Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Life Well Laughed

Sunday, my two children and I participated in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk to raise money and awareness for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We were joined by several of our dearest friends, people who were there with me the day after August 3, 2009, people who have been there for me hundreds of days since.

It was a gorgeous day. The sky was blue, the temperature mild, the surrounding hillsides painted in broad strokes of green, orange, yellow, and red.

In the weeks leading up to the walk, our team raised more than $1400. It felt good to do something concrete, something that could be tracked. It felt like a way to fight against something, even if that something might feel like a battle we had already lost, a battle we didn't even know we were fighting in the first place.

The walk was held at Heardmont Park, which is on Cahaba Valley Road in Shelby County. When we arrived, there were hundreds of people milling about. All of us in the car expressed surprise at the size of the crowd. You can feel like you're alone in this thing - the loss of a loved one to suicide - when the truth is that there are way too many of us affected by it.

We signed in and collected our free T-shirts. We went to another table and picked up bracelets to represent our purpose there. Red for those who'd lost a spouse. Purple for those who'd lost a friend. Blue for those who support the cause. I hesitated for a moment. Since Charles and I were once married, should I have red? Since we were divorced, should I have purple to represent the loss of a friend? I didn't linger long. I chose red. I tried not to think too much about my feelings which are complicated and colored by guilt and regret and love, by indignation and resignation. Kate and Jacob picked up gold bracelets to represent the loss of a parent.

In the crowd, there were groups of people wearing matching T-shirts honoring the person for whom they were walking. Some of the T-shirts had photos on them. Others had quotes. "A life well lived" read one. I thought that I would like to have one for Charles that read "A life well loved."

"Next time, we should have matching T-shirts with a picture of your dad on them," I said to the kids.

"Yes! Can we use the photo of dad swinging his shirt over his head? The best photo ever," Jacob said, laughing.

The photo is from New Year's Eve 1998. My friend Gretchen and I hosted a party at her house. I think our invitations read "Party like it's 1999." Remember when 1999 seemed like a long way in the future? Now it feels so long ago. The party was full of Prince songs and drinking and laughing and dancing. At some point, Charles untucked his plaid, button-down shirt from his blue jeans and pulled it off, swinging it over his head.

Jacob discovered the photo on the computer a few months ago while he was helping me transfer my music collection from the desktop to my laptop. I used to have a print of the photo that I kept underneath the tray of my jewelry box. It always made me laugh when I saw it.

If we had kept track of the laughter Charles gave us in his life, if we could add it up like the generous donations people gave us, I believe the laughter would add up to more than the tears. I believe this will always be true.

On the day of the walk, I was listening to the songs on my iPod while I cleaned the kitchen. A George Strait song came up on shuffle. It's called "The Chair."

Well, excuse me, 
But I think you've got my chair.
No, that one's not taken.
I don't mind if you sit here.
I'll be glad to share. 

At the end of the song, George Strait sings: Baby, do you think there's a chance that later on I could drive you home? 

When it got to this part, I momentarily stopped mopping the floor and burst into laughter. Charles would sing this song, but he'd wiggle his eyebrows up and down suggestively and sing, loud and off-key: Baby, do you think there's a chance that, later on, I could drive IT home? No I don't mind at all.

Jacob has the right idea. If we're going to have T-shirts with his dad's picture on them, the photo should be something that makes us laugh. Laughter is what saves us when we're suffering. Laughter is what keeps his dad's memory alive.

After our team made its way around the walking path, we headed to a grassy area in front of a stage (which was really a flat-bed truck parked in the lot). The kids ate free ice cream out of serving-size containers and free popcorn out of paper bags.

A woman went to the microphone and shared a Native American legend about butterflies:

Heardmont Park, 2011
"If anyone desires a wish to come true they must first capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it. Since a butterfly can make no sound, the butterfly can not reveal the wish to anyone but the Great Spirit who hears and sees all. In gratitude for giving the beautiful butterfly its freedom, the Great Spirit always grants the wish. So, according to legend, by making a wish and giving the butterfly its freedom, the wish will be taken to the heavens and be granted."

Then another women stepped forward with a large white box and opened the lid. This is when I discovered something fascinating about butterflies: They do not immediately fly away from their captors. They stay still in the box. They linger. 

During the butterfly release, a Josh Groban song was played, and I thought, "Good grief, people, are you trying to wreck us?" I sat between Kate and Jacob on the grass and I was grateful I had on sunglasses that hid my tears. I mean, Josh Groban is like that honey badger. Josh Groban don't care. 

Josh Groban will Break. You. Down. 

The butterflies slowly made their way above the crowd and over the treetops and the people made their way to the cars in the parking lot. Afterward, Kate, Jacob, and I went out to dinner at Cocina Superior, where we filled up on chips and queso and ate quesadillas and teased each other. 

Tuesday, I noticed that Jacob was still wearing his gold bracelet. I wondered if he'd forgotten to take it off. 

Or if he was wearing it because he wanted to remember.

Charles Mercer   1/07/71-8/03/2009
A Life Well Laughed


  1. a life well loved indeed. thanks for sharing this precious day with the world.

  2. You are certainly one in a million, Amy. Your compacity to love and forgive, to keep on loving, to keep on laughing is a beautiful thing. Charles, we miss you and love you still. So many silly memories of you linger in my mind, I hope forever.

  3. Thank you, Mom! I learned everything I know from you.

  4. Having been away from the internet for several days I have been able to read several posts today - so poignant, this one pricks the deep, innermost soft part of my heart. Thank you, Amy.


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