You know how we all have a fear that one day the phone will ring and that the call will bring bad news? Two years ago tomorrow, September 20th, I got that call. My sister phoned at about 7 p.m. to tell me that Mother called her a few minutes before and John was in the hospital. They thought he was having a heart attack. I called mother's mobile phone and she told me they were on the way to Savannah. John's co-workers had called and said he was in bad shape. I didn't think I had heard her correctly because she sounded so calm. Rob's parents came over to keep the kids and we went to GSU to pick up John's oldest daughter so we could all ride to Savannah together. Don't know why I felt an urgency that we HAD to get Patty and take her with us, but it was such an insistent feeling. Yet, I kept thinking: We're going to get there and he will just have a severe case of indigestion or heartburn or something and boy are we going to give him a hard time.
My brother Sidney called me while we were on the interstate and he was crying. I knew then. My chest felt like it would explode. He was crying so hard he could barely tell me that John had died. Patty was in the backseat and I was trying very hard to keep myself together. I just couldn't bring myself to tell her.... just in case, please, please.... they had made a mistake. Rob let me squeeze the heck out of his hand for the rest of the trip. It was so very surreal.... and yet I remember what I was wearing and the exact shape and color of the moon as I stared at it outside my car window.... full and orange.... a harvest moon.
I will never forget the way my mother's eyes looked when we entered a room they had cordoned off for our family. I knew it was true then. She had been crying of course, but the pain that just radiated from her was so overwhelming.... I knew that what she felt had to be so much worse than what any of the rest of us were going through.
I wanted to see him. I felt a very strong need to know, to see with my own eyes that he was gone. And I am so glad that I insisted on that. He looked so peaceful. Like he was finally at rest and I'm glad I have that image. I called my sister and we didn't really speak... just cried together. I remember realizing that I had to go to the bathroom and thinking how strange that this event that should make the world stop spinning has not. That the everyday functions of life go on even though our lives are shattered.
I never knew that grief actually creates a physical pain. My chest hurt for days. When we got home that night I laid down with both of my babies. I needed them with me.... their sweet sleepy arms around me and their warm breath on my skin. That peace that children seem to give off when they are sleeping. Tears just kept sliding down my face.... I wasn't sobbing, but I could NOT stop crying. My mind was whirling in hundreds of directions: sorting through memories, summing John's life up, wondering about the future, reeling in shock and disbelief.
It has been two years since that awful day. It goes without saying that our family is different. Before this happened, I thought that tragedy was a big bump in the road of life or an awful time of pain that you just dealt with and then moved forward. It's not that way at all. Sometimes it feels like we were going down a certain path in our lives and someone suddenly threw up a roadblock and we will forever be going a different way. Almost like you have been thrown into another life with no warning. I'm learning that grief is unique to every griever and that it is not an episode of our lives, but a daily part of us, forever.
That doesn't mean that my parents spend all day every day in bed with the covers over their heads or that they will spend the rest of their lives just waiting to die.... that joy no longer exists for them. It does. They laugh and have fun and love us and their grandchildren. But each day, John's death is a reality for them. Each birthday, family get-together and holiday brings with it a bitter-sweet joy. What a wonderful family we have. How fortunate we are to have each other. How awful that John is not here with us.
Grief is a part of us.... it doesn't dominate my life, but it is there.... some days larger than others. Sometimes it just fills me from the tip of my head down to my toes. Sometimes appearing suddenly. I remember the first Thanksgiving after John's death. A friend of my aunt's asked my mother: "How many children do you have?" I saw her hesitate. It was the "have" that threw her. The present tense. She finally said: "Four. Three are with us and our son John passed away in September."
The infamous "they" of "they say" fame tell us not to have regrets. To be grateful for the wonderful memories that we can treasure. But I don't think that is human nature. My brother was a volatile person. He made some poor choices in life. He bounced around from one job to another and was a terrible money manager. He experimented with drugs while in the Army and really fought against the rules my parents had for our family.
I took a tough love approach with him as I got older.... and there are days when that is difficult for me to handle. Was I too judgmental? Would I have been so hardline if I had known he would not be here until an old age? I don't know. I know in my heart that I loved him very much... and that I wanted him to set the bar higher for himself so he could live a happier life. But I wish I had talked with him more. That I had reached out to him more often. That I had called just to say Hello and I love you. That, despite our age difference of almost 11 years, I had made a stronger effort to find a friendship with him. Yes, I know I cannot undo those years and that my intentions were good, but these things still whisper through my mind in the stillness of night. The whys and the what ifs.
I'm very proud of our family. We have supported each other in these awful days and remain strong. Christie, Sidney and I spent hours with our parents sorting through pictures, sharing memories and writing a beautiful eulogy for John. His funeral was truly lovely. We did not have any regrets about our send-off for him or the decisions we made. Our extended families and the many, many friends of our family have given us so much comfort.
I'm proud of my parents for their strength and courage.... even on the days when they need to let the sadness just wash over them. When they are weak with grief and longing. They truly amaze me. I find their ability to bear this pain, to share it with us and not pretend everything is okay, a beautiful gift.
I am a person of faith. And seeing John in the hospital, I was overwhelmed with peace in those moments of seeing him, being with him in the quiet. Like his restless soul was finally calm..... like he had reached a finish line and could relax. I'm grateful for those moments. For the many moments and the memories I have of our lives together. And I ache that I will not grow old with all three of my siblings.... That I will not be able to share pictures of my grandchildren with him, that he will not see his children get married and start their own families, that there are Thanksgivings, Christmases, Birthdays and LIFE without him. But I'm so very glad for the life WITH him. I would not trade those years for anything.... even if I did not have to know this pain.
9 months ago