Empty Closets and Haven Tables

My little sister is getting married in June.

It is a tremendously exciting occasion. There literally is no one on the planet for whom I could be happier. She deserves the kind of love her fiance gives her more than most of the population…because she is that nice, that kind, that pure, and that special.

We actually share the same DNA, which is kind of hard to believe sometimes.

As insanely happy as I am for her and all that goes with it, a stormy cloud hovers. It can’t be helped.

Because our daddy left on purpose, knowing this was most likely going to happen, knowing he was going to be asked for permission, knowing it was right.  Knowing it was right around the corner.

It is just one more thing on the long list of confounding things that make existing without him not only unbearable, but disorienting. It leads to more why questions.

It makes zero sense.

Because the daddy I knew wouldn’t have missed this. He just wouldn’t have.

But he is going to miss it anyway.

And my baby sister deserves more.

She is going to have her dream wedding. It is going to be in the church in which she grew up. It is going to be officiated by the man who was not only her childhood preacher, but a man who was one of our daddy’s very best friends, a man who loves my whole family like we are his. Because we kinda are. He chose us, and we chose him. Her reception is going to be at the home of one of my mama’s very best friends. I lived with her for 3 months before I got married. She has been a steadfast part of our lives since forever. She offered her home because she deeply wanted my mama to accept it as the venue for my sister’s reception. My older cousin is going to sing. My younger cousin is going to read scripture. She has chosen a dress that is exquisite. Her flowers are going to be arranged with the love of people who love her. The food is going to be prepared by dear friends who want to make sure every guest leaves remembering her wedding. The band that will play at the reception will be led by the same man who played the piano at my daddy’s service out of the kindess of his heart….the same man who will make her reception the joyous occasion that it should be.

It is going to be perfect.

All of the people my sister loves the most, and all of the people who love my sister, will be there, exhilarated to watch her say “I do” to the love of her life.

Everyone, except the man she loved first.

And that, quite simply, is absurd.

We all know it. We all feel it. And it makes me see red when I think about my precious little sister having to plan for the happiest day of her life while she is living the saddest period of her life.

Because it shouldn’t be happening this way.

And yet, she is handling it so much better than I.

I have come to realize, though, in the last few months, that she is so much stronger than I. Maybe not on the surface, and you may not see it…but I do.

She is the forgiver and the peace-maker.

I am the shield-holder and the sword-yielder.

She is the one who will injest ugly words someone says to her, cry over them, take them to heart, and wonder what she did to make someone say something so awful…even if the person standing in front of her is a horrible miscreant who deserves no mercy.

I’m the one who wants to protect everyone I love from the horrible miscreant.

I don’t invite confrontation–actually, the opposite….I hate drama. I don’t go out looking for it. But, if confrontation is brought to me, I don’t run from it. I try to be diplomatic. I try to be mature. I try to get the elephant in the room, out of the room. And I will admit that I’m wrong when I know I am wrong.

But, I’m also not afraid to say it if it needs to be said.

And still…she is stronger. I know this.

And knowing this makes me ashamed that it is she who should be falling apart while planning her wedding without our daddy.

Instead, it is I.

Last night, dear friends of my family threw a beautiful engagement party in her honor. They did it because they have wanted to do it for forever. They did it because they are almost as happy as I am about the fact that she has found an humble, polite, genuine, generous, thoughtful, selfless guy–who still loves to hunt and fish and goes to work with a gun strapped to his side–a guy I honestly didn’t know existed. He is the male version of the unicorn. And he chose my sister….because he sees in her what we see in her. And I couldn’t love that boy more for it.

But, from the moment I knew the party would occur, I had a knot in my stomach. All of those people. All of my parents friends. In one place. At one time.

And the hole in that party would be enormous. I knew, even when it was in the planning stage, that I would be looking for my daddy all night long.

So, what could I do but start putting my Precautions in place as early as I could. I tried to figure out the best entrance, the easist and most appropriate way I could sneak into the party and remain at the party and not run from the party as far, far away as I possibly could.

Because with these new phobias, I knew without a doubt I couldn’t walk in the front door. I couldn’t walk in not knowing who and to how many to I would be walking toward.

The fear of not knowing was overwhelming. It was debilitating. I know my limitations. I know what I can do and what I can’t do.

And I self-protect very well. I have to, or I couldn’t function.

I self-protect, or I couldn’t make the party.

And I had to make the party.

I knew, from the first mention of said party, that I knew I would not be able to pretend to be my old self–that girl, that girl who knows how to work a room and greet everyone who needs to be greeted and smile that smile and do the things any Southern girl with manners knows to do when she is attending a party, especially a party for her little sister.

I knew I couldn’t, because I’m not that girl anymore. I feel very similar to a snake who has shed its skin and doesn’t know what color the new layer of protection is going to be. I haven’t quite discovered what the new girl, the new me, will look like.

I’m still in the process of shedding.

And so, I prepared the only way I could. I called on My Tribe.

And, as always, they came through. They always do.

But there are so many things for which even a savvy, self-protector like myself can’t prepare.

And I couldn’t prepare for seeing all of the shirts gone in my daddy’s closet just a couple of hours before my baby sister’s engagement party.

I didn’t mean to see that which wasn’t there.

I was only in my parents closet because I had to take something to my mama for the party, and she tried on her pretty outfit that she was to wear that night for me. And I happened to see, while standing in her bathroom, that all of my daddy’s pants were still on hangers, but his shirts were gone.

