Our world got rocked recently … ferociously shaken.

We lost a special friend … way too soon.

4- RJ - Goodbye
Helping us clean up the property where we want to grow blueberries.

This is RJ.  He has been a part of our blueberry adventure … a fixture in my life from the get go … and a river that ran through countless lives as evidenced by a funeral service that drew 3x’s the town’s population to say goodbye to this savvy, crusty, ornery, knew-no-strangers, old-timer.

It was pretty amazing really.  My tiny home town that sports only a bank and a post office and about 100 people (if that, any more) was squeezed to the gills last week with lawyers, successful businessmen (one who flew across the country), engineers, nurses, teachers, farmers, interior designers, mortgage brokers, and more.

All at the height of their careers, they took the day off to say good bye to a simple farmer who was content to live his whole life where he’d been planted … a man whose formal education stopped at high school … a man with an infectious laugh and life … an imperfect man … a man who made us all feel loved.

RJ loved the land and he loved people.  And oh could he talk!  In all honesty, we deliberated some of our visits as to how much time we had.  An intended 30 minute visit would never be that.  A simple, “we really need to be going,” inspired two or three more detailed stories … always.

He just always had more to say.

For those who “met” Dear Friend in my recent post,  The Fine Art of Being Stupid, you’ll be sad to learn that RJ, is Dear Friend’s partner of the last 40 years and a life long friend of my mom’s.  His mother and my grandmother were also close friends, making Mom and RJ more like siblings than friends … which made sense as they were both only children.

RJ’s death also brought a difficult dilemma in our journey with Mom and her battle with Lewy Body Dementia … do we tell her about his death? Just the week before he died, RJ and Dear Friend tried to visit, but Mom wasn’t up to visitors that day.  However …

However!  Just a few days before that attempted visit, Mom had one of the clearest days in months and suddenly lit up with an idea. “I wish Dear Friend could visit me on a day like today, and not on a day when I feel like pulling the covers over my head.   Let’s call her.”

So we did.  Mom even knew the phone number from memory that night. They laughed like school girls … or more honestly, like friends at a bar.  Before they talked though, RJ had answered the phone, and I could hear the shock register in his voice as he comprehended who he was talking to.

And I could hear the delight.  He really did treat her like a sister.

That hand off of the phone was the last exchange between Mom and RJ.  I’m thankful it was such a sweet one.  (It just occurred to me that I never had a chance to ask him how it felt to hear her doing so well … he always beamed when he heard that Mom was having good days.)

After counseling with Mom’s care team and deliberating all week before the funeral, I finally saw an opportunity to tell her that RJ had died. The plan was that if Mom seemed headed towards one of her strong days, we’d offer to take her to the service with us the next day. Not only was it an important goodbye, it also might be the last chance to see Dear Friend who would be leaving to live with family in another state.

Mom contemplated the news and said nothing, so I said no more.

From this experience though, I so appreciated the counsel I received, and I’m glad that we did tell her.  Even though Mom’s brain won’t always work with her, she still has a life, and she still has dignity and should be given the opportunity to process life events instead of pretending that they’re not happening. It’s okay if she’s sad … that happens any way with this disease.

There’s no dignity in trying to protect someone from sadness … at least that’s how I see it and what I’m learning.

Plus, I didn’t want someone outside of the family to tell her first… even if we have to tell her all over again.

With Mom, we’re being given a long goodbye.  With RJ, the goodbye was much too short.

Both hurt.

Both make me thankful for days we’ve been given … the people that season my life … the moments yet to live … sweet or sour.

Below are glimpses of what the world looked like the morning after RJ left us.  I had gotten a call late the night before and went to spend the night with Dear Friend until her family could get into town.

What a fitting morning, as RJ’s dog and I rounded the neighborhood that had been part of his home for just short of 75 years. The first chill wind and grey clouds of the season per-chanced on us that day … I guess the heavens were sad too … a reminder that God knows our sorrows. And yet … yet, the sun managed to smile at us for a few moments … a reminder also that there is hope in even beyond the darkest clouds.

What caught me the most, was the random chair and arrow in the middle of nowhere.  I assumed it was related to harvest trucks waiting to be checked in at the grain bin that is not visible in the picture … but, you know, in all the years I’ve been around at harvest, I have never seen this before.

Could it be – I had a crazy thought – that an angel had left it there for RJ and much like the bus stop in C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce or the closet in Chronicles of Narnia … could this have been his portal?

Likely not … not a very sound theological idea, I know … but my deepest prayer and hope is that RJ found peace, joy, and the awe of a Heavenly Father who welcomed him home when he left us and shook our world that day.

Funny thing … that chair wasn’t there the next time I went by.

Goodbye, RJ … oh my, how we miss you already.

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