No More Next Times

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Today I’m thinking about the words next time.

For context, I’ve just binge-watched six seasons of This Is Us; I think it was somewhere in season 4 when Rebecca, brilliantly played by Mandy Moore, remarks that, diagnosed with a mild cognitive impairment,  she’s acutely aware that she’s running out of next times. So many connections with that, the most prominent being how we left things the last time I saw my brother, Mark (between the two bears in back), alive.

We’d spent a lovely two days on the lake for our inaugural siblings reunion. In the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, Mark let our nephew Tanner take his car to the airport, so he caught a ride home with us. I sat next to him for three glorious hours in the rental car that afternoon en route to Milwaukee so that he could pick up his car from the airport. We talked about trying to meet up one more time, on Tuesday night for dinner, after the boys finished their roller-coaster day at Great America. He texted around 5 to ask about dinner plans, then again at 6:30 but after 10 hours at the theme park, the boys just wanted a fast-food Culver’s burger and to head straight to the hotel room so that they could shower. Since all of that was almost an hour south from his place, Mipps let us know that he’d decided to forgo that final dinner with the text: Catch you next time. 

We had no idea that there would be no next time.

Until a month later, when he didn’t wake up.

We decided to travel to Maine for this year’s siblings reunion. Fondly called Vacationland, Maine is where Mark spent the last week of his life, with a new girlfriend he was romancing. With her help, we were able to walk where he walked, see what he saw, and feel what he must have felt just days before God called him home. We even found the exact table where he sat for his final dinner there; here’s our group shot from his vantage point at the Dolphin Marina and Grill on Bailey’s Island.

Sibling pictures just aren’t the same, but we press on.

Because for now, we each still have a next time.

Isn’t that a beautiful notion?

One of the big take-aways from my grief walk this year is how important it is to say yes to the important people in your life. That means prioritizing and discernment. It might mean taking that phone call in the middle of the night and knowing who would take that call from you. 

It’s deciding who you want next to you in that chair.

It creates a win-win because it’s a give-and-take investment. 

Mark did that for me; he made Houston not seem so far away.

And this year, Houston has seemed SO very far away.

I’m learning so much journeying down this painful path, 

mostly about honoring each and every feeling that visits.

 

Not ignoring them. 

Not inhibiting them. 

Not invalidating them. 

Embracing them. 

Befriending them.

Thanking them.

Even the ones I don’t particularly care for. 

Especially the ones I don’t particularly care for.

(Mipps would hate that I ended those sentences with a preposition!)

As we embark on the one-year anniversary of the saddest day ever,

I vow to celebrate every next time that I get, to not take

a single next time for granted. And to be grateful for

every emotion that comes my way.

To make friends with all of them,

even the uncomfortable ones.

Especially the uncomfortable ones.

Because everything that happens

and everything I’m feeling about it 

is preparing and fueling me for next time.


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