I wasn’t upset that she gave them away. Not at all. Not in the least.

I just wasn’t prepared.

And I don’t do well at all when I am not prepared.

So, on a day for which I had been preparing diligently, I was hit with something unexpected, something new.

Something bare.

Another piece of him had disappeared.

And he was even less there than he was already not there.

I had prepared for the party. I had not prepared for a closet void of my daddy’s shirts.

And I just didn’t recover well.

But….the tribe made sure I recovered enough to at least attend. And attend I did. My husband and one of my head tribe-members drove me while I cried, talked me down when I panicked, and found the back way to a back patio with a lone table waiting just for me. It was tucked away. It was out of sight. It was still part of the party, because it was set for the party.

Which meant, it was still appropriate.

Which meant, it was a haven.

It was a haven when all I could see was a half-empty closet.

It was a haven when all I could feel was abandoned. It was a haven when I wanted to fight for my sister who had to have felt much more abandoned than I. On that night. During this season.

It was a haven that offered a place where I could handle the accumulation of people, people who would come to me one or two at a time, when I knew I could not handle the  individual faces in mass that together would create one big Picasso, an abstract art form, melding together, creating one face who loved my daddy.

I was so grateful for that table.

And I was grateful for the people who dared to approach me, who knew they could, who did. I was grateful even when their hugs lasted a long time, because they needed to just hold on to me for a long time. They didn’t have to say. The long seconds of pats said.

I was even grateful for my daddy’s friend, one I just hadn’t seen in a long while, who walked out to me and the sight of him made me weep on his chest. I don’t know why exactly.

Except I do.

Because he was a symbol, a symbol for the dozens of men in my life to whom my daddy was close. He was a symbol for the dozens of men in my life to whom my daddy was close who were inside at the party. Because he was a symbol for my daddy. He was a reminder of my daddy.

I wanted my daddy. I wanted him so damn bad.

I wanted his shirts back in his closet.

I wanted to be inside and not at my haven table, in the mix of the party where I knew I belonged, watching him extend his hand to one of his many friends, smiling that my daddy smile and reading his lips when he said something like, “Hey, boy. Appreciate you doing this.”

I wanted to sit next to him and tell him which food was good and which he wouldn’t like.

I wanted to just be there tonight and be his daughter.

I just wanted it to be the way it should have been.

He should have been there. And I should have been able to be me.

Instead, and thank heavens, it was full of my tribe members who came outside in the cold to find my haven table and me, because they wanted to, because they knew I needed them, even if they had to watch me wring my hands and tear up and be scared to be there.

They edured it. They endured it with me.

It was full of honorary tribe members, those too far removed to be actual tribespeople, those who are my mama or my daddy’s tribespeople, who knew they could come and get the long hug and give the tender pats and say what they wanted, needed to say without using words.

It was full of understanding.

It was full of I get it-s.

Even and especially from my ever-understanding sister who wasn’t in the least offended that I didn’t see her beautiful face until right at the very end.

She was just her…the one who just loves, no matter what.

I left the same way I came…crying. Because it is so damn happy. And it is so damn sad. And I don’t know how to exist in that perfect storm without tears. They just come with the storm.

But because of my precautions, because of my tribe, and most importantly, because of her, I did it.

How I will stand in front of all of those people in that church and listen to that music and watch her become his wife and not fall to my knees in agony and in elation, I have no idea.

But I will begin to prepare. And my tribe will do what they do.

Because I don’t know what else to do.

Because there are some things that are non-negotiable.

Because I am still shedding.

She may have to endure the absense of our daddy on the happiest day of her life, but by damn, I will stand beside her while she gets married…because she didn’t deserve what he did to her….I don’t deserve what he did to me….but I will stand there, in front of a church full of people, and I will be terrified. I will beg to be invisible…except to her. I will want her to see me. I will want her to know that, as soon as it is over, I may run for a haven table….but while, during…

I will stand beside her.

Because she deserves it. Because she is worth it. Because I am her big sister, sheild-holder and sword-wielder, and I will protect her day, her moment.

My little sister is getting married in June, and I will stand beside her on purpose.

3 thoughts on “Empty Closets and Haven Tables

  1. Remember that he will be looking down from Heaven on the joyous occasion why he left we will never know no matter how many calls I go to the one of his will always hurt the most. I will never forget it – my knees buckled and I sobbed too. I had to sit down no call has ever effected me like his. To lose someone you have known all those years and went to church with and talked to and got advice from was very traumatic. The only thing that I could comprehend was something on a little card that Father Sebastian Hill sent to people with losses and it said “Death is not extinguishing the light but turning out the lamp because the morn has come” and every time I think of him and that is so often I remember the wonderful person that he was and not dwell on the why of what happened. Do I still dwell on it, yes I do. My only joy is that one day we will see each other in Heaven. My love and prayers will be with all of you always.


  2. I know words don’t help you but I always tell people when someone is taken from them, that this is a temporary home and we are just traveling through. One day you will get the answer you so deserve. We can’t question God’s will. Just live each day and be there for your sister on her special day. Take care of yourself. It was hard for Kim and Karen when they lost their daddy but they live in his memories. Just remember the good times!!


  3. The beautiful words flow out of your beautiful self. I understand your grief and fear, with every special occasion my stomach aches because Big isn’t there, but I put on my smile and I go through the motions and I gather support from my family and friends. You will stand strong on Anna’s big day and you will be beautiful because you will be surrounded by all those that love you and your family. I love You! Nanny


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