Choosing happy is hard. Extremely hard. I know it is for me right now. And I know it was for Ashley. Sometimes I wondered how she could make the choice to be happy, to pull herself out of sadness when she was in pain, frustrated, too weak to be herself…
Now I ask myself the same questions. How do we choose to fill this huge hole that we have in our hearts?
Sometimes we can’t. Rather we have other choices about our behaviors and our thoughts. I can choose to get out of bed. Then choose to shower. Then choose to get dressed. Then choose to make breakfast for the boys. Then choose to go to church. Then choose the next thing. Each choice getting me through the day, slowly but surely, a little bit at a time.
In this moment, I don’t know how this experience will shape me and my boys. I know we all miss Ashley, each of us have been dealing with it differently, telling stories of Ashley or mommy make each of us feel better. And time with my boys is good medicine.
The evening is hardest for the boys. Over the past 2 years, bedtime became Mommy time. I would help them get showered, brush their teeth, get ready for bed and read a book with them most nights. But then I’d let them be with Ashley, she would read another book to them or Fischer would read to her. Then they would snuggle until they fell asleep. Usually it was Ashley who fell asleep first and I would have to go wake her up.
I’ve done my best to do the same. And the boys have been sleeping through the night. But before we go to bed is when they are most vulnerable, most sad. That is hard on me.
I know I will be alright…eventually. I know I will raise the boys right. I know Fischer and Baker will have so many awesome opportunities because of Ashley’s love, the network of friends she left us, the community that loves her so much.
The other day Fischer got frustrated that he was sad. It was one of those random times when something triggered a memory for him. It made him miss her. He was frustrated because he wanted to “choose happy”. But he was sad.
I told him it was ok… Then the tears really came out.
He said through tears “Mommy always said choose happy. It’s just too hard. I just want to be happy.”
Once again, my heart broke. Tried to think of the right thing to say, to comfort him…
My response. “Mommy said to choose happy… sometimes we don’t have a choice and sad is all we got. It’s okay to be sad. It is okay to cry… Mommy didn’t say don’t be sad…Some days she was very sad. When she couldn’t do stuff with you, when she was away from you… But you guys made her happy and when she was with you it was easy to choose happy. When you are playing with Baker, or having fun, like at your ninja competitions or watching a funny show, Choose Happy. She is always there with you. She is always here with you (pointing to his heart). And at the times when you are thinking about her and missing her, it’s okay to be sad.”
He looks at me and I hug him harder and we both cry.
Two seconds later, Baker tooted. Father-son bounding moment gone, but laughter remained.
I can’t always choose Happy. Neither could Ashley. I saw her in those moments and it broke my heart. But those moments would pass and she found strength to be happy. Whether it was something I said or did. Or a friend stopping by to chat, someone buying us dinner, a call from a former cheerleader, or a “random” telling her they were praying for her… These things helped Ashley and I to choose happy.
Then you have something as awesome as Saturday when Papa Jack’s hosted an Ashley Taube Choose Happy Day.
A couple weeks after Ashley passed and I had just returned to work and Christie from Papa Jack’s approached me with “an idea to do something for me and the boys to honor Ashley”. I immediately said yes.
To say that Papa Jack’s holds a special place in my family’s hearts is understatement.
To do it justice, I have to go back, before Ashley and I were married.
Back in 2006-2007, I started working for Northeast Georgia Hospital System. They provided my athletic training services for Mill Creek. On Saturday mornings, before the hospital or Riverplace Braselton was built, Dr. Buck and I would do injury clinic out of the small building off the formerly named Thompson Mill rd.
Like most Gwinnettians, I had no reason to venture north of 85 on Spout Springs Rd. and did not know of the food offerings available ‘out that way.’
(I do thank all of the Trilogy Park and Hamilton Mill folks who came by Saturday even with the bridge out. Talk about a pain. Ashley definitely would have had something to say about that mess).
