A Heavy Dose of the Bittersweet

When you break it down fully, life has very few moments that truly live up to “memorable” status. For me, I would guess there are maybe 50 moments in my life that have deep enough significance that I remember them clearly. Relationships are similar. In the grand scope of people you know over a lifetime, there are very few that gain admittance into your inner-circle. At least for me anyway.

But over the last two days, I’ve been given plenty of opportunity to reflect on both.

Like everyone else, the Rapiers have been learning to cope with an altered reality over the last two months. As days settled into weeks, it became easier to forget all we had given up. But as Arizona started its reentry into the “normal” this past week, we realized that our aimless drifting through time had placed us smack up against a hard deadline.

My son, Braden, received his call to serve a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Dallas, TX, on March 10, 2020. Three days later, the country literally began to shut down. Going on a mission is a rite-of-passage for young adults in my faith, and it is no small undertaking. A great deal of preparation is required, much of which requires shopping.

Unfortunately, shopping for mission supplies and clothing is not very conducive with worldwide pandemics and so we coasted along, basically avoiding thoughts of how we might deal with Braden’s approaching report date of June 17. That was all good at the end of March. It wasn’t really that big of a deal throughout April. However, when we learned that some retail stores might be opening this past weekend, it was shocking for us to realize we are not months away any longer, but rather weeks and days. And we were nowhere near ready.

Going on-line, I quickly learned that most retail shopping was still unavailable and that if we wanted to get anything accomplished, it would likely require an appointment. Thankfully, the good people at Pomeroy’s clothing store in Mesa worked with me and we were able to get in for their first appointment of the morning, even though there were technically no appointments available. I played the “woe is me, we’re from out of town” card pretty hard and they took pity on me.

Anyway, all that to say that I had no idea how emotional shopping for suits and slacks was going to be. I can’t explain it, but seeing my son in his suit for the first time made this whole adventure he’s embarking on a lot more real. And it also drove home how close we are to having him leave…in some ways for good. Standing next to rows and rows of shoe boxes, I actually teared up a bit watching him get sized. Thankfully, between my glasses and my mask (which was required) I don’t think anyone noticed.

I have a feeling that time will make the poignancy of that moment fade. But I also think I’m never going to forget it. Maybe I will. Maybe I’m overreacting and maybe events still to come in the next month or so will push this one deeper into the vaults of my memory than I realize. But in the moment, this one was pretty powerful.

Meanwhile, during our drive down to the Valley for this touching and yet ridiculously expensive family outing, I received a text message from my bishop. The message informed me that a man in our congregation had passed away in the early hours of the morning. Due to the list of tasks I had to accomplish, I did my best to push this news to the back of my mind. However, roughly 18 hours later when dawn broke on Mother’s Day, I was no longer in such a position.

The man in question was a person I would unequivocally declare as good. There really isn’t any other way to put it, he was just a good, good man. I have known his family for much of my life, but I never really knew him until we moved into our current home 15 years ago. But once I met him, and felt his all-encompassing arm around my shoulder welcoming me into the ward, I have consistently looked up to him.

To make matters worse, his passing reminded me that I would spend yet another Mother’s Day without my own mother. I miss her. You would think a decade going by would make things easier, and in some ways it does. But on other days, the feelings of intense sadness and loneliness are just as raw as the day she said goodbye to this earthly existence.

I look at my two young daughters, one who was not yet a year old when she passed and the other who was four years too late to meet her at all. I mourn for the love they will never feel physically from a grandma who quite literally lived for her grand kids. I think of my oldest daughter who I sometimes fail to connect with fully. She was my mother’s first grandchild and there was a bond there. I can’t help but wonder what their relationship would be like now.

I have the best wife in the world. My children have one of the two greatest mothers I have ever known as their mother. They’re lucky. I’m lucky. And sadly, I don’t think I make a big enough deal about how special she is on Mother’s Day. For some reason, I just never seem to have the heart.

So as Mother’s Day weekend 2020 fades into the past, I pray for a lot of things. I pray my son will be safe. More than anything I want him to be safe. He’s going to struggle, and that’s okay. I just want him to go, learn what he needs to learn, and then come home safe. I pray for the Gardner family. I’ve been where they are. Sadly, they’ve been where they are all to recently with the loss of a son and brother. I hope they know that their father was not just special to them, but was special to a number of people they will probably never fully realize. In the months following my mother’s death, people I had never met would come up to me and tell me about the significant role she had played in their lives. I was stunned at all the things I never knew about her. I imagine the same will happen for the Gardners. It should. He was that good of a man.

I also pray for the women in my life. I pray that everything I believe is true. Because I can’t stand the thought of never seeing my mom again. It just has to be true. It just has to. And I pray for my sweet girls. This world is not getting easier and I worry they have such an imperfect father to try and help them get going in it. I worry I’m failing them. And I’m left praying that a Father in Heaven will somehow make up for my shortcomings.

And lastly, I pray for my wife. She’s amazing, but I don’t think she knows it. I try and tell her, but for good reason I believe she stopped putting stock in my opinion a long time ago. This life of mine would empty and useless without her. I love her. And hopefully, between homemade waffles (okay, Bisquik) and a card, she got just the slightest glimpse in to how much. Happy Mother’s Day, Sweetheart, one day late. I’m sorry you’re stuck with me, but don’t think about it too hard. Instead you should buckle up and hold on. I think this sending out a missionary thing is going to kick both our butts a whole lot harder than we think.