Braden’s Memorial – Part Two

I spent all last week thinking about what I would say at Braden’s memorial service.  Interspersed with my bouts of crying, I would have thoughts pop into my head… memories I wanted to share or things that I felt would be important to say.  It was meant to be a celebration of his life, so it was not supposed to be all sad and weepy.  But I couldn’t get up there and recite dirty limericks either.  I was struggling to find a balance.  Plus, I had written a blog post on Tuesday called Remembering Braden that several people had already read, and I felt it was important to say something new.

I am most comfortable writing here on WordPress, so that is what I decided to do.  On Friday night I forced myself to sit down and write a “post” about Braden.  I figured that I could practice speaking it, but I could always fall back on reading it if I got too choked up at any point.  Plus, Kid A would be up there with me and she could always help me out if I needed it.  Unless she started cursing again.  Jeez.  I wonder where she gets that from?

So, here is the gist of what I said at Braden’s memorial last Saturday…

I remember the first time that Kid A mentioned Braden to me… we were driving in the car.  It was Summer 2011, and she started telling a story about some friends from Chattahoochee… Emily, (who had just graduated) and her boyfriend, Jared, and another boy who was his best friend.  And the way she told the story, I just knew that she liked this other boy.  So I paid attention.  She told me a little bit about him… that he was smart and funny and good looking and he had a job and he was on the cross country team and he was the oldest of six kids (Is his mom out of her mind?) and (she hesitated)… he was almost 18 and going to be a senior.  Keep in mind… Kid A was just 15 years old at the time.
 
Shortly after that was the very first time that I met Braden… it was still summertime and I was down in our basement playing video games with my boys.  Donkey Kong had just died somewhere on the eighth level and I may have yelled out a curse word at the television.  No sooner had I done that, then Kid A came walking down with Braden trailing behind her.
 
Braden spent a lot of time with our family.  I kind of insisted on it because he was this almost 18-year-old boy dating my baby girl.  Sheepdog cleaned his guns a lot more often when Braden was over, but quickly we came to see that he was a very respectful young man who cleared his plate after dinner and played with our other kids and doted on Kid A.  But then my Mom Radar was up and flashing because I figured he was just putting on a show so we didn’t send him packing (or shoot him, in Sheepdog’s case).
 
As time went by, we got to know the real Braden. It turned out that he was a pretty awesome kid. He knew good music.  He got a lot of movie references that Sheepdog and I made.  He read books and was actually interesting to talk to.  And even though Braden eventually stopped clearing his plate from the dinner table (don’t worry – I always made him go back and do it), I was happy that Kid A chose such a good egg to be her boyfriend.
 
Soon we met Stacy (Braden’s mom) when the kids went to Homecoming and then Steve and Heidi (Braden’s dad and his fiancée) when Braden played the Chief in Cuckoo’s Nest, and we met his sisters and brothers too.  Braden loved to tell funny stories about all of the wild adventures of his big, crazy family, and it was nice to put faces to the names.  He regaled us with tales of family and friends from all over… Pennsylvania and Nebraska and Georgia and Florida and DC.  So, yes… I know all of your dirty, little secrets, friends!  I actually think that is why he fit in so well with our family… we are big and crazy too.  Family was so important to Braden.  We talked about it often… how much he wanted to have a big, crazy family of his own one day.
 
Over time, Braden’s passion for everything became more and more evident.  Football season got into full swing and he was excitable, to say the least.  Our second oldest daughter, Kid B, was very much into soccer and she and Braden started watching European league games together.  I never realized that there was anybody louder and more fanatic than football fans, but I was wrong!   And do not get Braden started on politics or social issues.  Sometimes he would get so wound up about an issue, I would take an opposing stance just to see how fired up he could actually get.  It was kind of fun.
 
But Braden wasn’t perfect.  He was sometimes sullen and sarcastic and moody… because he was a teenager.  And then he got his first car… The maroon BMW.  Oh, how he loved that car.  And then he crashed that car and he got sullen and moody again.  Teenagers.
 
