baby and pass her around. I suppose they all so longed to take hold of a new life in the land of the dying.
On March 9, my husband and baby and I spent a long time there at Hospice. Reggie had extreme difficulty communicating by this time, so we did most of the talking. I laid my three-week-old daughter on his chest and he rubbed her back. It was so fitting to see Reggie, even a dying Reggie—maybe even especially a dying Reggie—with a baby. Beautiful.
My husband stayed the evening, reading Reggie funny stories. He was unsure whether Reggie was conscious at that point until he let out what seemed to be a laugh at just the right moment.
The next day we were going to go back to see him. I was going to take my baby and get a picture of the two of them together. Then I got the call. Reggie was near the end. Could I come pick up their kids and hang on to them?
The rest of the day is a blur. After Reggie died we went back to Hospice with the kids. I saw him as they rolled him out. Perhaps this is the mercy of an evil like cancer, that once it is done with you no longer look like you any more. It was so obvious to me that the person they were wheeling out was no longer Reggie. It was only his shell. He wasn't in there any more.
It was March 10. Again a day of loss. A mournful chord.
This is what I loved about Reggie. And love about Carole. She buried him, and I think this was his request, in his khakis, flannel shirt, and slippers. No fanfare. Just love and comfort and humor in the midst of grief.
His funeral was the largest I have ever attended. The funeral procession seemed to stretch for miles. He was buried on a sunny, breezy March afternoon. A beautiful day to say goodbye to a friend.