Monday, May 19, 2014

Living on a Love and a Prayer and Letting Go

I stood in walmart, it was almost Kiera's birthday, she was having friends over in 2 days and I needed to pick up a few things. Grandma had been in hospice and the time was near. My phone rang, it was my aunt. My heart dropped. I answered- Is this THE call?

My aunt laughed- oh no- not yet, she's hanging on. Is it a bad time?

Nah I'm just in walmart.

Maybe I should call back, or you call me back, but I need you to do something for me.

My day gets crazier from here- what can I do? I'm thinking- not much from a zillion miles away.

Could you say goodbye to grandma?

And like that- standing in walmart- life gets slammed back into perspective. I weave my way through men's clothes and head to men's shoes- no one ever hangs out there.  I take a deep breath, Kath holds the phone up to grandma and I say my goodbyes. I ask her to hug Bob and dad for me. I tell her we are all going to be fine. It's Ok.  And I am instantly transported to 20 years ago- sitting in hospice, telling dad the same things. Hug Bob for me. We're going to be fine. It's Ok to go. I look up and 2 guys looking at work boots look sympathetic and head for the other aisle. I have no right or claim to privacy there in the men's shoe department, but there are still good people who offer it.

My aunt and I chat and she promises to send me a card grandma wrote, the last card she wrote. She tells me how grandma wanted a religious card and painstakingly wrote out a message. I could tell this card meant as much to my aunt and grandma as it would to me. She apologized that Kiera's birthday cards would be late. I knew there was no shortage of love and prayers. By Kiera's birthday she had let go and was gone.  But we carry on.

I started collecting pictures from family. I got down a couple of boxes from my closet. I searched for pictures I knew I had, but couldn't find. In the process I found things I didn't remember I had.  I found the programs for my brother's, my dad's and my cousin's funerals. Each stuffed with tiny prayer cards. A drawing my cousin made for me on the way to my graduation. The sadness and pain of those weeks of loss very overwhelming. The timeline was this- the year 1994. My cousin Eric, after over four years of battling brain tumors died on April 18, on his sister's birthday.  There were times I wondered in the grand design- how something like that could happen. How unfair it was to end the pain but begin the loss on her birthday. Then I realized maybe it had to be that way, the only way to go on is to pair the sadness with immense happiness. Shannon's birthday would never ever be the same, but it also may have been the very thing that got us through the unbearable sadness of losing Eric. And each year we are reminded of how much it hurts that he is gone, we remember it is her birthday and for that we are so grateful. I found cards and letters from grandma- signed Love and Prayers.

We traveled from Colorado to Toledo for Eric's funeral. I was a senior in high school. He was just a child.  The last months are a blur. We returned home and one month later, May 18th my dad died. That same week, May 22nd marked the 3rd anniversary of my brother's death. Yet the next day is my dad's birthday. Again a strange pair of bittersweet. May is a time of great sadness for us. A time for a lot of love and prayers.

My Facebook reminds me over and over- 20 year reunion- are you coming? I don't recognize half the faces, I keep in touch with few. A few more now there is a reunion. Sometimes the loneliest place is being surrounded by others. In my mind- it's been 20 years that Eric's been gone. It's been 20 years since dad's been gone. More than that since I've seen Bob. The week after dad died, I went to graduation.  I spent weeks in the beginning of May trying to figure out how to get dad there comfortably- were there handicap spots, would mom and I be able to get him to the wheelchair, would we be able to get him in and out of the car. He was larger than life- even sick- he was a force to be reckoned with. He wouldn't have wanted me to worry about him. He wouldn't have wanted to be pushed around. It wasn't an issue in the end- I floated in a sea of graduates clinging to the emptiness of loss that was my graduation present.

My mom sends pictures- it's all I can do right now honey, it's just too hard.

My aunt sends pictures- I don't know how much I can do, I can't stop crying.

My uncle sends pictures- we're trying to set a date for the funeral, Jen- grandma would understand.