Then came that awful day… March 2, 2012.  I had gone to get my hair done… I have a lot of gray hair from an 18-year old dating my baby girl, so I was in the chair for a couple of hours.  When I got done, I checked my phone.  It had blown up… I had a bunch of texts and phone messages from Braden and his dad and his mom.  I knew that Braden had been feeling really sick and his grandfather, Walt, was going to take him to see a doctor.  When Stacy told me the news, I was in shock.  I remember emailing my dad, who was out of the country at the time, “How in the world do I tell Kid A that her boyfriend has leukemia?”
 
I will tell you, after those first few days of haze and confusion and denial, after reality started to set in, everybody rallied.  Stacy and Steve, friends, family, people in the community… it was an amazing thing to see.  And there was Braden, this 18-year-old kid who had just been told he had cancer and that his white blood cell count was so high that he should not have even survived the night, and he was still really positive.  He was passionate that he would beat the leukemia and that he would go to college and eventually get married and have a family, just like he had always planned.  And with so many people supporting him and a great team of doctors and nurses in his corner, we all believed he had a really great shot.
 
The next fourteen and a half months had many ups and downs… the roller coaster ride of cancer.  Hospital rooms and tests and procedures and more tests and doctors and then the bone marrow transplant from his very brave sister, Maddie.  And then good numbers from tests and every time he got sprung from that dreaded 4th floor, it was such a celebration!  It was joyful!  Oh, how I hope I never have to smell that awful hospital soap again.
 
But after the summer ended and most of Braden’s classmates went off to college, I saw things get harder for him.  He struggled with staying positive.  His body had been beaten up by the cancer and also the medicines that are supposed to knock the cancer out, but his mind started to get tired too.  Don’t get me wrong… he was still passionate.  Did anybody get on Facebook during the presidential election?  Am I right?  He always had something to say about something, and I loved that about him, even when he voted for Obama.
 
But by his 19th birthday, I saw less of a light in his eyes.  He felt it coming.  He told me after he blew out the candles on his cake that he knew it would be the very last birthday he celebrated.
 
IMG_0167
 
Braden changed then.  He became much more contemplative.  He had a lot of time to sit and think and he didn’t waste it.  He thought about what he wanted after he was gone.  We talked about things at length over the last few weeks… about hopes and dreams and fears and regrets and wishes for the future.  He became much wiser than any teenager.  He kept saying, “This is what I want for my dying wish…” and I was like, “How many dying wishes do you think you get, pal?” 
 
His answer was always, “Unlimited.”
 
So, I give to you now the things that Braden wished for…
 
He wished for his sisters and brothers to go to school and to try hard and do well – because you are all smart and super talented.  Specifically, he wanted Cameron to take all of those AP classes.  No excuses.
 
He wanted his mom and dad to find happiness within themselves and the strength to help the family move on.  He wanted you to continue to create family memories, both together and separately.  
 
He wanted the family to tell Eric about him as he grows up.  As a matter of fact, he wanted us to talk to everybody about him all the time, so no one would forget him.  
 
He wished for Kid A to go off to college and get married and have that big, crazy family of her own some day.  
 
He wished that the rest of his family and all of his friends will go on to live happy, healthy and productive lives.
 
He wished that Jared and Emily would just go to Europe and shut up about it.  
 
He wanted us to look out for each other because he knew we’d all be sad after he was gone.  He wished for us to accept that some things we have control over and some things we just don’t.  He wished that we would live up to our potential and make the most of every day we have in this life.  
 
Do big things and do them with passion.
 
Do them for Braden… to honor his memory and to celebrate his life that came to an end much too soon.
 
Braden memory card

Braden’s Memorial – Part One

Before Braden passed away last week he was doing the unthinkable… planning parts of his own memorial service.  He wanted to make some of the decisions so that no one else would have to.  He said it felt surreal, but he did it with an unbelievable calmness and sense of purpose.  I am still amazed.