But after injury clinic, Dr. Buck would ask if I was going to Papa Jack’s for breakfast. So, one day I did, best breakfast decision I have ever made. I was hooked.
Around this time, Ashley and I are dating for a while and I convince her to go to Church with me. (Spirituality, religion, and faith are a defining theme of our relationship but that will be a topic for another blog). Early in our “serious” relationship, I had to bribe Ashley to go to church with me by looking at model homes in Sterling on the Lake and then taking her out to breakfast or brunch afterwards and Papa Jack’s was one of our favorite stops.
I can’t remember if Ashley had eaten at Papa Jack’s restaurant before I took her but I know she had the food before (probably catering at a Mill Creek faculty breakfast or something like that) and liked it. So, we would go to church, look at houses and pretend about our future and then, hungry from worship and make-believe (back then, I don’t know if Ashley or I knew which was which) we’d venture to Papa Jack’s. Good food, good people working there and of course Bill Mays.
Ashley and I would continue frequenting Papa Jack’s as our relationship continued to grow. We got married, moved to Reunion, started a family…
Our first year of marriage, Papa Jack’s and I did most of the cooking.
Ashley warned me what I was getting into…“Don’t expect a whole lotta cooking or a whole lotta cleaning.” I would reply to her, “that’s okay, you are my trophy wife!”
(Honestly everyone knows I out-punted my coverage with Ashley. How does a knucklehead from Chicago end-up marrying someone as beautiful and awesome as Ashley? I still don’t know.)
Thing is Ashley was a great cook, she just never did it that often and probably didn’t like it much. But as a math teacher she could follow a recipe to a “T” and it would taste awesome. There were some mishaps when she got “creative” but I ate it anyways… Happy wife, happy life.
Back to the food.
We loved the food and the atmosphere of Papa Jack’s. Ashley and I would always take family and friends to eat there if they were visiting from out of town or new to the area. If they didn’t like what they ate, Ashley would just tell them they needed to try something else next time. As the boys came into our life and grew, they fell in love with Papa Jack’s as well. Fischer and Baker are picky eaters but we could always find something they would eat, even if it was pancakes at 7:30pm on a Friday night.
Through the years, we got to know the staff and they have become like family. Bill Mays and Ashley Taube are like kindred spirits in that they haven’t ever met a stranger. When Ashley switched to part-time after having Fisher, she would stop by Papa Jack’s most mornings for an egg and cheese biscuit or egg and cheese on white toast for breakfast. The egg and cheese toast sandwich became a staple for Ashley when her cancer returned and she was on treatment. It was one of the few things she had a taste for and was able to eat. During one meeting with Ashley’s dietician at the Moffitt Cancer Center, they were concerned about her weight and eating habits. Ashley confessed that she was trying to eat but couldn’t stomach much other than some good country-cooking from Papa Jack’s. The dietician said, “so eat that every day.” I think Ashley told the dietician that she loved her.
Back to Choosing Happy.
Sometimes, when I had to work late, and Ashley didn’t have the energy to cook. She’d call me to pick up dinner. I would tell her that I’d run to Papa Jack’s for us. (If it was after 8:00 I would be running to Chick Fil A). She would say, “you know what I like, so get that and get something for the boys too.”
I would walk in and always be greeted with a smile. Bill, or Christie, or Michelle, or whoever was working would ask about Ashley with genuine concern and talk about how they saw such a cute picture of Fischer or Baker that Ashley posted. They would then ask about Mill Creek and what sport I had to cover that night. It was never a quick trip to Papa Jack’s but it was nice to see a friendly face at the end of a long day.
(I’ve heard some people complain about slow service so they don’t go there often. The thing is, when you have good people who genuinely care about their customers and take time to talk to them and ask them how they are doing, that takes time. And that does slow things down, and that adds up when they are conversing with most of their customers. But to a father, husband, wife, mother, empty-nester, or child that have had a hard day, hard week, or month, that means the world.)
