Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It's Not Just What I Lost…It's What I Never Had.

I'm realizing that my daily experiences are constant reminders of not only what I lost, but what I never had. I realize this truth quite often, usually several times throughout the day. There is grief over what I lost, but also what I never had and never will have. For example, not only did I lose my parenting partner, I never had a chance to hear his insight on how we would handle certain issues if they arose with our kids. The big things…yes…we talked about them. I feel pretty sure I know how he would deal with most things and I know how I would like to. BUT, some of the smaller things, things I am probably not even supposed to be aware of yet at this stage in parenting, I'm not so sure about. I never had the opportunity to fulfill our dream of taking the boys to Disney together. I never had the opportunity to tell him some of the things I would have liked to tell him. Even simple things I never had him do, like him showing me all of his amazing techniques to teach and coach kids in the game of baseball. Why would I have needed him to do that? That was HIS thing…HIS passion, and I loved seeing him "in action."
Cooper and his dad working on hitting the ball off the tee early last spring.
I believe that's the reason this past weekend was so difficult for me. Cooper, my youngest, started baseball for the first time. He has lived on the baseball fields since birth, practically. It started in a stroller and then on to the fun age of running everywhere…even into the dugout or onto the field, when my attention was distracted in the moment. Needless to say, Coop has been around baseball A LOT! His dad started teaching him a few things last spring in the back yard, but didn't go into too much. I remember him saying, "I will work with Cooper next spring and he'll be ready." Little did I know then, that this would be the only opportunity Cooper had to experience his dad's love of baseball and gift of coaching it…

"next spring" will not come for his dad.
Cooper ready for his first practice!
So, I watched as Cooper seemed a little lost out on the field with boys who had already played for a season or two. Many of them had their dads there to help coach and work with the boys on the field. (Side note…it really does take an army of assistant coaches at the 6 and under level). It stirred up so much within me. It simply made me so sad.
 Being there seemed foreign in so many ways. I'm not used to being at practices for baseball…I never really had to. Cooper and I showed up for the games to cheer his dad and brothers on. I made sure bat bags were ready, water bottles were filled, snacks were packed, and uniforms were washed. Anything more than that was his territory and I was happy to let him be in his element. So, there I was, watching my little boy try to do his best without any direction from his dad, who would have loved every minute of this opportunity. I think he is on a great team with wonderful coaches…I just wish his dad were one of them!
One of the Dodger teams Rod coached. Some of these boys played for him for years! 
Coaching Colby's Ranger team. This was Colby's first year to play.  These guys were 4 and 5 years old!
Carson and Colby with their dad after Colby's team won the championship
It's funny the things I know I will miss…sunflower seed shells everywhere…the ones I used to complain about, that were literally ALL over the house and cars! I'm going to miss his stinky jerseys, the sweat-lined ball caps, the clipboards with plays and line-ups, the thousands of sticky notes with thoughts that came to mind and strategies for the next game, empty gatorade bottles everywhere, and the red dirt that covered every square inch of our house, when he insisted the boys take their cleats off outside, but he never would! I will miss buckets of baseballs consuming a good portion of the trunk. I'm going to miss listening to him talk about ways he could incorporate teaching this character trait or that life lesson in a practice. One of the last things he said to me was the night after he had coached 2 all-star games that day…"Missy, I absolutely LOVE coaching these boys. I would do this full time if I could get paid for it and support us…it is my dream job!" He really meant that. There is something comforting knowing that was one of the last things he was thinking about before he went to bed that night and never woke up again. Baseball made him happy. Really happy. I'm smiling to know it was one of the last things on his mind. And I'm sad that he will not be here to enjoy his last son learning the game he loved so much.
Carson with his dad- Bombers 2013
Colby with his dad- Rockies- 2013

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Words Matter: A Different Valentine's Day Perspective!

Valentine's Day. It came and it went. I braced myself for it for weeks. Every time I walked into a store, there was no avoiding the sea of red. Shelves full of hearts and cards and flowers and candy. I took a deep breath in and plowed full steam ahead to get whatever it was I had walked in for. It was a mad dash to get out of there as quickly as possible.

