Lil' C sat happily among his friends, singing songs and performing the accompanying actions. Every time I turned my phone's camera to him, he would grin one of his big, toothy grins and wave excitedly.
It was the last day of preschool; and by last, I mean ever. The second very last day of preschool ever.
The first very last day of preschool ever was Joey's last day of preschool four years ago. I found his school completely by chance after not getting in to our preschool of choice. As if seeing something for the fist time, I noticed the big yellow preschool sign on the corner across from our neighborhood.
From the time we walked in the doors, it was magic; a sweet little homey place filled with love and acceptance and friendship. Joey never complained a day about going to school, nor did Knox or Lil' C. The teachers became friends and accepted all of our boys into their fold, even Slim who attended a special education preschool program.
Chapel time was every Friday, and Mrs. H would sing the cutest songs. One she would sing frequently went like this:
"Oh, you gave me a heart and you gave me a smile,
You gave me Lord Jesus and you made me your child.
But I just thank you, Father, for making me, me."
I don't know why that particular song had such an effect on me, but it did. Tears. Every time.
Joey missed about three weeks of preschool after he was first diagnosed. His teachers visited him in the hospital and brought books and activities to do at his bedside. And when he returned to school, they treated him as if nothing had happened.
It was all I could do to get through Joey's last chapel time. I cried when Mrs. H. sang that song, and I cried when she said her standard prayer, "Keep us all safe and well until we see each other again."
I knew Joey would neither be safe nor well, and he'd perhaps not see any of his preschool friends or teachers again. We didn't even know if he would make it to kindergarten.
Leaving preschool that day was hard. It felt so final. It was one of the first pieces of Joey I had to say good-bye to.
Of course we were back because Knox went there for three years and so did Lil' C. But Baby E most likely will not, as the older boys' school now has a preschool; and out of convenience, E will go there.
So two weeks ago, I knew I would have to say a forever good-bye again.
I teared up during the song and the prayer, but held it together for the ice cream social. But when we were ready to leave, I took my turn hugging and thanking each of the teachers.
I told them what a blessing it was that we found them.
That this was the only time I could say 'things happen for a reason.'
That it was hard to say good-bye because it felt like I was leaving Joey behind again.
* * *
We visited Joey's grave on Memorial Day. I despise going there. The older boys never want to get out of the car, and the younger boys think we are at a park and want to roll down the hill and run. I feel stupid talking to the ground. And as soon as the image of a rotting corpse enters my head, I have to turn and walk quickly away.
And there's the good-bye. Another forever good-bye. I already said it once, said good-bye to him forever. Why must I have to say it again every time I "visit" him?
Good-byes are hard for me. Good-byes signal change, and I don't like change. It's too hard, and mostly unpleasant, and sometimes - a lot of times - you don't know if you'll ever see the person again.
Except when you know you won't. When someone means that much to you, was such a valuable and important part of your life, it's hard to let go.
Especially when you know that they hold memories of another valuable and deeply loved person that you will absolutely not ever see again in this lifetime.
It just feels like forever.