Have you ever thought about how painful some of those slow-motion replays on television must be? The injuries are often brutal. The blooper reels become absolutely legendary. But what about those life altering moments that seem to be playing out in slow-motion? You know the ones…Those that replay in your mind’s eye on a slow continuous loop for decades. You’re so overwhelmed in the moment that you seriously feel disconnected. You try as hard as you can to wake yourself up from what has to be a terrible dream.
Somewhere along the line you realize that the moment is happening and that there is no nightmare to wake up from. The monsters are real. The sky is too cloudless and blue. The sounds are alternating between a deafening roar and silence. The people around you are both faceless and eternally etched in your recollection. The place around you seems familiar but foreign. In a single moment you step from the life you’ve known, planned and dreamt about into the wild unknown. In a single slow, painful, agonizing moment every thing has changed.
November 16, 2001.
I’ve spent over two solid decades trying to make sense of it. I’ve come to an acceptance of sorts with it. There have been moments every single day since then that have replayed on that slow-motion loop in my head. Some days it’s a blessing. Other days a curse. Looking outside of myself, I’m reminded that I wasn’t the only one to suffer that day. He wasn’t just a husband. He was a son. He was a brother. He was a friend. He was a FATHER. We all dreamed the same hellish dream of sorts that morning. We all faced a new reality without our Kevin.
I can’t speak on anyone else’s loss. As much as I’d like to bear their burden I simply can’t. I do know the pain of losing a Father but the journeys are too different. The losses similar but worlds apart. I can’t begin to fathom the loss of a child. There are no words to help fill that emptiness. I’ll admit to being clueless at everything relating to siblings. Being an only child sheltered me from quite a bit. The friendships that he made were all special in their own different ways. Somehow he just drew you into his orbit and made you feel like you belonged there.
Every year brings changes for our family. This year has been no exception. Big losses but gigantic steps forward. I can’t help but think how differently life might have been had he not left us so soon. I’ve done my part to spoil the grandbabies as best I can but I think I’d only have “amateur” grandparenting skills compared to him. I remember a talk he and I had about the future once. We talked about sitting on the porch in our matching rocking chairs and watching our family as we grew old. That strikes a chord for me for a few different reasons…..we rarely talked about growing old, we tended to simply live in the moment and now as I watch our family grow, my favorite spot has become my front porch. In my mind he’s sitting in the chair next to mine.
Maybe he knew that his time on earth would be short. 33 years old is not old by any standard. I have a lot of questions I’d like to ask him. I also have a few “I told you so”s that I’d throw in as well. He had a list of things to accomplish…get a house, get married, have a family. Done. Done and Done. I wish he’d had the chance to really raise his children. The boys were only 9 & 11. They needed & deserved loads more time with their Dad. I am grateful for the years of love, lessons and laughter that we did have.
Today, I pray that my slow-motion replay stays focused on the funny moments. The man couldn’t jump over a ditch or mud hole to save his life. He ALWAYS ended up soaking wet. Or the time he decided to improve on the family Catfish stew recipe, what he concocted was something that the dogs wouldn’t even eat (although they may have eventually rolled in it a few days after it was thrown out). There was the year he dressed as Santa Claus for the Harvest party at church and the boys were dressed as elves. I think one of my favorites was the vacation to the mountains with my Grandmother and he drank her prune juice in the middle of the night….he thought he’d been poisoned. That’s the type of memory I want to focus on today but I know that’s not how grief works. The pain will be real and raw. It may at times feel like I’m back reliving the slow motion nightmare but I know that “we” made it through the very hardest moments. Maybe, just maybe today will be filled with reminders of his laugh and love for life that could make time stand still and for just a moment I could remember the dream of growing old together.
As a child I hated going on Interstate trips that involved driving in the middle lane. I remember begging my Dad to drive in the Fast Lane. I was always in a hurry. Obviously the trip was planned out and the Interstate deemed the fasted alternative to arrive at the desired destination. So why not take full advantage of that glorious Left lane and get there faster?
