I don't usually worry about parking, but with road construction on nearly every corner this summer I wanted to be reminded of my options. After all, it was an event that brought hundreds of people to downtown Waterloo.
Sunday afternoon Noah and I were headed downtown to Release and Remember, the annual Cedar Valley Hospice event. I felt grateful Noah wanted to go with me. Everyone else stayed home. Isaac had gotten his wisdom teeth out a few days earlier and didn't have his usual Sunday afternoon respite plans. Chris stayed with him. Henry attended last year but chose to forego it this year. I didn't want to push it. It's an emotional event with lots of people, and I respected his decision.
Both of my parents died from cancer within the last two years. Nine months apart. I don't know what I would have done without the support and care hospice provided, particularly when my mom was ill. As far as I'm concerned, the people who do this incredible work are angels on earth. When a flier arrived in my mailbox from Cedar Valley Hospice, it was an easy decision to make a donation and honor my parents with the release of two monarch butterflies.
We had just pulled into a parking space downtown at the hockey arena, a few blocks from the RiverLoop Amphitheatre, when Noah saw it.
"What?" I asked.
"Look," he said, pointing straight ahead. "It's Grandpa and Grandma."
He was right. A maroon van shared a special message on its license plate. We had parked directly behind it.
Had my parents sent us this sign? I like to think so.
I've seen many signs the last couple of years. As long as I keep my eyes open, they seem to appear.
Noah and I made our way to the amphitheatre, dodging road construction cones and climbing steps.
Once we reached the top of the stairs, we found my mom and dad's names on the huge white banner. Every year I stand in front of it, in awe of the many people who are memorialized and loved. Hundreds of people gather who all share common feelings of love and loss. I spotted the name of a 15-year-old student in Isaac's school who died suddenly last year. I recognized the name of a young woman who passed away from brain cancer. I remember reading about her in the newspaper. I spotted the name of a woman who died a few years ago after struggling with mental illness. It's difficult for me to say anything to anyone as I look at these names. I only have tears. It's heartache and love and sadness and hope and promise and comfort all listed on a big banner for everyone to see.
The place was packed. Cedar Valley Hospice said it was the biggest crowd on record. Most of the seats in the amphitheatre were taken, but we found a place in the cool grass to listen to the program. As always, it was an amazing experience to see the butterflies take flight. We stuck around for a while until we felt like it was time to go.
"The same thing happened to my mom when she was here a few years ago," I said. "It feels like so much love, doesn't it?"
Noah and I walked past the food on the way out. This time he wanted a cookie. Only a few remained. I could almost hear my mom's voice instructing me to grab cookies for my boys. Mom loved to bake and always had goodies at her house. She often brought homemade cookies when she visited. I knew she would approve of the boys each having a cookie. In fact, she would insist they eat them! I handed Noah a cookie and saved two more for my other boys.
When we arrived home I pulled out a chocolate chip cookie from my purse and gave it to Henry. "This is from Grandma Sheldon," I said.
He nodded, smiled, and gobbled it up.
Isaac and Chris were nowhere to be found. They had gone to Cup of Joe, the favorite local coffee shop. Isaac and Chris go to the coffee shop every Saturday afternoon before getting groceries. Chris buys coffee, and Isaac gets a chocolate chip cookie. It's like clockwork every Saturday. It didn't happen Saturday because of an arts festival downtown. The street was blocked off and parking was a nightmare, so they skipped it. It was still bothering Isaac that his schedule had been disrupted, so they went Sunday afternoon.
Chris walked into the house carrying his coffee. Isaac seemed irritable.
"Isaac didn't get a chocolate chip cookie at Cup of Joe."
"Why?" I asked.
They didn't have any. ARTapalooza yesterday wiped them out," he said. "He was disappointed. I offered to take him somewhere else, but he didn't want to go."
"Really? I have a chocolate chip cookie for Isaac. I picked one up at the hospice event. It's from my mom. I'm sure she wanted him to have it," I said.
I helped Isaac unwrap the packaging, and he happily took the cookie out of my hands. He was gone in a flash. The cookie disappeared, too.
"Grandma saved the day," I said. "I'm glad I listened to her."
I know Isaac was glad, too.
Later in the day I realized Sunday was Grandparents Day. I have no doubt my parents were happy to be remembered. The hospice event, as usual, was a beautiful way to honor them.