The first time I met Ty and Terri I was in a hotel room in Omaha, NE. Makenna had recently learned to walk, and was in the middle of using my pregnant belly as a trampoline when Ty and Terri swept into the room with their four children in tow. If they thought it was unusual to sit on a hotel bed with strangers while five children bounced like ping-pong balls around the room, they did not show it. The introduction and sharing of names was all the small talk they desired, and then they immediately went deep asking about our hopes and fears. We talked about the job interview my husband had the next day, and I remember sharing that we were nobodies from Nowhere, and I couldn’t understand why they would consider us for such a job. Ty grabbed chubby-legged Turner off of his back and flipped him on to the mattress while looking directly at me and saying, “Why not you?” When they left, I remember thinking, “I want to be just like them.”
After we moved to Omaha, Terri would call every once in a while to ask if Makenna could play with her and Emily and Annie for the day. “Put every dress she owns in the diaper bag,” she told me. “We are going to change her clothes every half hour.” I soon had babies in bulk, and was so tired I sometimes couldn’t tell the difference between being awake and being asleep. I remember watching Emily, Annie, Tyler and Turner interact respectfully with people, articulate themselves clearly, and put their own shoes on, and I felt myself longing for that stage of parenting. I wondered if the preschool years were good enough or if I would have to wait until the elementary years to really enjoy the daily parenting duties.
“What stage of parenting has been the best?” I asked Terri one afternoon in her kitchen.
She put down the plate she was loading with cookies, got a dreamy look in her eyes, and said, “I love every stage the most. Every stage is its own thing, and then it is over, and if you don’t love it when it is happening, you’ll wish you did once it is over. So, I love every stage the most.”
That pretty much changed my life. I began figuring out how to love the stage we were in without longing for the past or the future. Terri kept encouraging me even after we moved away. I’d get sporadic, short emails, usually in response to my blog which she subscribed to, just saying something positive. When I decided to publish a book, Ty called and gave me all his publishing knowledge, and I noticed that he ended each conversation by saying, “Bless you guys.” And I did feel blessed.
I have no idea what Miss Holman’s fourth grade classroom looked like most of the year, but I can describe it down to the smell and sound on the day that Ronald Reagan was shot. The human mind has a curious way of etching every detail of tragic days on the permastructure of our memories. I can perfectly replay the day the twin towers fell, or the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. And, regretfully, I will never forget the day I read the text message carrying the news of the tragic accident that claimed the lives of Ty and Terri. I will never forget flinging my phone across the room as if it were on fire and staring it down in reprimand for saying such nonsense. I won’t forget waking up crying because during sleep was the only time my mind could admit the truth I couldn’t accept. Even now, days later, I can barely type these words because the black and white lends a permanence I want to reject.
Thousands of us grieve, but I worry most for Emily, Annie, Tyler and Turner. If I could, I would take them all far away where every memory was new and not a painful reminder of the past. Or I would build them a time machine they could use whenever they feel sad. Or I would wrap their hearts in bubble wrap so they wouldn’t have to feel such sharp sorrow. But, they don’t really know me that well, so they’d probably just call the police on me if I did anything remotely close to any of those ideas. I think, though, what will save them, and all of us, in the end is the feeling I had when I first met Ty and Terri – the feeling of wanting to be just like them. Because, really, weren’t they just like Jesus?
“I loved every stage the most.”
“Bless you guys.”
And I do feel blessed. We all do.