A recent road trip with my Mom brought my former dislike of the Middle lane to mind and a complete shift in my attitude towards it. I’m firmly rooted in my Middle lane. I’m in no rush. I can plan for exits and detours before I have to veer across multiple lanes of traffic. I’ve got a little more control & preparedness of situations. By now you know I’m talking about something greater than a road trip, I’m thinking about my life in the “middle age” bracket. The time where my kids are grown and needing less of my attention while they are making their own way in life while my Mom is slowing down and in more need of my attention for the day to day. It’s an interesting place to be.
I tell folks that raising a Moma is the hardest job I’ve ever had. That’s saying something because up until now I would say being a grief stricken single mother took that position. In my case, my Moma is the definition of an independent woman. I often call her my toddler with car keys and a credit card. She does not like the word NO. I used to think my stubborn streak was something I inherited from my Daddy but now I’m beginning to think it’s more a strong genetic thing direct from the Mother. I should probably add that I’m an only child, a small fact that the world should probably be thankful for. I can’t imagine a whole clan of us running around with this shared temper and set of social skills. The draw back to being that only child is the sharing of “parenting” duties when it comes to raising said toddler with car keys and a credit card.
I remember promising my Daddy that I would look after her when he was gone. I don’t take my promises lightly. I can’t say it’s been easy but she makes it fun. She’s become my best friend. Most of the time if you see one of us you see both. She has her interests and I have mine. We both love our family so much it borders on the ridiculous. We have a shared love of flowers and gardening, so much so that the flower beds have take over all of the mowable yard space. Simple joys. She’s taught me to embrace the simple blessings of life and give all the thanks to our gracious God.
What she’s also shown me is how to transition to the phase of life we’re in now. When I was a child, my maternal Grandmother came to live with us. She would spend a few nights or sometimes weeks staying with other relatives but we were her home base. My parents balanced simultaneously raising a child and a parent with what appeared to be incredible ease. My paternal grandmother and “old maid” aunt lived next door and were also need of daily attention as no one drove. (Wouldn’t Aunt Kath get a kick out of being called my “old maid” Aunt?) I’m in awe of how easy they made all of this seem. Moma and Daddy were just that sort of team. How fitting that I write this on what should be their 59th wedding anniversary.
I’m a little distressed about what the near future holds. Moma has had a few health concerns that we’ve been keeping our eye on. Surgery on the carotid artery is about to be on the immediate calendar. It’s not the trips to the doctors or even the surgery itself but it’s the fact that she’s a worrier that concerns me most, this is the time when she needs to keep her blood pressure down and rest. We’re both doing this little dance not trying to let the other see how serious we feel about this. It’s tough. Once we clear this hurdle we still have heart disease, glaucoma and thyroid issues to monitor.
I see the wisdom in my Father’s choice of the middle lane all those years ago. I’m in no hurry to finish this leg of the journey or even take an exit for a rest area ahead. I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t want mile markers to indicate how far we’ve come on our journey that might mean they’d also let me know how many miles are left on this stretch of road. For now I’m simply going to set my cruise control and try and take it all in. My Moma has something she says to all of us “Buckle up, watch your speed and pay attention.” That’s solid advice for my life in the middle lane. Wave if you pass me, honk if you must but please be patient if you get behind me. I’ve never traveled this stretch of road before and I could easily get quite lost.
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it’s definitely a journey. It’s a constant reminder that even though I’m the Queen of Procrastination that I like things to be done on a schedule. I NEED things to be done on a schedule. I must control the schedule! HA!!!! That’s not how grief works. I remember thinking around the time of Kevin’s death “How long will it take things to get back to normal?” I was clueless. Absolutely clueless. My life in the snow-globe may seem normal from the outside but once it’s been shaken it’s never, ever the same. I wish that snow-globe wasn’t shaken quite so often. It’s hardly had time for the snow to settle before it’s picked back up and given a twirl. Every single time it’s disrupted I’ve learned something though. Sometimes about myself, friends, family, love, hope and disappointment. Always, and I mean always, do I grow a little stronger in my faith. It’s complicated but oh so very simple at the same time. I can’t do this without depending on Heavenly guidance.