My cousin and her husband scan countless photos and sends them to me.

I spent weeks arranging and rearranging - trying to find the balance. Trying to make sure it was a meaningful representation of her life while representing how much she meant to others, how much she meant to me. Missing her the whole time, one of the last remaining links to my dad- one of the last pieces of him.  As I rearranged, going through chemo again, feeling worn down even further I started having anxiety about making the trip to Ohio. I wanted more than anything to be with my family, to say goodbye to my grandma but the thought of a day on planes then turning around and doing it again after a day or two really started scaring me. The germs- the stress- the energy needed- I didn't have to spare. If dad was here, he would go. But he is not here. He hasn't been for 20 years. Phil talked me down off a ledge of despair. He held me when the weight of not being healthy enough to travel to the east coast descended on me.  Then we picked up and carried on.  He gets angry sometimes because I don't like to show the hard times. I hate being emotional in public and I can rarely go a couple hours these days without being emotional. The toll is on him- because I spackle on the brave face and he has to be there to fill in the cracks as it breaks away. Two hours of being out requires an afternoon of resting. I thought of my Grandma and what she wanted. She never wanted anyone to fuss. She would never want to be the cause of any worry. She would want me to take care of me and the kids. To be able to take care of the kids means to take care of me.

I returned home from chemo and Phil grabbed the mail. He hands me a card, from Helen T. Connolly, my grandma. It's the card. This is the last card I'll ever get from her. It was perfect. It was touching. It did not hold the answers to the universe- but it holds treasure. It is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.  I would never feel Ok about missing her funeral, but this helped me feel better in general. There in the card- signed Love and Prayers.  I call my aunt to tell her thank you, she reads me clippings over the phone that meant so much to grandma. I text my mom, we share memories. I text my cousins, they return with memories. The book takes shape.

I finish the book and ship one to my uncle express, with love and a prayer that it makes it to the funeral. The other finds it's way to me. I sit and go through it with the kids. I miss my family and the happy times in those photos so much.  I feel the overwhelming sadness of not being there to celebrate her life and to remember her as a family, together.  I decide we need one final gesture, for me, for the kids, to say goodbye. Phil suggests Sunday, the 18th. And I can't think of a more fitting time. On the 20th anniversary of my dad's death, the night before my grandma's funeral- we remembered them and celebrated their lives. Pairing the happy and the sad. We sat around the dinner table and made toasts in their honor. We shared memories of grandma- which included using her magnifying glasses to set fire to several things and how if she liked you a bunch she would give you a big hug and you could hear her hearing aids whistle and how she was always, always sending love and prayers. So it was an appropriate tribute to let our inner pyromaniacs fly in her honor. Then we went to the beach and with some of the lanterns left over from Bella's Tangled birthday- we sent love and prayers into the sky.

Forever in my memory- will be a smile from Phil as he grilled dinner- do you smell that?  Not the meat- the sewage plant. Yes- well I'm hungry now- sewage plant smell. It means the winds died down. Its a good night for lanterns. The clinking of glasses as we shared memories.  Lily dancing around us as the wind started up and we were pelted with rain briefly. Lily is not calm she yelled- Lily is not calm. Each child taking turns holding the lantern when the wind died down and watching the first attempt crash and fizzle in the ocean, before it ever caught flight. The reflection off the water worth the untimely demise. Our friends there to hold hands and lanterns and take pictures- helping us let go. Not letting people go or memories go- but letting a piece of the grief GO.

And we start again with another lantern, another memory, another loss. Just like that, the winds died again. The lantern filled with a warm yellow light, drifting up to the stars. Taking with it a piece of grief,  a symbol of carrying on. And the children running down the beach after it yelling goodbye and I love you grandma and me hoping that in that moment our love and prayers were received.  Pairing the happy and the sad.

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Lily Kay Monkey

Lily Kay Monkey
November 2008 Photographed by Shelley Detton (7 Layer Studio)