Last year this time I was checking the weekend weather forecast and getting ready to do one last cleaning of the house. Brent's cousin Kim and her husband Dave were headed to Portland to spend the weekend with us. It was their 26th Anniversary trip and we were really excited to show them around our part of the country for a change.
Then the phone rang. It was my sister Ann. All she could choke out was..."It's Dad. It doesn't look good." She said she would call me back and hung up. Now this wasn't the first time in my life I had gotten a call about Dad being sick, or in the hospital or even not doing well. But this was the first time I could feel the bottom start to fall out of the world during the call. For those of you that remember when Brent's dad died I actually thought it was my sister Ann calling to tell me Dad had died instead of my mother-in-law Ann calling to tell me about Jack. So to say that it was unexpected would be lying. But to say I was ready to accept it would be as well.
I texted Brent to let him know Dad was failing and by the time I got a response from him asking me what I wanted to do (we are talking a matter of minutes) Ann had texted me to let me know Dad was gone. Brent told me he could get a ride and would be home as soon as he could. I started to try and put together all of the pieces of what needed done. The moment when grief and practicality collide is always an interesting one for me. It's like your brain splits in to two pieces. There is the part that is wailing, tearing your clothes and putting ashes on your forehead and the part that is making to do lists and they are working together so you are functioning while tears are streaming down your face.
We still had company coming. Yes, they would totally understand if we all left them here for the weekend on their own but what good would it do to drag Brent and C to Albuquerque until the funeral? I would fly out as soon as I could and start on the things that needed done there, they would stay here with Dave and Kim and then fly out for the services. I would leave an itinerary for Brent to follow of all of the places I had planned to take Dave and Kim. He and C would still have dinner with them that night but I would beg off. I just couldn't. Everyone would understand. I got a flight for first thing the next morning.
During that time my mother called as well. She wasn't sure if I knew yet but of course as soon as I heard her voice and started to sob she knew. Most of you remember that my father died on my mother's birthday. We were all in shock about that one as well. How could that happen? How was that fair? How do you reconcile my mother saying it was God's will and now Dad was in a better place with the fact that she believed God would think it was okay to take him on her birthday? There were times over the next few days that I had to bite my tongue when people would tell me about God calling Dad home and how wonderful it was. I would smile and nod and squeeze my hands together to have something else to focus on so I didn't point out that this belief they held meant that God deliberately chose my mother's birthday to kill my father and that didn't seem like the kind of God I really wanted to spend eternity with. Instead I just smiled and nodded and squeezed....
We all made it through the weekend. Brent and C entertained Kim and Dave and sent me pictures of all of the places they went. The weather was just about as good as you can hope for June in Portland. Some rain but some sun as well. And I was really glad all of that went mostly according to plan. Albuquerque was what you would expect it to be. I wrote about Dad (of course) here and here and I'm sure other places as well, but those were the two I wrote closest to his death. The things that stick out the most from that time period are the feelings of being adrift. Of not being sure what exactly we were all supposed to do. There were the funeral plans to make, of course, but that didn't really take a lot of time. My Aunt Carol handled a lot of the little things, kept us all corralled on the same page. My family spent a lot of time sitting together semi-quietly. My grand nephew was our comic relief. To a two year old it was just a bunch of people together telling him how funny and fabulous and adorable he is. So he was the bright grief free spot for all of us.
I also fondly remember getting together after the funeral. We all went to my brother and sister's house and ate lunch and played games. It was as close to a normal family visit as anything that weekend was. I think we were all so tired of being sad we needed a time to laugh and relax and since it was just us, just the family, we felt like we could. And that for me was our first piece of, it's going to be okay. Because that's what happens. You have to figure out how to make it okay. To keep moving. To keep laughing. To keep living. Because one death isn't all. Even if it's your father.
So now it's been a year. We are finally at the end of all of the firsts. Which I knew from Jack's passing that those were the worst. From here on out it will be the big days that you dread. His birthday, Mom and Dad's Anniversary, the anniversary of his death. And it will be the little ones that take you by surprise. The times you see someone who looks like him. You catch yourself saying something that he would. The times he shows up in your dreams. And for a few minutes the grief will clutch your heart and you will feel like you just want to stop again. To sob, to tear your clothes, to get those ashes out. But it passes...and you keep moving. Because you have to. And because that's what Dad would want. And for me I know my father would want me to keep living the best life I can, as the best person I can be, and telling the worst jokes I know.