Sorry for the late entry.
So, yes, I’ve officially graduated from GCU (Grand Canyon University) as of October 17, 2019. Long story, but I’ll try to make it short. In my family, that means within 20 minutes or less 😀
Just to recap what’s happened these past two weeks and beyond… I traveled to Texas on Oct 12 for my cousin Jennifer’s wedding rehearsal dinner, and for her wedding the following day, in which i was her best man (so honored!) and yes, I have to say, it was an amazing wedding. She had it way out in the booneys at this huge red barn in far north Texas. (After checking Google Maps, it was called Morgan Creek Barn in Aubrey, Texas.) What an amazing night! The wedding was beautiful, of course, as expected, and the photos before probably took longer than the wedding. Thankfully, the weather cooperated, and it was an amazing experience seeing my cousin (and close friend) Jennifer walk down that aisle. Of course, she was her typical strong yet loving ice queen self, but I was so proud of her and even got a little misty eyed. Her husband sobbed as he gave his vows. We all swallowed twice, holding back the tears. So sweet.
“I now pronounce you man and wife, you may kiss the bride,” their bearded, boisterous preacher friend proclaimed, and I looked out among the crowd of family and friends and felt Dad hovering. Somewhere…
“You look amazing, cuz,” I said, walking up to Jen during the procession out and we hugged one another very tightly. “I’m so proud of you!”
“I’m so proud of you, too,” Jen said. “You’re graduating, I’m getting married, so many changes..”
I agreed, adding: “…and that’s what life’s about. Embracing the changes and growing, loving and learning.”
Fast forward to that night.. the dance… the dinner with everyone and the party. Great food, great people, people I loved and cherished, and some new ones created, too. My cousin Jennifer and her husband Alan kissed as the sun set and we all sat down to eat our delicious meals and dance the night away. I even got to do a toast to my cousin, and spoke about us in the 80’s with me trying to run her down with a vacuum cleaner when she was around 7 and I was 9 with her yelling in her cute (then) thick Texas little girl accent: “Heyulp me, Net! Heyulp me!” (Net is our Mom’s nickname.)
A couple of days later, my Mom and I left in my car to drive back to Albuquerque as planned (I drove alone down there, as I normally do, but this time she came back with me.) We were going to make our way to Phoenix, Arizona, eventually, for my graduation in a couple of days. We finally arrived in Albuquerque on the 15th, and on the next day I invited Mom out to lunch with my coworkers who I’m closest to, including Christyanna, Char, Suzi, Rosa, Melissa and others. Lunch was amazing. We went to the Cheesecake Factory, and Mom even got a dessert for later, which we ate while she was catching up on her General Hospital on my Apple TV (ha ha.) The next day, we stopped by a Chiropractor for my crazy back problems which had flared up while driving down to Texas. Then, we were off to the boarders for my pups, then off to Arizona.
We finally arrived in Phoenix around 7 pm on the 16th, and we checked into our hotel, where my Sisters Nickie and Kristie would be arriving to later (one from Texas, one from California) along with my cousin Jennifer (also from Dallas)- they were all flying and Mom and I drove my car. It was so great to see my sisters, especially since our last meeting was Dad’s funeral and service. My sisters, Cousin Jen and I decided to have a little makeshift Graduation party for me in our hotel rooms. We were actually tired and had to be up real early for my Graduation, so we turned in around midnight. The next morning, as I was waking up in my single bed next to Mom’s across the room, I had this vision of Dad… standing in a white field with looming white mountains behind him, and he stood there looking all of 22 years old, in his Marine Corps outfit and looking very rugged and handsome.
“Son,” Dad said, scratching his baby smooth chin, almost gloating to show he didn’t always have a beard. “…I just want you to know how proud I am of you, and how proud I have always been.” Dad wiped away a tear and cleared his throat, trying to compose himself. “I remember the day you were born, Bubba… I was smiling so big that it hurt, and I even cried. You are my one and only surviving son, and even though we’ve had our ups and downs over the years, I’m so glad that you and I sorted out our differences.”
I was dumbfounded that Dad was right there talking to me as my eyes were closed but I wasn’t dreaming. It was a vision, and it was as clear as it could be, like a movie playing in my head. The mountains behind him looked pale and large. He was definitely in the desert, almost like the desert Mom and I had driven through on the way to Phoenix earlier the day before.