It was interesting that it stirred up those emotions in me. You see, Bunky's birthday falling on February 13th, the day before, usually meant there was a dimmer spotlight on Valentine's Day. His thoughts about V day were basically that it is a "Hallmark holiday" and that if you love someone, well then, you should show them that EVERY day…not on a day making money off your emotions.

Does that mean he didn't participate? Of course he did. Reluctantly. He usually got me flowers of some kind, maybe some chocolate, but always a card. The card was always what I really wanted the most. He knew that. Unbelievably, I found my Valentine's card from him from last year in a drawer the other day when I was looking for a flashlight. It even had 2013 written on it. I'm so thankful I didn't throw it away. Here's what he wrote inside the card:


 Thank you for being my best friend in life. You are an awesome mother. 
I have the utmost respect for your patience and influence with our boys.
You really amaze me! I am very fortunate to be blessed by God 
to have you as my wife.
Thank you for being you! I love you more everyday and cannot imagine life without you.

With all my love,

I will treasure this forever. I'm thankful he took the time to get a card and to write in it. I'm thankful I found it at just the right time.

So, the actual day came and my boys were amazing. They gave me cards, flowers, and a box of chocolate (some friends helped out with this…thank you). In the card, Carson wrote, "We will get through this together." Now, that choked me up! Those 3 boys are going to take good care of me, because their daddy showed them what it looked like to do that well. I'm grateful for that. Otherwise, I had lunch with some of my favorite girlfriends, received lots of flowers, gifts, and chocolate. My neighbor even joked that my kitchen island looked like a florist shop! Then, my parents came in town for the weekend that evening. I think I just kept myself so busy, that it seemed to go by quickly. It also probably had something to do with the fact that Bunky's birthday was a very long, emotional day for me and there just weren't a lot of tears left. 
My perspective is different now. I couldn't agree with Bunky's beliefs more. Valentine's Day IS just a big ole red-hearted, candy crazed, commercialized day, where expectations are high. Where many go out and spend lots of money on things that just "waste" away- to say what? "I love you?" I would take a heart-felt card that was just given for no good reason, over those things any day. This is what speaks to someone's heart and makes them feel loved and cherished…your words, NOT your candy or flowers. 

Words matter. 
Speak them. 
Write them.
Type them. 
Share them. 

Take the opportunity to communicate your love to those who hold your heart. You won't be sorry! Every day could be your last. Have you left your words to be cherished? I'm sure glad Bunky did.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Celebrating a Man Well-Loved

February 13, 1971, Rodney Lane Cook was born. I will forever be thankful for that day. I can't help but think that God had an extra special smile on his face, knowing what his life would entail and the impact he would have on others in the 42 years that were to come. I am blessed to have been a part of that time he was given on this earth.

The day was hard. No other words to describe how I longed for him to be here to celebrate his 43rd birthday. That is what I wanted. That is what his boys and family and friends wanted. It was not God's plan, however; and I had to sit in that.


I sobbed and I also smiled and laughed as I remembered him. I felt a peace that only could've come from Christ. There is something just breath-taking to feel covered in prayer. I knew many prayers were spoken yesterday as I felt heartbroken, yet held by God at the same time.

I finished putting together a book of memories for the boys. Stories continue to come in and will be added to the book as they do. At last count there were over 75 different stories, written by people who were touched by him in so many facets of life. Whether it was someone who knew him for a long time or only had a brief encounter with him…HE MADE A DIFFERENCE IN PEOPLE'S LIVES! He fulfilled what he hoped for in this life. That was to make his "dash"- the years between his birth and his death, really count! Boy, did they ever…I don't know of anyone who could've packed more life into 42 years!

The boys and I will cherish these stories and memories for years to come. So, for those who took the time to do this THANK YOU! I will continue adding to the book, so if you knew him and feel led to write something, please send it to me.

