Monday, July 01, 2013

Coke Float Day. Then and Now.

It was an amazing day yesterday on many levels. Life has so many ups and downs and twists and turns. Sometimes several rollercoaster rides occur even before noon around our house! It is a tricky thing to find some sort of balance, but never more so than when it comes to grief and living with the loss of loved one, and holding onto those memories, but not letting them suck the joy out of the life you still live even though they're gone. We've been riding this coaster for years now and it is still a process of growing and learning for me. I think it always will be.
So yesterday was a special day for our family. It has been an extra special day since June 30, 2001. That was the day that Coke Float Day was set in motion. We just wouldn't know that until a year later when we made it official. Here is the story behind the original photo of Chip and Teagan. It was 11:00 at night and Teagan always stayed up late to have her Daddy time. She was a Daddy's girl through and through and a night owl too, which was a lucky thing for both of them because he worked late and long hours especially in the summertime. But she still had energy to dance and laugh and listen to Larry Lizard stories with Chip at bedtime. This night Chip came in, changed clothes and grabbed a cold can of Coke out of the refrigerator. Teagan was right on his heels. She wanted some pop too. "Please, Daddy?!" and those big blue eyes! How could a daddy who had spent his day with golfers coming in and out of the Pro Shop, say no to cute, big blues eyes like that...and a beckoning smile to go along with them? Well, the answer is that he couldn't. Not that night anyway. I was ready to crawl into bed, exhausted from home keeping and taking care of Teagan {4}, Brock {2} and Wyndham {just 6 months old} at that time. I wanted no part of Teagan drinking a sugary, caffeinated cola at that hour, I do remember that. However, not that many months earlier we had lived through the scare of our lifetime when Wyndham was just 3 weeks old and having trouble breathing and eating. I had found her turning blue and called 911- this after she had visited the ER 3 times already. Her subsequent trip by helicopter downstate to Hurley Hospital turned into a 5 day stay where the doctors had saved her life and we had been given a second chance at happiness with 3 small children again. Chip and I knew we had brushed death with Wyndham and that incident had given us a new perspective on life. Even when it was 11 o'clock and kids should be tucked into bed by that time of the night! In light of our heightened appreciation for the moments we had with our kids and how precious even the tired moments could be, we did something a little different that night.
Instead of me rolling my eyes and getting upset with Teagan for not wanting to settle in for the night or me grumbling at Chip that he should have waited to open his soda after she was in bed, I went to the cupboard and pulled out a couple of malt glasses. I pulled some vanilla ice cream from the freezer and the next thing you know happiness and delight filled the kitchen as Teagan realized she and Daddy were having a special date night and on the menu were Coke Floats! I remember her smiles and excitement so clearly. She had a way of lighting up a room and add a Coke Float and let's just say the happiness was palpable. Teagan and Daddy sat at her little table; I grabbed the camera. I had no idea that snapping a couple of photos of this simple moment in time was going to turn into anything bigger than the feeling we had of goodness and happiness at that shared moment in time. I knew I was happy that we were ending the day on a positive note. I was thankful for how we were living with intention about making the most of the time with our kids- which is why we were sipping Coke floats at such a late hour. I was glad to know that whatever I had done "wrong" that day as a mom was forgiven with such  ease as making a sweet bedtime treat. My heart was full that night knowing I had done something right and it was so well-received.
I couldn't have known that those few moments in the kitchen would turn into a memorial day for our family. I never dreamed that something as simple as a late-night Coke float would be one of the tickets our family has needed and used year after year, on which to build new happy memories and pull ourselves from the pit of sorrow that consumed us when Teagan died so suddenly exactly one month to that day later. I have written about how I was glad I didn't know what our future held for Teagan and our family back then. It most certainly would have brought dread into moments like these that we did have with Teagan in her final days on earth. We didn't know then, but we know now.
We know now that life is even more precious than we realized it was back then. We have learned that life is a gift every single day. We have learned that life with a Teagan-sized hole in our hearts can never be filled, but it can be recalled and celebrated and still enjoyed.
