Candy Corn

White, orange and yellow from top to bottom, with an ultra sugary sweetness that is both intoxicatingly addictive and sickening at the same time. Fair warning though, they are hard to put down once you start eating them, and you always regret eating them. Well, at least I do. Eating Candy Corn is not something I intend to do, where as eating bacon is intentional. I am not sure I really even like Candy Corn, especially the ones that take the form of little pumpkins. (That’s even more sweetness per bite than a mock kernel of corn) The most important thing to know about Candy Corn is that for me, Candy Corn means the start of fall.

I remember when it started. It was the summer I moved away to Montana for 3 months, the first time I left home. It was right after graduating High School. I received care packages from my mom. I loved getting those! It was like home came to me! Opening the carefully wrapped package from my mom, shipped from my hometown so far away created a pocket of space just large enough to envelop me. For a moment in time, my family, their love, the smell of home, the feelings of security and acceptance, were as real as if I was home. There were always three things in these care packages. Pop Rocks, Candy Corn, and a letter telling me about life at home and encouraging me in what I was doing.

I moved back home after the summer, a few years later I started an internship a several hours from home, got married, had kids, and life marched on. One thing never stopped. Every year in October a bag of Candy Corn would show up from my mom. Every year I would eat that Candy Corn, and the Candy Corn Pumpkins and feel both happy and sick (sugar).

This will be the first October when a bag of Candy Corn will not arrive for me. I won’t stare at the bag and tell myself that my mom is sweet, but I just can’t eat that candy. I won’t resist for several hours before finally tearing it open and inching just a bit closer to diabetes. This year October will come and go without that pocket of home forming around me as I break open a package from my mom.

This year Fall will not be quite as amazing as it usually is. I cannot imagine the smell of the leaves being as sweet. The rush of life that comes from a bitter cold breeze against my face as it attempts to defeat my jacket, beanie, scarf … won’t be quite the same. All the fun small clues that winter is coming will be diminished this year.

It’s time to pass this little Candy Corn tradition on. I think this year I will send a bag of Candy Corn to one of my kids. All my kids still live at home, but I am sure I can find an excuse to send a package. The Candy Corn experience must live on.

At Rest

It’s no surprise that the most vivid memories of life, the moments that seem stuck in time, are often cemented into memory through joy or pain. What is surprising is how closely the two exist. In the times of deep pain it’s the joyful moments that pull us through. They mingle together in an awful yet wonderfully poignant way.

The gathering was beautiful. I saw faces there that I have not seen in years. Many years. The fellowship and the memories we shared with each other made every second feel as warm as coming home after a long time away. A pastor from long ago, hymns that soothed the open wounds and deep sense of loss, my wife’s arm around me, my children comforting my dad and siblings, the sounds of sadness all around us, and the casket sitting there with my mom inside. It was unreal. Speaking to the crowd, but not remembering a word I said except for this. “If you do not know Jesus, consider that the love you felt from my mom was a taste of what it’s like to know him.” Loading the casket into the Hearse, feeling the weight of my mom’s body, knowing “she” was not there, yet seeing and feeling that her body was. It’s a feeling I cannot describe very well. It’s something I won’t forget.

The funeral felt like a stop on the way to a final destination. I knew that when we buried mom in 4 days that it would be then that I would lose all composure, the busyness of planning everything and the constant contact and fellowship with my friends and family would cease. So in the days between we laughed, we cried, we played board games, went on long walks, felt anger at death, and lost a lot of sleep. Pain and joy mingled together. Feeling alone while sitting with each other, a hole in our lives where mom existed.

It went really fast. We arrived and moved mom’s casket from the Hearse to the grave. No one said anything official, we just sat and stood there staring at the coffin. My brother said “See you mama llama, have fun in heaven”, and then the staff asked if we wanted to see her lowered into the ground.

As they lowered her into the ground a flood of memories raced through my mind. I wanted to hug everyone there, and run away at the same time. It was just my family present. We threw flowers into the grave and instead of lingering, we left. I don’t know if it’s because the pain was too great or if it was because it was so bitterly cold, or if we all knew that the casket held just a shell. Maybe it was all these things and more.

