Lee and I met in New Orleans over New Years when I was 18 and he was 19, both of us freshmen in college, me at UNC and him at NC State. I tried to set him up with my friend Katherine, because she saw him first and that meant dibs, and I’ve never been more grateful for a failure than I am for my failure to be a matchmaker for the two of them. We fell hard and fast for each other in a matter of days, and right before we kissed at midnight, we made the New Years resolution that once we were back at school, we would try to make this thing work.
Sounds like a movie or something, right? I couldn’t make this stuff up, though. Our love really was a fairy tale.
We weren’t just Instagram filtered happy. We were happy. We were never one of those couples who existed in parallel to each other: no, we have always been so intertwined that it’s hard to tell where one of us ended and the other began. And yet, here we are.
Our first Valentine’s Day together, I had what student health called the worst case of mono they had ever seen. So we could celebrate, he showed up to my dorm room with a stuffed bear, some bland grocery store sandwiches that he knew I could stomach, a couple bottles of Gatorade, and a bag of Hershey’s Kisses so, as he said then, “I can still give you kisses.” He also brought battery-operated candles because this was in my dorm and real candles weren’t allowed. He was always more of a rule follower than me, him the steady while I’m the swirling.
I share that Valentine’s Day story because it is such a Lee story. He showed up in whatever way you needed. And he’s still showing up, in the ways all of you are loving us so well. Together, Lee and I stepped out in faith into so many hard and complex situations, trusting that we didn’t need to have it all figured out just yet, but that our people and our God would sustain us, and now I’m venturing into this new and unwanted reality with that same sort of faith.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that death is an amputation, and it sure feels that way right now. I feel like we are missing a part of ourselves. Lee and I had a joke between us, based on the Bible verse about how marriage is two becoming one flesh. We’d be talking to someone, and if they asked something of us and I said “sure, we can do that!” then after they walked away, he might whisper, “you meant that as the one flesh we, right?” And I would reply, “oh, yeah. I definitely meant you would do it. One flesh, right?”
I don’t think C.S. Lewis was right, though. His analogy is based in the ableism that says amputation lessens a person, but I know all of us who were touched by Lee are made better and fuller, our hearts made even more whole, by having him in our lives. The night I told the kids, one of them asked me, “why does this place right here hurt so badly?” I think a lot of us relate to that right now. And I’ll tell you what I told him, “it’s because you love Daddy big and he loved you big. We have big hurt right now because we had big love.” And that’s how it is - we’re always changing and growing, even having memories turn a bit blue like in the movie Inside Out when sadness touches them.
And having known Lee, none of us are made less by any of this. He made us all more, more of the people who God created us to be. As he often told the kids, “be good humans,” and we are all better humans because of him.
Another of the kids said to me recently, “Dad said once he wanted people to wear bright colors to his funeral and have it be a celebration... but I don’t think he knew he would die so young.” I agree. I’m not feeling colorful today, though his casket was one bright color and the vault for it painted bright red with an NC State logo on it, which shows how much I love him because - remember - I’m a Carolina girl.
I want to leave you with the words of one of our youngest ones, a greeting she gave to some visitors in our home this past week. “Hello. This is our house. In this family, we always have big feelings, but especially today. You can cry or you can laugh or you can do whatever you need to do. Whatever you feel is okay.”
Amen to that.
This week I’m assessing all things financial with the help of friends: learning what bills we have and how we pay each bill and what our monthly expenses are, all thing Lee knew or did. All that to say, we set an initial goal, but? It was arbitrary because I don’t even know what the heck for anything.
So grateful for all the help we’ve received so far and will receive as we figure all of this out. I know I can do this, with our amazing support system here, but I really hate that we have to.