An Unexpected Gift

Yesterday after work I was wandering through Publix grabbing Dad’s groceries and was just about to check out when I heard a rather quiet voice behind me say “Mr. Roger?”. I turned around to see Jessica, one of T.J.’s former girlfriends, and a close friend of the family as a whole, with her young daughter in the fold-out seat of her buggy. As I turned, she stretched out her arms and gave me a big hug while quietly saying the words “Mr. Roger I am SOOO sorry about T.J…..it broke my heart….I just can’t imagine……I am so sorry.” Naturally, those tears that are never very far from the surface started welling up. I couldn’t stop them. I couldn’t hide them. They were at the surface in an instant. My vocal chords were paralyzed. All I could do was hug back.

The tears and the silence made her slightly uncomfortable and she apologized for making me cry, but then she looked down at her own daughter in the seat of the buggy and once again said “I can’t imagine….” and her own voice trailed off. I was able to take a breath and reassure her that it really was OK and to thank her. We then were able to talk about Drew, Chelsea and the twins, the property in Kentucky, Javi “making me” run most of a 5k, being “Poppy”, and truly loving getting to be “Poppy” to the twins, and generally catching up in a couple of minutes before she hugged me again and went on with her own shopping as Dad’s items began to get beeped across the checkout scanner by a high school kid that was probably wondering what in the heck all of that was about.

It was just a chance meeting at Publix, but this one will probably stick with me for a while. I was able to say the words “Thank you” but not in the way I’d like to have. There is SO much more to my appreciation than just for the condolences, yet that is the way it was most likely received. As many have said before, it is an appreciation for remembering T.J.. For acknowledging T.J.’s life as well as his loss. It was saying his name. It was validation. For him and for me.

As I sit here and think about it, it was a first for me. I’ve ran into random friends or acquaintances in stores, restaurants, or parking lots in the last 2 ½ years, and 1 or 2 have acknowledged my part in all of this with “How are you doing (really)?” or just a simple hand on my shoulder as they walk away that implies condolences when they don’t have words……..and, yes, all of those are OK and are definitely appreciated.

Jessica said his name.

Yes, it hurts to remember. Yes, it brings up emotions that some of us think we should have beaten into submission by now. But, again, as many have said before, it hurts for people to remember but it would hurt far worse for people to forget.

So, to Jessica: Thank you……in all of the ways I couldn’t say yesterday.

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