Last night we celebrated and honored Bunky's birthday…his 1st in Heaven…by sending up sky lanterns with friends and Bunky's dad who live around the area. It was really a last minute idea, but I was overwhelmed with the people who came to do this with us. Such a special night!

It's hard to tell in the pictures…but the lanterns were beautiful floating to the sky.  They almost looked like colorful stars as they got farther away!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Colby's 8th Birthday

Colby Watson Cook turned 8 years old today. He is our 2nd of 3 boys. I remember the day he was born like it was yesterday. You see, my first born, Carson, was as close to a perfect pregnancy as you can have. I was induced about 5 days before his due date and he arrived as a healthy 8 lb 6 oz bundle of joy. Of course, the days that followed proved to rock our world. He had terrible colic and screamed non-stop for the first 3 months of his life. Had Bunky not been an only child himself, who really wished for siblings, we would have stopped with Carson.
I went into premature labor at 32 weeks with Colby and they were able to stop labor at the hospital. However, I was sent home to be on official bed rest for at least the next couple of weeks. Basically, it stunk. I like to be moving…especially if I am told NOT to (that's just the rebel in me). The day of my appointment, 2 weeks later, Bunky and I planned to go eat Mexican food after meeting with the doctor. I had felt a little "crampy" but not too bad. Well, as it turned out…I was in labor and dilated to 7cm and didn't realize it. My doctor told me to go straight to the hospital and she would meet me there. I said, "I guess we can't go eat Mexican food first?" and I meant it. I was not happy about missing out on that. She kindly told me "not unless you want to have a baby in a Mexican restaurant."

So, 2 hours later. Colby arrived 6 weeks early and weighed 7 pounds! He was in the NICU for over a week because his lungs just weren't ready. In the months after, Colby had several other medical issues, which turned out to be nothing. They were definitely stressful at the time, but thankfully, nothing of great concern. We called him "Triple H"...He wore a helmet for 6 months, which his dad insisted we paint to make him look like a little Alabama football player. He also had multiple hemangiomas all over his body (about 35 of them!), which can sometimes be indicative of internal hemangioma and life threatening. His were not, and they eventually went away. Then, last but not least, he had a pretty common hernia surgery.

I know most people could care less about all these details. I just feel the need to record everything, even more than normal right now. There is just an awareness that I am now the only one who cares about or may remember details. My new reality is that things can change in an instant…and they really do. If you are thinking about it, do it. You may not have another opportunity.

I will wrap this up. We had a big weekend celebrating Colby with friends and family. I know he felt loved and celebrated. I also know there is just an underlying awareness that his dad is not here. I see it all over his face, even if he is pretty "non-emotional" about it all. Birthdays really are just awful for me. Who do I have to reminisce with about our son's births? Who is as proud as I am to watch them accomplish little things that seem unimportant to others? Who cares as much as I do that they are made to feel special? Who views them through a parent's eyes? That ONE who does all those things is not here to do those things that parents do and he's not here to think about the things a parent thinks about with me. I just miss him so much on these days and I think especially with Colby's birthday, since they celebrated being February birthday boys together.
That is a monkey on the cookie cake, by the way. He is  having a fascination with monkeys right now!
Colby is such a total package. He is kind, quiet, and gentle, yet feisty when he wants to be. He is tender, yet tough. He is laid back and easy going, yet determined and aggressive if there is something he is going after. Colby is grateful and notices little things others do for him. His heart is big. He is a wonderful brother and loyal friend. Colby's smile and laughter are far-reaching, just like his eyelashes! He can melt your heart. He is low key, low drama, and it takes a lot to get him "rattled." However, once he gets upset over something…he feels it fully! Colby also has a really great sense of humor. You are LOVED big Colby Cook. Happy 8th Birthday!!

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Giraffe

Hard to believe it has been 7 months. I'm not really finding too many words to describe the ache of loneliness I feel without my husband. Evenings are the most difficult. It is quiet. Too quiet. I walk into my room and crawl into my king-sized bed (picture a large ocean engulfing a small life boat). That's how I feel when I climb in each night. I still find myself reaching over to see if he is there in the middle of the night and during the groggy early morning hours, only to the reality that he is not. My sadness in those moments of reality wake me. I pray and beg God to help me go back to sleep without tears and sadness, that all too often keep me awake.

