Labor Day 2008 will live in infamy in my mind. Let me start back on July 20, 2002. Adrian James was born to Art and Karen. I was Art?s best man the year before. And he was my best man in August 2003. We are best friends.
Back to the present, Labor day, Renita and I were on our way home from a weekend in Ohio visiting Mike and Edith in Plain City. We stopped in Antrim to see Lonnie and Evie, Lonnie was showing me the porch improvements they were doing. My phone rang, but it seemed no one was there, phone told me it was Art, but no voice was there-bad connection. When it rang again I heard, ?Uncle Paul pray hard. I ran over Adrian, it looks bad??.then something about Apostle Paul?and I asked where he was. They were on their way to the hospital.
That was 1pm on Monday. Lonnie and I prayed hard. The frog in the throat arrived and stayed for the week. It still tries to climb in even now. We went inside told Renita and Evie and we prayed again. After trying to get lunch eaten, we go on the road. 360 miles, 6 hours 16 minutes according to Google Maps. It?s 2pm now and I?m keeping it at 80mph.
I talked with Art?s brother at 1:30, he is just finding out that there was an accident, he calls me at 2:30 ? ?He?s not with us anymore? The first of gallons of tears. The frog is bigger now.
The miles click by rather slowly, even when speeding. I can?t get home fast enough. When Adrian was born on July 20, 2002 I was at Faith Builders, and had just started dating Renita. I came home that weekend because Adrian was at DuPont children?s hospital with a severe infection.
After two rest stops we arrived home, I jumped in my car and left Renita to put the children to bed and clean/unpack the car. I made the usually 33 minute trip to the farm in about 20. I walk to the farmhouse where Art grew up. This is home base for the next week. Karen meets me in the yard, Art is talking to someone. Karen recalls 7 years ago when I came to the hospital, ?We could have lost him then, but God wanted us to have him longer.? There are no words to say. I go stand by Art, and put an arm around him, we go sit on a bench. Few words are shared, the frog has both of us, and the tears drip.
I remember 6 months ago when Kira died, just being present was enough. So I said little.
Tuesday is yearbook meeting after school 3:30-7:00pm, I?m in charge?cancelled. I leave after my last teaching period. Sometime after I am there Mr. Hayes stops in to visit. Art tells him that Dick Hartman called, he didn?t know about the accident, it?s getting to be a recurring theme. Art?s customers call to chat, or ask a question, but business is closed because of a death. Hayes says it was on the front page of the Cecil Whig.
Looking for a Whig. Art and I go to town, we stop at a gas station for newspaper, they?re all sold out. I buy coffees, Art?s says his frog is to big to allow him to drink, he hasn?t eaten for the past 2 days because of that frog and the memories of Adrian?s body there on the ground.
Store #2, #3 and #4 are sold out of the Whig. Maybe Jerry?s Muffler shop has there copy yet. Jerry is a big man, works on anything with an exhaust system. He can?t talk, he?s a dad that feels some of the pain, Art and Jerry have known each other since Art wanted a car 16 years ago. They don?t get the paper at the shop anymore. I suggest one last place, Benjamin?s a hole in the wall place you can get stuff; bread, beer of the paper. They have several copies and I buy four.
Front page: ?Accident kills 7-year-old? ?Boy dies after being run over by pickup truck.? Why on the front page? Why first story on the front page? It feels like a blow to the chest. More tears are dripped before the night is through. I?ll be back tomorrow.
Wednesday begins funeral plans. Cornelia, Art?s sister is on the phone on the farmhouse porch. Getting details from funeral homes. She was in the terminal of the airport, ready to board a plane for Holland, to meet up with some of Art?s siblings for a Friday wedding in the Muelenberg homeland. The funeral will be later in the week, brothers and sisters need to fly home. One brother is still in Qatar, his wedding is in three weeks, so this will be a roller coaster week; being with his fianc? for the first time in several months?for the funeral of a 7-year old nephew.
By Thursday things are still hard. Art hasn?t eaten, drinks juice, but tells me he still thinks or Adrian?s body whenever he sees food. I?ve been around him several times this week when he calls someone to tell them what is happening, or someone calls. My heart tears a little more each time I hear him tell the ears on the other end of the phone; ?I ran over my boy, he?s dead.? Two days after the funeral we talk, and he tells me the only thing worse than taking the life of your child would be taking their soul. Thanks be to God he and Karen are godly parents that care for the innocence of their children, now only 4 of them.
Friday, the day of the viewing. I take most of the day off from school. I get to the church first, it is surreal. I?m there by noon, and the next hours are strange. Here I am setting a sound track and pictures up for the viewing of my best friend?s little son. There are flower deliveries being made. The funeral director shows up. I help Gus carry Adrian?s lifeless shell to the front. Later when the casket is open, no one is around, I cry over the sight of his body. There I am alone, the little boy, his finger nails dirty, like he was just in from playing, now he?s playing in heaven.
Later when Art arrives he and I go to the casket. With only a few words, the pain is shared. I can?t carry enough of this burden for my friend.
The viewing form 6:00-9:00 is over when the last people talk with art, at 10:30. Art takes Karen and the children home. I lock his truck and hand him his Bible. ?See you tomorrow, Art? I go back inside. Art?s family is there, Karen?s family has a long way home and left a bit ago. I go stand beside Marc at the casket. Now the tears pour. Art is home, I showed my solidarity for Art and Karen.
They are on the way home. I can?t stand it anymore. I sob. Great body racking sobs. I just leave. I don?t feel like taking care of any details, they will wait till the morning. I walk past some of the siblings gathering themselves in the lobby to go. I know they are watching me. Jana says something to Jon. It?s ok, he can follow me out. I?m glad to have his support, but I keep walking. Jon walks with me to the car. This time his arm around my shoulder offers comfort. Mine gave comfort the last several days. We talk a little, I get in my car and pull out of the lot. Pounding my steering wheel I yell at God. Why?
Within the mile I am crying out to God to take care of Art and Karen, they need your strength. God you grace is sufficient, so give it to them now and in the weeks to follow. He will. He does. He is.
The funeral is over, the rain let up enough to allow the children at the gave-side to release balloons. We watched them disappear in the clouds. Art and his brothers dug the 8.5 ft grave by hand. The casket was lowered, the vault closed. Art paused as he put the first shovel full of dirt in the gaping hole. The brothers helped, the grandpas helped, brothers-in-laws helped, a best friend helped cover the grave. Lot?s of people helped fill that hole. For them all it was good to put those handfuls or shovelfuls of dirt in that hole, it was a last thing to do for Adrian, it was a last helping hand to the family. Women cry and talk their grief, men cry and shovel their grief.