“I just want you to know that I’m OK, and I’m in a good place, with people I love, and I’m healthy and happy. I’m no longer in any pain. I want you to know that I’m keeping my promise.. I’ll be at your graduation today, just like I told you every single day for the past few months… and I’ll be there right beside you like I told you I would be. I want you to know that I’ll always be there for you, no matter what, because you’re my son… I also want you to know… I see you’ve been depressed lately and not leaving the house. I want you to do me a favor and LIVE YOUR LIFE… I want you to step out there and say YES more than NO, I want you to embrace life and take on new challenges… Why? Because life’s too short, and while I have regrets about my life, I don’t want you to have any regrets about yours. So go out there.. make me proud.. live your life, be the best you can be, and know that I’ll be watching you and rooting you on, Bubba… until the day you come up here and can be with the rest of your family who has gone to Heaven. I love you so much… don’t forget… Always.”
I was shaking when I opened my eyes, and there was a slight ringing in my ears, and my chest felt suddenly plagued by acid reflux. Seeing that vision of Dad really put me at ease. I threw my graduation cap and gown into my backpack, hurriedly got ready and ran out the door to get my coffee and call my Lyft. Before I knew it, I was standing in the courtyard of my school, GCU, and preparing to go inside for the ceremony. Hundreds of people with purple sashes and black gowns took selfies with families and friends. I was beginning to feel alone and left out just as my family arrived.. Mom, Sis, Nickie and Jennifer. “Happy Graduation!,” my cousin Jennifer said, throwing a purple lei of flowers around my neck. “We’re so proud of you!”
“I had a vision of Dad this morning,” I said. “He said he’d be here, and I can feel him.”
“That’s amazing!,” my cousin Jennifer said.
“I feel him, too,” Kris said.
“We love you, Bubba!,” Nickie added.
“Always,” said Mom.
I never felt so deeply loved in my whole entire life. And on top of that, Dad was there, too, just like he promised. The air sizzled, for me, with the most intense feeling of love. I heard Dad in my head say, “Yes!!!! Congratulations!”
During my ceremony, as my family waved and clapped with glee as I crossed that stage, I could feel Dad’s presence in the huge auditorium, filled with literally hundreds of people. “This one’s for you, Dad!,” I yelped as I crossed the stage, shook Kirk Cameron’s hand (he was the guest speaker) and walked back to my chair.
It was an amazing graduation, and something I’d been looking forward to for the past few months, since I actually graduated over the Summer with my final Capstone class project, which I completed at Dad’s side at Hurst Euless Bedford Hospital, where he was declared brain-dead that same day. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, and I did my best. I still graduated with honors, something my Dad was so proud of before he left us.
After graduation, my family and I went to eat and did some sightseeing around Phoenix, before eating at Edelweiss Biergarten (we love German food!), and later, at Copper Blues, where we sang karaoke and even included our Mom in a video. While we sang along to “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles, I took a minute video of my sisters, cousin and Mom blushing as we made her the center of attention. Good times.
The next day, we all went our separate ways. Jennifer and Nickie left super early for the airport, while Mom, Sis Kristie and I drove my car and began the long 6 hour trek back to Albuquerque. While driving along, my Sis Kristie remarked how there were two routes we could take to get back home. “One is 30 minutes longer than the other, but is more picturesque,” she said. “Which one?” “I guess the more picturesque one. I mean.. why not? I guess. I don’t know.” “We’ll take that one,” Kris said.
Before you know it, a few hours later (and a delicious meal at Three Bears Diner in Springerville), we were driving through the most remarkable area. As I caught myself bitching about the speed limit and the tiny towns we were forced to drive through, and beginning to regret taking the longer route that my Sister suggested, I looked up and saw the most amazing sight. Just as the sun was going down and beaming through the clouds, we were driving through an area known as the “White Mountains.” I noticed that the mountains were golden and white, and the shrubbery was also gold and white and vast, and swayed with the breeze, the sun glistening through the blades of grass and brush.
“Wow! This is where I saw Dad!,” I proclaimed, feeling my heart beating fast and the ringing in my ears began.
I rolled down the windows and lit a cigarette as Mom threw a blanket over her to shield her from the wind. “Ooh, it’s cold out there,” she said. “Hurry up.”
I remarked to myself – “Dad, Dad… I know you’re here!”
*** TO BE CONTINUED ***