I also wake up cold a lot without him next to me. He used to joke and say, "Missy, you have a major circulation problem," because my hands and feet were always so cold. It was actually fun to try to touch him with my cold feet just to make him almost jump out of the bed. Most times, he would oblige and let me put my cold feet on his warm legs to try to "thaw" them. I can't tell you how many pairs of really warm and fuzzy socks he bought for me over the years. I never imagined how much I would miss his ability to warm my toes!

When he was in the Cardiac Critical Care Unit at Vanderbilt, the Child Life Specialist brought some things for the boys. She brought a little stuffed giraffe, which the boys decided should be left in their dad's hand to "comfort" him. That little giraffe stayed there in his hand for those few days as we waited to see if God would work a miracle and bring him back to us. I remember the nurses being careful as they messed with IV's, to be sure the giraffe stayed right there, so his boys would see it there when they came to visit their dad.
After he died, I kept the giraffe. We talked about putting it in his casket. Thankfully, I thought that it would probably be something we would want to keep since it was held by him for those final days. I'm glad we did. Unashamedly, I now hold that little giraffe EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. Somehow that tiny stuffed giraffe brings me comfort, in the midst of sleeping in my "ocean." I picture his big hand holding it and imagine what it would feel like, just to hold his hand one more time. If only I could. What I do know, is that God does  hold me in HIS big hands…each and every minute of each and every night and day. For that reason alone, I hold onto hope and look forward to the day my loneliness and tears will be wiped away.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Father & Son Bowl 2014

Today was one of those days that felt extremely hard. So hard that I unconsciously broke away from the moment several times. It's difficult to explain, but sometimes I cope by unplugging myself from the reality of my situation. It is almost like I am outside of myself, hovering above, watching what is going on. I can hardly remember my conversations with people, even though I know I had them. It's enough to make me question if I am really crazy. I know I am not. I know it is part of experiencing loss and grief. Still, it can make you scratch your head, wondering if you were really even present.

Father & Son Bowl, which is an amazing event for boys and dads or "father figures" in their lives, is put on each year by a local church in Franklin. Bunky absolutely loved it! After all, he loved football, his boys, and being around friends…so this was a perfect venue for just that. There has even been mud involved, which only adds to the element of FUN! The pictures below are from the last 2 years with Carson and Colby at F/S Bowl.

Today was that day. Just the mere name "Father & Son" mentioned in combination with each other has felt like a dagger right in the heart to me and to Carson, especially. The same dads and sons who have always played together in years past, played again together today. They included my boys, knowing it might be difficult for them, yet wanting them to have the opportunity if they so chose. I'm thankful and sad at the same time. 

For weeks, Carson has debated about whether he would want to play. Many tears and talks have transpired between us. It was laid out there. No pressure. No disappointments if he chose not to. He finally decided last night that he would do it. I'm so glad he did and I'm proud of him for pressing through, but would have totally understood if he didn't. Cooper got to play this year for the first time. All I could think about was what a blast Bunky would have had with all 3 of them on the field. He would have conspired for weeks about strategies and game plans with them…I can hear it as clearly as if he were standing right here next to me. 

So, I watched. I smiled. I even laughed at times. However, I would be lying if I said I wasn't aware of my deep longing for him to be there. My heart just ached. I was enthralled with an "angry sadness" that I buried somewhere inside for the duration of the game. Watching these dads with their boys is just hard sometimes. I wanted to get in the car and just bawl my eyes out, but I didn't. It would have ruined their moment of enjoying it. I love these people God has placed in our lives and I'm thankful for the wonderful fathers they are to their boys. They love their sons, just like Bunky loved his. They have extended that love to my boys…not to even try to fill Bunky's shoes, because they know that is impossible, but to offer something that I can't as a mom. What a gift!