Anyone who has lost a loved one can tell you just how hard the first year is- every big and little thing that you miss about your loved one is magnified and the loss is felt in new ways over and over and over again until you feel you will run out of tears from all the sorrowing. The ache grows bigger and the hole feels larger as the reality takes hold and grips your heart and mind. Teagan was never coming back. She would never hug us or laugh or sing and play with us again. She would never stay up late and sleep in til noon. She was simply going to be missed. Every single day of the life we had left without her. That reality filled my heart and life with dread so many times. I have written about how I grieved her so much as I just tried to wash and fold a load of whites and her days of the week underwear were no longer in the pile to be folded. I spent hours looking through photo albums of the life we had shared with her and luckily captured on film too. The date stamped on the corner of those pictures sometimes just made my heart ache more. It was so stark in front of me that her life and come and gone and things we had loved and laughed and enjoyed with Teagan became a list of things in my heart I never wanted to do again because they would only make me miss her more and hate the reality of the life we were handed when she died.
As I flipped through the photo album and came upon pictures like Coke floats with her my heart ached. But I also had learned that hard lesson before she was gone that these kind of moments were so precious and the very things we wanted to enjoy in life! I knew in my heart that as much as my grief wanted to drown me and steal all the joy life held that I couldn't let that happen. And not because of me, but because I was still wanting to give Brock and Wyndham the life I had wanted to share with them and Teagan before she was gone. I knew that striking all the fun, happy things out of our life because they caused pain wasn't going to bring me more happiness, but instead they would bring more sorrow. More hurt.
That is how Coke Float Day was born. It didn't come from a family looking to be an inspiration to anyone. It didn't come from Chip and Jody thinking we could turn something so hurtful in our lives into a day of laughter, fun and special memories. It was born out of a sorrowing that hurt so deeply that we didn't want the pain to cut any further, so we looked for ways to make it stop. Even for moments at a time.
This year Coke Float Day was our most amazing one yet. With the ease of social media, like Face Book, it was simple for us to spread the word of our family's tradition of this day with others. Chip's golf club sent out a notice to all their pool and golf members that they could come to the club and enjoy a Coke Float in honor of Teagan's memory. I sent out an invitation to everyone of my friends on FB and gave a head's up about remembering to add soda pop and vanilla ice cream to their grocery lists. Our family spent most of the day at the club pool. We ate cheeseburgers and fries and drank our floats out of plastic cups. They were creamy and delicious. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. We were all healthy and happy. Watching other people walk up to the food service window and walk away with a Coke Float and a big smile on their face made my heart swell. Not in a prideful way at all. But in the bittersweet, humble way recognizing how God heals wounds in time and so painstakingly hard at times, but seeing the depth of our sorrow now putting joy and happiness on the faces and in the hearts of others brought me to tears. This time the tears on Coke Float Day flowed not out of pity or hurt our heartache, but out of the joy that I was glimpsing the way that God does make all things new. He has turned our sorrow to joy in even small ways. I sometimes don't see the joy or feel it long or hard enough. But I glimpsed it and tasted it yesterday. It was in the skip of a little red-haired girl in a yellow polka-dot swim suit. It was in the frothy mustache dripping down my own Teague's chin as he sipped his float. It was in the photos and notes and kind words shared by hundreds of our friends on Face Book yesterday. Each time we were tagged in some way I knew it was God letting us know that although this journey has, and continues to be long and hard, we are not alone. He is there. Friends are there. Strangers are there. Love is there. Teagan's memory lives on. Her life still brings joy to the lives and hearts of people around the world. Then and Now. My heart is blessed to know that although her days were short, her love and joy were so big that they still reach others. That is a gift that only comes from God. Teagan was and always will be our extra special gift!


Shannon said...

Thank you for this. My daughter was born a year ago on July 5th and lived for two hours. I have been so weepy and sad this week and am missing her so very much. But we are going to make her birthday a special day with our family and hopefully that will become tradition for us- to celebrate her birthday in Heaven with love.

Your posts (and your others) have been such an encouragement for me as I see that I WILL be ok and even though I'll always miss her, God is still good.

Christa said...