The 15th First - The Fourth
Joni loved the 4th of July. For several years we had people over to our house to light off fireworks. (Yes, it was legal in our neighborhood.) She always, always wore red, white, and blue for the holiday in some combination and even bought the family matching T-shirts one year. She loved displays of the American flag on the holidays and actually knew quite a bit about the rules of flying the flag. (Of course she did! She looked it up.) When we had people over, she would paint jars red, white, and blue and put tea lights in them for cool luminaries to light our walkway. Or she would organize a dessert contest and people could vote for their favorite and even win a prize. (One year my father won for his Cinnabon apple pie. It was amazing!)
Over the last few years since her diagnosis, the neighborhood had become increasingly firework-happy. There was always the occasional person who lit off a sparkler bomb or an M80, but it became more common (as did the general lack of safety from our neighbors). They might have felt they were being safe and could handle it, but many of us did not agree. So we made plans to get out of the house. In 2017 we went to Westport for the weekend and watched the fireworks over the naval station. In 2018 we went to Birch Bay...which is in unincorporated King County where fireworks are legal. Yeah, we didn’t know that. So it wasn’t exactly peaceful. But we still had fun and have memorable pictures.
This year (2019), I found myself thinking back to July of 2018. None of us had any idea that just 6 months later, Joni would be with the Lord. It makes my stomach sink and heart race a little bit just thinking about it. I’ve thought “If I could go back in time and tell them...”, but what would that really do? Cause further anxiety? Probably. Change decisions that were made to extend Joni’s life as long as possible? Dreadful thought, but possibly. Would it have inspired us to enjoy every moment with each other? We were already doing that, so I doubt it. But what if I could go back far enough? Say...10 years before.
Here’s a a Twitter post I made in May 2019:
This has been a tweet that I mentally go back to again and again. This is a time-jump that would make a difference. At the time I started writing this entry (took me awhile to finish), it's a jump I would have made in a heartbeat. (I'll not get into quantum physics and the possibility that a reality exists in which exactly this happened, or at least where Joni's cancer was caught early. I don't want to melt everyone's minds. But it is oddly comforting to know that somewhere Joni and I are still together. I may write more about that in a different entry.) Suffice it to say that there are good things that have happened, and are happening, for the Bentleys. The growth and difference we are making because of Joni's influence and our continued growth is amazing.
So this year, we met up with Belle and walked to a park somewhat close to her house to enjoy fireworks in a city where only professionals were allowed to light fireworks. When we first arrived, I was really struggling with missing Joni. I would hug Belle or one of the kids and the flood of emotion threatened to burst forth and I wasn't ready for it. Thoughts of "if we had only known" kept coming up. I didn't want the day to turn into helping dad through his grief, even if that should have been OK under the circumstances. But rather than stuff it, I talked with Belle and the kids and processed a bit. We got through that OK then headed down to the park.
We went early in the day so we could get good seats. We ended up picking a great spot in the grass under a tree, and enjoyed burgers, fries, shakes, and a beautiful (as well as SAFE) firework show in the evening. No one felt afraid for their safety, no one had roman candles explode in their garage, we bonded, got to know each other, and just generally had a great time. But I think the thing that stands out to me about the day was seeing my family start something fun with strangers.
In the city where Belle lived, personal fireworks were illegal but you could still do Pop-Its. They aren't expensive so we bought a bunch and brought them with us. Since we arrived at the park well before dark, we had time on our hands and after taking a walk, we thought it would be fun to toss some Pop-Its. As we were doing them, some little kids started watching. They looked desperately like they wanted to try them and because I had a few boxes in my hand, I gave boxes to a couple kids and told him to share them. Then my own children started sharing theirs and our joy turned from doing the activity ourselves to bringing joy and fun to others.
Pretty soon where there were just four or five Bentleys doing Pop-Its, a crowd had gathered. A bunch of strangers all tossing Pop-Its, sharing with each other, smiling, and laughing.
Here you can see Ember and Christi having fun with the group.
We, the Bentleys, started something that made a difference in the event and everyone's day. Even people who didn't stop to play walked by with a smile. We gathered a crowd and inspired them to have fun and to share. Complete strangers to us (and each other), hanging out, sharing little fireworks, and sharing a good time. This is what Bentleys do: we make a difference. I don't say that as a point of pride, I say it as an observation. Leaving a legacy, making a difference, and having an impact are all part of our core, part of what drives us. And honestly, I'm not sure we would have done it if not for Joni.
WWJD (What Would Joni Do)? Joni taught us to enjoy each other, the moment, and not miss opportunities. And that's just what we did. That included taking family pictures with Belle and sharing them on Facebook to show people that we were connected with her and in a relationship. It was a bold step for me, but one that needed to be made.
And when all was said and done, we all had a great time. Part of that was all of us being able to acknowledge that we missed Joni, talk about it, support each other, but then seize the moments and not get stuck in our grief. Another part of for me was watching our family embrace and enjoy making a difference and bringing joy to others.
It ended up strengthening the family's relationship with Belle, my relationship with the kids, the kids' relationships with each other, and my specific relationship with Belle. It was something very memorable and I believe it would make Joni proud.
Thanks for reading.