LESLIE CRISS: First week in November brings joy, sadness

By Leslie Criss

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” – Henri J.M. Nouwen
“Music will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This week marks the anniversaries of two lifechanging events.
Since 1997, Nov. 6 has been a day of celebrating one of life’s greatest joys. Fifteen years ago Tuesday, on a very cold but sunny day in Baptist East Hospital in Memphis, Bailey Elizabeth Cook was born.
Several weeks premature, she was a tiny thing when delivered by emergency Csection. My sister, sent home to Corinth to recover, was forced to leave behind in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit her brand new daughter. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult that was.
Thanks to good doctors and nurses in a good hospital, Bailey gained weight and soon joined her family.
I used to help rock her to sleep or calm her down when she was crying by singing “You Are My Sunshine.” I’d sing it over and over, changing the words to keep it a little less repetitious: “You are my hula hoop head. You are my Tootsie Roll. You are my butter bean.” You get the picture.
This soon-to-be-15-year-old niece of mine is today a tall, slender, smart, cross countryrunning, book-loving high school freshman. She has a wide-open mind and a kind, caring heart. She remains one of my life’s best gifts.
Last year on the day after her birthday, Bailey’s maternal grandmother – and my mama – took a much-deserved rest from her long and cruel battle with Alzheimer’s disease, and her shorter fight with a fastgrowing brain tumor.
She and my father were living with me in Tupelo at the time, and in the months before she died, my family filled her hours and days with as much laughter as possible. My sister and I lay in bed with Mama one night and sang every show tune we knew.
Another night, I even sang for her the song she knew was so special to Bailey and me – “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine …” until she smiled.
Early on, my mama charmed the amazing caregivers from Sanctuary Home Hospice, and most of them felt like family to us. One of these angels was with my mama that morning last November when I walked in from work.
With great compassion, she explained to us that Mama had begun the process of dying. I squeezed her hand and told her I loved her. Moments later, she breathed her last.
It remains one of the saddest days of my 55 years. “Joy and sorrow are inseparable … together they come and when one sits alone with you … remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”
– Kahlil Gibran


leslie.criss@journalinc.com