When he asked Kid A and I to speak, we both yelled out “F*ck” in unison.  Now, I sometimes curse like an Eagles fan in a sports bar, but Kid A is not really the type, so it was kind of sweet that we both had the exact same reaction to his request.  Nevertheless, we told Braden that we were honored that he wanted us to do it and we would try our very best.

Last week was a whirlwind of tears and heartbreak and sadness for all of us.  My biggest concern was that neither Kid A nor myself would be able to make words come out of our mouths that would be loud or coherent enough to be heard over our crying.  And it is less than glamorous to have snot bubbles when you are speaking in front of a bunch of people.  But we still wanted to say something meaningful that gave honor to Braden’s memory, so we tried to make a plan.

Little did I know that Kid A’s plan involved practicing full stage makeup on the morning of the service for her part as the wolf in her ballet studio’s production of Peter and the Wolf, which is happening next weekend.  Two hours before we were leaving she came out of her room looking like this:

What are YOU wearing to the memorial service?

Fortunately, the black makeup all washed off.  When we got to the service we tried not to talk to anybody who might set us off crying.  We tried not to look at the happy pictures of Braden on the screen or leaning on the easel.  We didn’t read the Fitzgerald quote about courage on the back of the memory card that was perfectly suited for Braden.  But we listened as the guitarist played the music he loved.  And we sat in the high school auditorium seats and smiled and cried along with everyone else as his Grandad, Walt, his godmother, Lisa, and his friends, Jared, Emily, and Chris all spoke beautifully and from their hearts.  And then we stood up and walked to the podium together.

Kid A broke the tension by telling everyone that when Braden asked her to speak, she said, “F, no!”  Yes, my daughter pseudo-cursed at her ex-boyfriend’s memorial service and I could not have been more proud.  It was charming and fitting and Braden surely laughed a big belly laugh when he heard it.  Then she read a short passage that she wrote about Braden going off to college.  It was incredibly perfect for his memorial service, even though she wrote it months before he was diagnosed.  She was calm and composed and she got through the whole thing.  I asked her if it would be okay if I shared it here because it is so beautiful, and she said yes…

There once was a bird, brown – the color of hickory wood and milk
chocolate and worn leather, with wings too big for its body. It sang songs at
early hours of the morning and late at night, but never after sunrise, when
the other birds would join in. This brown bird liked to feel like it was the
only one up in the trees, the only one on the block, the only one on the
whole earth, when it sang.
It lived in the branches that rattled against our bedroom window
come summer nights, storms crashing through the sky like clockwork and
gone as quickly as they appeared. We would wake up every time it began to
sing, and though it wasn’t the prettiest birdsong we’d heard by any means,
something about what it projected had meaning, and we all knew we were
meant to listen. The brown bird sang to us about love and loss and
heartache and missing and empathy and pure joy, and about excitement
and fear and safety and comfort and family and friendship.
His big wings would have made another bird look out of proportion,
but they suited the brown bird just fine. He wouldn’t have been himself
without them, because besides singing, that bird loved to fly. He’d be gone
for days at a time, and the sticky summer air was empty without his song.
The night before a long trip, he would sing to us about all the places he’d be
going, and about how he was really just biding time in the branches outside
our window. Soon he’d leave for good. The next morning, a flash of
caramel in the waking sky would be our goodbye.
One spring, the brown bird sang for us one last time. The song wasn’t
sad, but it brought tears to our eyes. We had that bird on borrowed time,
and he had taught us about life, but we couldn’t hold him back any longer.
We listened to him sing through the night, and when the sun came up he
held a final note and was off.
We all loved that brown bird, and he loved us, but his wings were too
big for his body and they were made that way so he could fly away.
 

Then it was my turn to speak, so I wiped away my snot bubbles and held on to the podium with both hands.  Next time, I will share with you what I said to honor Braden.  Until then,

Wish me luck for tomorrow…