These Simple Instructions?

Dear Unnamed Cable Provider,

This is a cordial heads-up that you will soon be receiving a bill from my new counsellor.  The process of packing and mailing back my dad’s no-longer-needed cable paraphernalia, which I entered into with can-do optimism, reduced me quickly to quivering congealed salad. The responsibility for this can be laid squarely at your office door.

First, just as a side-issue:  Did you really need this stuff back?  Yard sales, flea markets, and dumpsters are filled with used electronics.  Are you telling me that your products are somehow different?  Forgive my friendly skepticism.  Plastic is plastic.  Yesterday’s tech marvel is today’s chuckle.  As heavy as this box is, your postage costs will far outweigh your savings in little circuits and chips.  I don’t know.  This just seemed like a waste of all our time.

But, to the point – the traumatic procedure of following the simple instructions printed on the box for mailing the multiple pieces back to you.

Let’s start with the warnings.

“Stop!” read a flyer in the box. “Check the model number on equipment to ensure the unit being packed matches the one on the shipping label.”  There was a definite “or else” implied by that exclamation mark.  Anyway, number matching is not happening.  I don’t have time to find and match tiny numbers.  No one does.  Isn’t your company logo etched into each piece enough?  Enclosed is all the equipment you gave us.

Next, I was warned more than once that severe fines will be levied for incorrectly packed boxes.  I’m sure you have your war stories about shattered equipment rattling around in unpadded boxes and the like, but your tone terrified me.  It was so draconian!  It assumed the worst of me having never met me.  As I struggled to understand the diagrams, I expected at any moment a jackboot at the front door and a blindfolded ride to the nearest gulag.

This was made worse by your warnings that severe fines would also be levied against boxes not packed within a certain timeframe.  Apparently a meter began spinning the moment the packing boxes left your warehouse and I, instead of standing ready with the tape gun, was out appreciating the first robins of spring whilst fines accrued left and right.  Naïve fool!  And since this was my parents’ account, it wouldn’t be me fined, but my mother.  Do you begin to understand the pressure?  Incidentally and ironically, my dear father, who no longer needs this equipment because he is now in heaven, was no doubt watching from heaven and nodding at the familiar scene.  Not one of us knows how to read instruction manuals except him.  He enjoyed them like a good novel.

In my defense, though, these “simple” instructions made no sense.  Yes, there were diagrams, drawn up by people who understand this stuff.  But don’t you see?  99% of your customers don’t understand this stuff; they just want to watch TV.  You need me to write up the instructions and to draw the pictures.  For example, you told me, and I quote, “Place the client in the Styrofoam containers as needed.” 


Wasn’t my dad the client?  And what do you mean by as needed?  I take Tylenol as neededAs needed implies an extended relationship between me and the Styrofoam.  And should I have known that one of the 55 gadgets I was attempting to tetris into your box was called a “client”?  Remember, I don’t know this and don’t have time to know this.  Call it a rectangular black box the size of an open wallet with two nozzles on one side, and I’m your gal.  The one thing that would have fit well in the slotted Styrofoam boxes was the 10 remotes, but of course they were an inch too long.  So they now rest, riskily in my opinion, in a vague zone the diagram referred to as “open area.”

It’s out of my hands.

As I trembled and jigsawed, I could well envision how this will play out.  You receive my box in the warehouse.  Daryl opens the box.  He turns to his buddy, “Earl, you’ve got to see this.”  Earl comes over, whistles his shock, and calls the supe.  “Boss, we’ve got one.”  The headman comes over and reverentially picks up my sweat-soaked, fear-packed shamble and hands it to Jonas, the wunderkind who makes the blooper video for the warehouse Christmas party.  Yes, my box will be the centerpiece, your laughingstock, and I your Joe-idiot-packer who can’t even read a clear-as-day diagram.  I am including a picture of myself so your mirth will be complete.

But it’s Ok.  I can handle being laughed at.  As I said, I’m getting help.  And good luck getting into the box.  My son grimly said that our only revenge was to tape the box up like Fort Knox and also, maybe you will get a paper cut.


