In this dream, my Aunt Sherry and Aunt Carol were present, as well as my Aunt Lamoine-- Dan's mother-- and her daughter Sarah-- Dan's youngest sister. Annika and Aidan were the only two I remember from my little family, and we were all crammed into a glass-walled hospital room, visiting Dan, who sat upright in a hospital bed with the left side of his face pink from the burn that landed him there. The entire left side of his body had somehow caught on fire in the dairy barn, but his face just looked harmlessly pink, like a baby fresh-scrubbed.
Everyone was visibly disturbed and upset. Tears and simmering anger spilled as one member unwrapped old family skeletons, and closed wounds opened afresh. I felt awkward and out-of-place. They were part of something that I should not be present for, so as I prepared to leave, I hugged Dan and told him I loved him, something I never would have done in real life. I left the hospital, and then I awoke.
Devoid of the color and detail that linger from having experienced a dream, this retelling falls flat. I only share it because while sometimes dreams seem to spring from thin air, this one had a solid tie to waking hours. Yesterday evening, while sorting through a stack of summertime papers, most of which should have already found their way to the recycling bin, I came across Dan's obituary. My throat instantly tightened, and I put it into the pile of papers to keep. Anything else seemed irreverent. The recycling bin seemed a sorry place for those few words that try and fail to sum up a life.
Dan was unique. He was six years older than me but had a warmth and eye for others that made people feel more connected to him than we might otherwise. Often at family gatherings, he would make his way over to me and engage in a bit of jolly banter, with a big grin and a laugh. Looking back with adult eyes, I can see he probably did so because I was lingering on the sidelines, feeling out of my element. He made others feel comfortable. He had the love of Jesus.
I have 23 first cousins on my mother's side of the family. Even with distance between, we're all bound up in a big ball-- that potent stew of family pride, heritage, and shared story that you just can't shake-- the one that roots a person to place and people. My cousins were my closest playmates growing up, even those who lived in South Carolina (then West Virginia) and Delaware. We saw the out-of-state cousins only once a year, but they were my cousins, and I was closer to them than I was to my friends from school.
I used to unconsciously split all of us into groups according to age and playmates. Those younger than me didn't fully count, except for my brother Luke, Tim, Melody, and Ray, because they were mostly too young to join the fun during that golden age of play. The Too-Old-for-Play group didn't count, either-- those cousins with whom I had some awed contact but who had matured beyond existence in my sphere. As I grew older, both the younger and the older cousins entered my orbit, but from my limited vantage point at the age of ten, moving upward but stopping short of the Too-Old cousins, it went something like this: my cousin-neighbor Mike, Christina, Lisa, and I; Leah, Sarah, Cara, Matt, Mark, and my brother Pete; and finally, my sister Becky, Dan, and my oldest brother Andy to round out the bunch.
I've always paired Andy and Dan together in my head because they share a few similarities. They're roughly the same age and look a bit alike; they each have four children who are nearly the same age; they're both men whose great talents revolve around building, making, and fixing; they love the outdoors; and they're warm and affable and make others feel at ease. One detail of my dream that I didn't mention is that in it, Dan looked more like my brother Andy then he did himself. Dreams are funny like that.
After waking this morning and while our children were still sleeping, my husband convinced his out-of-shape girl to go on a morning run with him, and as we jogged along our country road, I thought of Dan and Karen running their country road on an early Saturday morning exactly seven weeks ago, unaware that everything was about to change. The hit-and-run driver that struck them and killed Dan carries the weight not only of Dan's life, but also of Karen's life and their children's lives, now bereft of best friend and beloved father.
This isn't normal shotsnaps fare, but my thoughts today are a bur centered on Dan, Karen, and their children. A few words stammered to honor a man whose love made him great. A few words sent like tendrils to his children, the youngest of whom is the age of our oldest. A few words to remember Karen in her sorrow, for even with the great Hope she has, the truth of heaven and a joy-filled greeting, the grief must seem unbearable at times. Pray with me-- would you?-- that the Father continues to bolster her for its bearing.