I’d order our meat and two sides and the boys would get pancakes or waffles, oh and a cup of good ice for Ashley. I’d bring it home and Ashley would be happy that they had fried okra on the menu that night. We’d sit down as a family and have a nice meal together. Not having to worry about cooking, doing the dishes. Just spending time together.
True, you can say that about most take-out nights but you don’t get the rest of it…
I would tell Ashley that they were asking about her and she would smile. “They are so nice, there.”
The people at Papa Jack’s choose happy, and not just Bill or his employees but the customers as well. Through the years, we’ve had countless people show us love or generosity by coming over to our table and saying hi or tell us that they were praying for us…
So last Saturday when I pulled up to Papa Jack’s, saw the bounce houses, the line of people, the bake sale, the raffle, silent auction, bracelet sales… I wasn’t surprised but I was still overwhelmed. I didn’t know how I would make it through the day, expecting it to be very emotional. But then I walked in the door. I saw family and friends. I saw former students, colleagues, classmates of Fischer and Baker, their teachers. I saw people that have loved Ashley and I for the last 15 years or more, come out to “Choose Happy.” (Even one of Ashley’s sorority sister’s drove over to represent Ashley’s Pi Phi girls.) I sat down and ate a great breakfast that sustained me through the morning. I chatted with volunteers, Papa Jack’s staff, Ashley’s cheerleaders, and family.
From 8:45-1:45, I literally talked non-stop about Ashley. So many stories, a few tears, but lots of smiles. The line was out the door most of the day, and service was slower than usual. But people were smiling, regardless. (I do feel bad for the people who had no idea what was going on but if they asked, there were plenty of people willing to share Ashley’s story.)
After a weekend like that its natural to come down off of that emotional high. The boys almost miss her even more. What do we do then? Well, we take that opportunity to tell stories about Ashley, pray for her, and talk to her. Then we are good, at least for a little while …
Sunday, I asked Baker and Fischer what their favorite moment of the day was. They both agreed on bouncing in the bounce house with their friends. They asked me what mine was because I was too big to bounce.
I told them “Getting to see and talk to so many people that loved mommy.” I didn’t have the opportunity (intentionally) to do that at Ashley’s Celebration of Life. I wasn’t ready for it. Events like this are different. There are many more opportunities to choose happy than there are to be sad.
Then Baker gets me with his little wisdom.
“Daddy, I miss Momma… She was the best human in World!”
Me, with a tear in my eye, “Who said that bud?”
Baker, “Said what?”
Me, “ that she was the best human?”
Baker, “I did, ‘cause she was.”
This made me sad and happy at the same time. I guess in these moments is when I am most able to choose happy. Instead of being sad that Ashley is not here, I choose to see how much my boys love her.
I choose to enjoy this new daddy time. I choose to laugh when Baker farts super loud at the most “opportune time”.
“Scuse me daddy.” With his cute voice (sometimes he pronounces it “datty,” which is even cuter) Fischer laughing, hysterically.
I don’t know where to go from here. I am taking it little bit at a time. I’m making decisions based on what is best for the boys. I am sad for them and I am sad for me. I have hope for the boys that they will find someone half as awesome as Ashley, someday. (I’m often reminded by several friends with little daughters that Fischer and Baker are already betrothed-out. Some of them already have Ashley’s blessing).
Sometimes sad is all I got, and I know that’s okay. But choosing happy is often a choice, especially with the support network around me and the boys. To paraphrase Ashley, “So, when I am able to make that choice, between sad or happy, I Choose Happy.”
I would like to thank Bill Mays for his generous heart, the Papa jack’s employees, all of the volunteers, MCHS cheerleaders, the donors, family members, Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders, and even Freddy Falcon for making this a huge success. And most importantly, I thank everyone who helped me choose happy, at least for a little while, on a day that I was really missing Ashley.