An Overcomer


Six Days in 412

I will start at the end.

Tuesday, February 24, 11:50 am.  A member of the medical team walked into room 412 and saw our faces and our posture circled around the bed and my dad’s now lifeless body already beginning to turn that unmistakable waxy color, and he said in absolute astonishment, “What happened?!?”

Yes, a tiny corner of my brain registered humor.  This good man and good doctor was asking us what happened.  I have come to realize how appropriate his question was.

What happened?  The Lord called Dad home.  Quickly!

What happened?  The cancer was hidden in his body and then it announced itself and then it did its work all in six days.  We received a name for the cancer about an hour after Dad died.

What happened?  We fear cancer all the time, from hangnails to headaches.  But for some reason when it actually was cancer, we weren’t prepared and were thinking stroke or pneumonia – both curable or work-withable.  So on February 18 we were shocked with a preliminary honest assessment that this was not going to end the way we would prefer, and that the pathology would either be bad or very bad.  We love our family doctor and were so thankful for his directness.

What happened?  While the docs looked for causes and plans, we at the bedside, not at all medically trained, watched the person, our husband and dad, go from responsive, to unable to suck on a straw, to comatose, to shallow breathing, and knew exactly what we were seeing.  We were shocked at the speed of it.  But we were not shocked when he died.  We saw it coming that morning and were bathed in the grace that is promised for those moments.  The medical answer to what happened was almost irrelevent.

What happened?  The nurses of the 4th floor became our heroes!  I can’t put into words what they were to us.  To all nurses everywhere I want to say THANK YOU!!!  To the fourth floor nurses of Cullman Regional Medical Center – Tammy, Jutta, Christie, Vickie, and many others whose names escape me but whose actions do not: you are a credit to your calling.  I hope the hospital administrator sees these words and knows the caliber of these men and women who do unspeakable tasks with compassion for the patient and gentleness for the bewildered family.

What happened?  Though it was short, we hit a new routine, a new normal, swinging by Starbucks and settling in to room 412 for a morning, afternoon, or evening of doing things that a day earlier we would have said, “Well, I can’t do that!”  Feed my dad?  Apply chapstick?  Watch a coughing fit that racked his body head to toe?  Lather, shave, and Bay Rum aftershave him so he might feel a little more normal? And there was laughter in the room, too!  As Andrew shaved him, from the depths of wherever Dad was, he automatically stretched his lips out to avoid nicks.  One time I asked him if he was cold and he said, “N. O.!”

What happened?  Love happened.  The words and visits of dear friends far and near provided the oil of mercy and kindness on us.  And the food!  Oh, my, the food.

What happened?  We watched our Dad walk across the Jordan River and it happened over the course of a few days.  I remember standing beside him thinking, “I am looking at someone with one foot in glory. Wow!”  His eyes didn’t see us; they saw the far country, and we got a little of the spill-over.

What happened?  My sister’s husband of one month entered fully into this with us and has been the quiet helper at every place of need.  Here’s to all dark Frenchmen!

What happened?  My brother moved gracefully into place as the one we look to.  A torch was passed.

What happened?  The next generation left behind jobs and schools and drove through rain, snow, sleet, and hail to gather in a remote Alabama town to honor this man whose history they might not have known much about but who held 40 people together.

What happened?  Our family bonds grew a little tighter.  Ours is a blended family and sometimes we can wander far and wide and never see each other.  But we have shared a death together now and that makes us blood related.

What happened?  My mother became a matriarch and has been a rock of peace and grace.  She loved my dad for 40 years and is an example to six kids, six spouses, and a little army of grands and great grands of what it is to say “I do” and then live it out even when “I do” means dying a little bit.

What happened?  Oh, we had a snowstorm and 10 phones all chimed continually with different rings that we came to know signalling calls from travelling kids and from friends wondering about the changed funeral arrangements and closed florists.  And we just smiled because . . .

What happened was that our God kept His promise beyond anything we could have imagined: “I will be with you always.

Especially for six days in room 412.