Is anyone else – besides my youngest sister and her kids following the sudden death of my brother-in-law 2 weeks ago – feeling fucked up over the fragility of life?
I cannot begin to imagine what they’re going through. I’m no stranger to death, dying, or even the fight for life, but the sudden, unexplained death of an earlyish-middle-aged, fit and healthy father of two young kids? No earthly idea what to do with that. Asking my sister how she’s doing feels futile, bordering on offensive, because it’s an unanswerable question. There are no words. The funeral is over, I’m far away, and I can’t just show up a few times a day to help with the kids or bring her some food or clean her bathroom or give her a hug or a drink or drop some F bombs on her behalf or try to be there in the exact moment it all overcomes her and she loses it, which is NOT her style AT ALL, but it’s bound to happen. So I keep asking, as futile as it might be, because I care. In the meantime, I’m thankful she has a village of loving friends who, in many ways, because they’ve shared her – and BIL’s – day to day life for years, are closer to her. Maybe I should stop asking the question and send her heart emojis or the occasional really sick meme until I get back down there in 2 weeks. I don’t know. I really don’t know. Do you want to know just how much I don’t know? I took death prizes down there to give out to my sister and a few of their close friends. “Hey, I’m so very sorry for your incomprehensible loss, here’s a hug and some socks that say if you can read this, bring me a glass of wine on the heels.” One of the those friends wore the socks to the funeral, with shoes on, hiding the message, but still, it made me laugh. Pretty sure BIL thought it was funny too.
Anyway, ever since he died, I often find myself plowing through my daily routine as if nothing has changed because even though it’s completely fucked up and some things will never be the same again for those kids, yes, LIFE GOES ON, which is a completely fucked up thing to say to someone, BTW, but it’s not as bad as IT WAS ALL PART OF GOD’S PLAN…and then, in the middle of getting Boy his breakfast or folding laundry or checking my work email I’ll have a flood of intrusive thoughts like, “BIL is dead. He died. He walked through his front door and dropped dead. On a Friday afternoon after lunch. One minute he was returning home with a friend, the next he was dead. Plans for Friday night, the next day, this summer, the rest of his life, cancelled. He was a father. His kids are fatherless. They didn’t get to say goodbye. He was a husband for a very long time, he was a co-parent, a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend, a neighbor, a dog’s person, a college professor, a colleague, a musician. He had unfinished business. And now? Dead. Game over. Gone. Ashes. What’s happening wherever he is now? And where the fuck is he? And why did he have to drop dead right now? Does he know how hard this is going to be for his kids, and how much therapy they’re going to need?! Does he know how hard this is going to be for my sister? Not cool.”
With Husband, while standing in the kitchen, I randomly say it out loud, “BIL is dead”. We look at each other, he gets tearful and I shake my head in disbelief.
I was in the shower the other day, getting ready to go to a meeting, and I knocked the shower squeegee thing off the glass wall. I started to cry, invaded by memories of my BIL’s fixation on bathroom and kitchen cleanliness. I admit I teased him over the years about the vinegar in a spray bottle he kept at the ready, and I felt a little guilty. Nevertheless, through my tears in the shower, I laughed about it again too. He was a puzzle, just like the rest of us.
I suddenly see Boy clutching his cousin’s hand as they walked into the church for the funeral, down the aisle, into the front pew. I might never see anything as painfully beautiful as that again. I don’t want to. Or I think about the priest’s tears, watching them as they fell, one by one, mixed with words spoken to comfort all who gathered to remember my BIL. Or my niece and nephew over that long funeral weekend and their attempts at normalcy – or its pretense. Or my sister, still parenting, somehow juggling that with processing this new reality in the context of her own long relationship with him, doing her best to do the long list of things she has to do now, things no one prepared her for, like sitting at Social Security for 3 hours to apply for death benefits. I think of her trying to comfort her little boy who misses his Dad, and who is wearing an ace bandage around his wrist as an expression of his pain. I think of my niece who so protectively guards her feelings and who thankfully has just the mother she needs in this multidimensional shitpile of a total fucking mess. You never know how strong you are until you need to be strong, I do know that.
Anyway, several times a day now, that’s the kind of thing that happens. Along with the awareness of just how fragile life is. It’s bad enough this happened to my sister and her family. And if it could happen to them, it could happen to me, and to you. At any moment, because there are no guarantees.
I don’t know what any of this means, but I guess it’s a good thing I recently started therapy again. Doesn’t matter why, I’m just thinking it’s a good thing.