My Daddy was AWESOME. I can’t begin to explain how much he meant (means) to me. What’s odd to me recently is I seem to be fixated on the 1 time he broke his promise to me. It was November 19, 2001. We were standing on the church steps about to walk down the aisle for the Kevin’s funeral. He promised me that he’d get me through it all. I will say that he did everything he could to make sure I was alright. I was just starting to get my feet back under me when he died. That’s a blow that I haven’t recovered from. I’m not sure that I ever will. I do know that life had to keep going. So somehow I got back up and started trudging along. There were my 2 boys and Moma to think about and keep focused on. They needed things to be as normal as possible. So 18 years ago I sorta boxed up my troubles and shoved them aside to be dealt with later.
If you could see the attic in the house I grew up in you’d understand more of what I’m talking about. We save everything. There are boxes, decoys, clothes (a certain yellow dress comes to mind), toys, a full stand of fishing nets, furniture, even Moma & Daddy’s china from their wedding registry. It’s all there. Mostly forgotten but taking up precious storage space. That’s like where my grief is. It’s packed in a box with other life events all piled together taking up space inside me. If you’ve ever used a box to move you’ll relate to this…when that box gets wet and heavy you soon have a problem. Boxes aren’t made to last forever. Sometimes when the box breaks you get “lucky” and there wasn’t anything of real value inside. But you still hung on to it for a reason. But that box could also hold some fine and valuable treasures. Maybe it’s labeled. Maybe it’s marked fragile. Maybe it’s half empty. There are a lot of maybes.
What I’ve learned recently is I need to stop adding to my box. It’s too full. The packaging isn’t made to hold but so much and I have overfilled it. I’ve been blessed with an amazing family. We love and laugh like no other. But those bonds that make us so incredibly happy and connected during life can bring a deep sadness and an unbreachable void with each passing death. The past 6 months have been TOUGH. Cancer took Aunt Julie in December and Uncle Scott in June. There’s no way to recover from those blows in what you might consider a “normal” time for grieving. Those were 2 more life events that I’ve added to my box I call “someday”. I’ve also added a few things from my friends because let’s face it we share each other’s burdens. I can’t do it for them but their pain causes me pain. Sunday I added the mystery of a missing hen. That may sound unrelated but her disappearance may well be what has completely overloaded my box.
From time to time I have to do some deeper soul searching, a mental health physical of sorts. I’ve gotten fairly good at not letting someone else’s mental health deteriorate mine. I’m also really good at building walls to keep people at a distance. Deflect, avoid and denial are my strongest coping skills (I didn’t say they were the healthiest.) I use humor and sarcasm to mask what I’m feeling. Sometimes I’m funny. Sometimes I’m just mean. If you ask how I am…expect to hear “I’m fine.” Hard to tell if that’s the truth or a lie…there’s a fine line there. I hold a lot of stuff in. Not because it’s too painful to talk about but honestly I have trust issues that keep me from opening up. I can’t be betrayed if I don’t share. It’s been said by someone I loved dearly that “Iris is incapable of a deep, meaningful conversation.” That stung. The old adage the truth hurts came out in that one. I am in fact capable of those conversations but I’d much rather avoid them.
If you’ve stuck with me this long then you deserve to now what’s gotten me so stirred up. July 13, 2004. The day my Daddy died. That grief journey that I’m on hits a major milestone each year on 7/13. Some years it passes by rather quickly and painlessly. This year I’ve begun to dread it more than ever. It’s probably because I’ve overloaded that “Someday” box and realize that I might need to face a few of those items sooner rather than later. The thing is I will but I really don’t want to. Somedays it feels awfully lonely on this journey. It’s not. Everywhere I look I see someone else having to face it as well. There are kindred spirits all around. Finding the right ears to tell my story has been part of my healing process. I’m a long way from being back to what I would consider “normal” but I’m so much further along this journey than I ever thought possible.
If you can help someone unload or unpack their boxes….do it. Please don’t intentionally overload theirs. I know a few of you reading this will want to help me with mine. I appreciate the offer I really, really do. Instead tell me about the boring part of your workday, how your Moma burnt the sausages, the joys of packing up your kid for college, send me a picture or tell me a story. Share your journey through what you think is the most insignificant part of your routine. I crave that sort of normal.