This past weekend, Indy and I went home to Indiana... without Joey.
It was the first time that we’d been back there, since my wife’s passing in early March. I was excited and nervous about the trip at the same time. Part of me wasn’t ready to go back. Not yet. But another part of me knew it was the right thing, and believed that it would be healing for us. And it was.
Joey’s sister Jody’s son Cody was graduating high school and we surprised everyone by showing up at the open house his Mom had put on for him. I know it’s a moment that Joey wouldn’t have missed, so I didn’t want to miss it either.
When I pulled in and parked by the other cars and Jody saw me get out of my truck, she came running across the yard. Her eyes filled with tears. She hugged me and cried and cried. It was a beautiful homecoming. Then as quickly as we got there... Indiana was whisked away into her aunt’s arms and she stole the show from there on out.
She was so excited to see her Grandma, and I know Joey’s mama was so glad to see her too.
We all spent the evening celebrating Cody’s big accomplishment. It felt good to be home.
On Saturday afternoon, Joey’s daddy and I went over and spent some time at Bill Gaither’s house. Bill told lots of great stories and Jack and I just sat on his porch and listened and laughed.
Bill talked of the impact that Joey’s life has made on the community there and around the world. And I got the chance to thank him again for all of the love and support that he and Gloria have shown us through what had turned out to be a beautiful, difficult time.
Then we all went across the pond and Bill opened up the house for us that we had stayed in while we were there those last few months in Indiana. Joey’s daddy had come to that house often he said. Most days he stops by and just sits outside. “This is where I feel Joey the most”, he told us,' where she lived last.” But he’d not been inside since that day in March when his daughter left us, exactly three months before.
As I walked through the house and let the memories come flooding back, Bill and Jack stood on the porch and visited... to give me some time. Time that I desperately needed. To remember all that we went through. All that she went through.
The place was different. And strangely the same. It was all put back exactly the way it was before we moved in. Before we laughed and loved and cried and said goodbye in those rooms.
Then Bill came inside and did for me, what he always used to do for my sweet wife. He sat down at the piano and played a song. And not just any song. Our song. The one that Joey sang to me when I had asked God for a sign that ‘she was the one.’ The one that was played at my father’s funeral. And the one that Joey’s mama and daddy played at our wedding. “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” was a song originally recorded by Jim Reeves in the 1950’s. And it was instrumental in our lives coming together. It’s a long story... one that I hope to share in length another time.
Bill played our song. For me. For Joey’s daddy. And for Joey.
And later that evening, Joey’s mama made a nice dinner for us at the farmhouse that my sweet bride had grown up in. We all had a wonderful time. Especially Indy. She loved being with all of her cousins again. And I loved being with Joey’s sisters... who have now become like sisters to me... and their husbands and babies.
It had been strange to be there again. In Indiana. With Indiana. Without Joey. To sleep upstairs in the bedroom that my wife had spent her childhood sleeping in and know that she’ll never lay beside me there again and tell me stories of her childhood. To be in her home, with her family, without her. It was hard. And good. And wrong. And also right. So, so right.
It wasn’t easy to say goodbye the next morning. Hard for me, but harder for June I think. I get to go home and still be near Joey. But for Joey’s mama, I was once again, taking Joey home with me. Little Joey. And she so loves her.
But we will come back. Many many times. It’s where Indiana’s mama was raised. Home to her. And now it’s home to us.
We didn’t make the trip back home alone. Our sweet friend and neighbor from home, cowboy Danny Smith rode along. To help with the baby. To be there for us, in case we needed him.
It was a quick trip. Not near long enough. It almost felt like a dream to be there again. As I drove down I-65 south, back to Tennessee, I replayed the last two days over and over in my mind. And just smiled and listened to Indy as she talked to her hands in the backseat.
And Danny? Well, it was all like a sweet dream to him too I guess…
Wake up Daniel. We’re home.