I have absolutely no idea what the point of this post is either, but if – like me – you’re feeling the weight of the fragility of life, if you’re feeling shocked and awed, and if it’s possible, you’re feeling even MORE hyper vigilant than usual, let me give you some friendly advice…when you’re finally in the middle of a stone cold sleep at 3am and your husband’s snoring is so stunningly abrupt and LOUD, you’re sure someone kicked in your front door or set off a bomb on your front steps, and you’re violently awakened in what can only be described as a moment of pure panic, DO NOT under any circumstances – after making sure your husband is still breathing and running down the hall to check on your son – grab your phone and open the Find Friends app to check on your daughter because do you know what will happen???
Instead of finding your daughter safe and sound at her apartment on her college campus – WHERE SHE SHOULD BE – you’ll find her in the middle of a pond in the next town over.
I am not shitting you.
I texted her, and of course she didn’t respond because she was either in the middle of a pond or sleeping somewhere SHE HADN’T TOLD ME ABOUT. So, I did what any other marginally sane woman in my situation would have done. I briefly contemplated holding a pillow over Husband’s face, decided that was notagoodideaimmatureblahblahblah, so then I instinctively grabbed the prayer rope I’d recently found hidden in my bedside table, got up, went into Girl’s room, climbed into her bed with her beloved stuffed lamb and blankie from her babyhood, and remembered the nasal breathing article Susan Cain had shared on FB a couple of days earlier. And I breathed. Nasally. I wouldn’t say I prayed, not in words anyway, but I did wrap that prayer rope around my wrist and tightly hold the cross on the end of it in the palm of my hand.
I can’t tell you what was going through my head at that point, but the miracle was I completely released the fear that something bad had happened to my daughter. And because I then more fully understood Husband’s snoring had triggered my panic reaction – not a home invasion or WW3 – I still kind of wanted to strangle him, but I got over it and eventually went back to sleep.
The next morning I woke up feeling surprisingly not bad, not even pissed at Girl for God knows what she was doing, with whom, or where, WITHOUT TELLING ME.
I forgot about my 3am text to her until I received a response from her a few hours later. You’ll be relieved to know she wasn’t in the middle of a pond. She stayed over at a friend’s off-campus apartment, one town over, near – but not IN – a pond. WITHOUT TELLING ME. As it should be, even now. Because life goes on. She also kindly reminded me that if she’d been in a pond, her phone wouldn’t have worked any longer. So helpful. And fuck the Find Friends app too.
It’s spring break in these parts and Boy had a play date scheduled at a buddy’s house that same day, so I dropped him off and instead of going straight home to tackle a long list of things to do, as I’d planned, I stopped to check out a beautiful trail surrounding a reservoir near our home. We’ve been in our house nearly 7 years and I had never stopped there before. I’d always meant to. In fact, I frequently drive over the reservoir’s bridge, sometimes mindlessly, coming and going, here, there, everywhere, nowhere, sometimes noting my intention to stop to walk that trail tucked in between the trees, to sit by the water. And as we coast by, my son in the backseat, I sometimes interrupt whatever we’re talking about to point out the magnificence of that stretch of sky, especially at sunset. Its something he’s commented on more than once – his observation of my day to day nature (up in my head, intense) and despite it, my unpredictable tendency to suddenly stop and smell the roses so to speak, and to make sure he does the same. The thing is I don’t usually stop. Not really, not anymore. I might roll through a stop, catch a quick whiff, a hurried look, soon to be forgotten in a swirl of “more important” things to do.
Today I stopped. I stopped even though I was busy, I stopped even though I don’t usually stop all alone at places like that because…well, I’m easily scared, I’m always assessing risk, I play it safe. That might sound silly to you, but it’s an ongoing, heavy theme for me. Today was different. Today wouldn’t wait. I didn’t make it far on the trail because I got scared, but I stopped, I tried, and I did sit by the water for awhile. Time is limited, and for a brief moment, the fears or worries – among other things – that typically keep me from BEING STILL, from LIVING in the present, fell away because I denied their place in my life. I want to build on that.
Holy Week is about dying.
Resurrection is about Life.
I’ve been reminded – again – that I can’t have life without dying to some of my default ways of navigating this world. They may have worked at some point, but they don’t anymore. I don’t know why it has to be this way, but Sunday cannot come before Friday, and it can’t come before the messiness, the hopelessness, the work to do in between. I think it sucks, and it’s one of the first things I’m going to ask about if I ever see the face of God.
In the meantime, I want to live.