My wife and I drove back to my parents house alone so instead of going straight to my parents, I drove up into the hills so that I could see Livermore from up high. It was a sunny and clear day, the hills and the vineyards were an absolute radiant green, as if we were looking at a photo of a fantasy valley with filters to make it look amazing, yet it was just that way on it’s own. You want to feel amazing in those moments, but the reality is that I felt both pain and sorrow mingled with the awe and joy. The joy of the presence of my wife, the beauty before me and the memories scattered all over the town below me, and the joy of knowing my mom is no longer suffering and is with Jesus where we all long to be. Deeply saddened, because though death has lost it’s sting and the grave it’s power, today death seems to have the victory. I cannot go home and talk to my mom about the experiences of the day, nor can I now text her and let her know I am thinking of her and I am looking forward to the big family meet up in February. The one I deleted from the calendar this afternoon because it’s no longer going to happen. We did make our way home and then played board games for several hours as we enjoyed the company of each other.

I can tell things are going to get progressively worse as far as the feeling of loss. That pain is very real and it’s debilitating at times. Thankfully I do not mourn as one without hope as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 says, because this is temporary. But I do mourn as does my family and our friends.

The folks who run the funeral home said that our service was not like others they have been a part of, they really enjoyed it and said several times they would like to have met my mom. That’s pretty cool.

Dear Mom

You were amazing to me. So many things made you amazing. A mom that other mom’s wanted to be like, you offered guidance and direction, love and friendship to anyone and everyone. You always thought of yourself last. When no one was looking and no one knew, you gave of yourself freely and sacrificed.

You raised me and my siblings in integrity. You even raised my friends, you homeschooled us and you gave us incredible life skills. You taught in scouts, in 4-H and at church. You poured everything you had into us, never holding anything back.

I do not remember a single time in the 42 years I was blessed to be your son where you even came close to failing me. You excelled in all things and you did this all the time. I was loved and cared for beyond measure.

There are so many people that your life has touched. So many lives that are better and richer because of you. You were amazing to me, I had no idea just how many other people you were amazing to.

You were a mother to my children. When they lost their mom, you stepped in and did so much thankless work. You never asked to be recognized or praised. You just wanted to serve. You and my family stepped in and we raised them together. Even as you drew your last breaths, you were surrounded by my children, loving them, serving them.

My relationship with Jesus is because of you. My passion for people is from you. I forged my way in the world and have accomplished many things because you encouraged me and cheered me on. You have always been there for me. I could call, I could come home, I could reach out at any moment and your beautiful smile, you bright eyes and your welcoming voice were there. Failures did not take me out, nor did tragedy or pain. You made me to be a resilient man.

I can’t believe you are gone. I can’t believe it mom. I want to text you right now and tell you all about how impossible things seem right now. I want you to tell me it’s going to be okay. I want you to tell me how to best love my kids right now as they deal with loss, as they feel this emptiness as I do, they too are losing their “mom”. But I can’t. Your chair is empty. I stared at it for hours today, as if you were going to materialize there and everything would be right again. That cursed chair is empty and it will never again be where you sit and greet us all as we come in from the cold world into our warm home.

I can do this. You raised me to handle things like this. You taught me to hurt and to mourn and then dust myself off and focus not on myself, but on others. That’s what you did, all your life. You were a picture of what Christ taught us to be. Servants to all. You loved the people in your life like Jesus.

Everything hurts, but I know it’s temporary. Everything in Livermore reminds me of some aspect of my childhood. Millions of brilliant memories. They bring me joy mingled with excruciating pain. But just for now. You know how I am getting through? Jesus. My wife. Dad, Doug and Sharla. My kids. People from our past who are saying the most wonderful things about you. I would give 10 years off my life for 30 seconds with you. I did not get to say goodbye and I so badly want to say goodbye.

I will see you in the future mom. I’ll do my best to continue the legacy and love people by loving God with all my heart, mind and soul.

I miss you so much.