If I could trade a day for a day

Leslie Parker, Featured Columinst

      If  I could trade a day for a day I would trade the worst day of my life for tomorrow, or tomorrow’s tomorrow, or tomorrow tomorrow’s tomorrow’s tomorrow.

The worst day of my life was Oct. 9, 2011.

I remember every detail about that day from the moment I opened my eyes that morning to the moment I closed them that night.

It was one of those days that felt more like a year. So much happened in it. It ended with a sleepless night, as did the ones before it. None of us got much sleep during this time. It didn’t help that Blake, Shelby, Julie and I were limited to the legendary air mattress if we wanted to get any rest at all. We woke up that morning overlapped and sprawled out on the cheap, scratchy and not to mention noisy Dollar General air mattress that was hardly even a bed anymore. It had suffered through so many beach trips, backyard campouts, Christmas Eves and slumber parties with all of us kids that now it was only good for providing a thin layer between the ice-cold hardwood floor and my body. The noises coming from the front room where the nurse was didn’t help.

I remember waking up that morning and just sitting in the living room with my cousins on that ancient air mattress. Eerie, that’s what it was. We said no words, made no moves – just sat there. There was nothing else to do; we were already doing everything we ever could just being there with each other. We sat with nothing but the humming of the machines from the next room in our ears and the nurse rustling about beginning his usual morning routine, checking to see where he was at, how much more time we had. Synchronously we all rustled about too, for this was our signal that it was time to begin our routine as well.

Blake shakes out his hair. Julie stretches out her arms. Shelby checks her phone. I pick up my scattered tissues. When we all finish fidgeting we look at each other, holding each other’s eyes. Then we hear it. We are used to it by now. I no longer cringe. Shelby no longer runs away. Julie doesn’t cry. Blake doesn’t punch things. Every second of every minute of every hour, it’s all we’ve heard. We are used to it now. It is the sound of him dying.

We get dressed. Ronnie makes eggs and bacon, Laurie makes monkey cake, Lynn hogs the sole bathroom. Mom talks on the phone, Mikey babysits, Dad does all he can just being there and helping when needed. The other spouses run around running all the errands, and Memaw, their mom, sits by him. The rest of the day goes on. We do the things that need to be done. We follow the routine, feeding ourselves, cleaning, showering, doing homework, making arrangements. The world keeps spinning and miraculously, life goes on. And Memaw – well, she sits by him.

Lots of people stop by. They hug me too tight and kiss me too much. They bring lots of yummy food that comes in rectangular dishes and sits on the kitchen table, making our stack even higher. They talk too much and cry too hard. They stay too long and try so hard. Then they say their goodbyes, which are only slightly less annoying than their hellos.

The day was good when it was just us. My Memaw, aunts and uncles, cousins, my mom and dad. We laughed. We laughed a lot. It sounds sick, considering what was happening around us. We should’ve been falling apart, but if anything we were being glued back together. We laughed because we had each other. We leaned on each other. Cried with each other. Fought with each other. Depended on each other. We took care of each other.

I miss that day, chaos and all. It was a peace I’d never experienced before and have yet to experience again. There is something about the power of a family when it joins together.

I would trade any day for that day, my worst day.

I watched my grandfather die on that day. I held his hand. The house was filled with so many of us, at least 30. I remember we were about to eat lasagna. I went into his room to say goodnight, I held his hand and stared into his eyes. All around me was everyone I loved most in the world. I could hear the clatter of the plates from the kitchen, someone washing their hands in the bathroom, Brian watching the game in the playroom, and Kate and the girls playing dolls in the guest room. But in his room it was just me. I sat on his bed and watched him go. I told him goodbye and that I loved him, that I loved him a lot.

I had my entire family in that house. Not one person was left out. My family is so large that we can’t ever get every single one of us at a gathering. But on Oct. 9, every single member of my family spent a day in the house we grew up in. We spent a day just being together. It was the only day we’ve ever had like that. It was the only day we’ll ever have like this.

So yes, this was my worst day. I had never felt that kind of pain. I had never been so hurt. My world was turned upside-down. But I had my family. I mean, I really had my family. They were there. I was safe. I was loved. I was comforted. I was taken care of. And that is why it is also my best day. If I could, I would trade any and all my days, for this one day.