Originally Written: March 15, 2018
Disclaimer: I have put off writing this blog post for over a week. For possibly the first time in my life, the need to write out my feelings and gather my thoughts hasn’t been there. I’m positive that’s for one reason and one reason only.
I know it’s going to hurt.
Much of my time up until this point has been focused on being present for family members or traveling or overcoming jet lag (which I’m failing at). it has kept me from needing to reflect on my own sadness. As open as I am in my writing, I am actually a very reserved individual. Showing emotion, crying, bearing weakness in front of others is not my strong suit; neither is being able to comfort others in times of distress. I have many strong attributes…knowing the right words to say to ease broken hearts is not one of them.
Therefore, this is hard for me. Up until this point in my life, I’ve been very blessed and haven’t had to deal with a close loss, and it’s because of that stroke of luck that I had no background knowledge to use when this happened. How do I help my husband find light in this dark time when I myself have never had to walk in the shadows?
It’s been a sad few weeks.
Ten days ago, a lot of people’s lives were changed when my father in-law, Ed, passed away. He had such a big personality and presence in the world that you can feel the emptiness of what was there and what is now missing.
There are dozens of other people who knew Alex’s father better and longer than I did. Some of the siblings’ friends have almost two decades of memories on me, but despite only getting nine years with him they were rich ones, full of love and clarity. It was actually a shock to think about how few years I really did spend with him, because it felt like longer. Ed was family, an integral part of the infrastructure that runs my household that I just felt like he’d always been there.
The first time I met the man who was to become my father in-law was back in May of 2009. Alex’s parents and little sister came up to visit him for Mother’s Day weekend and the two of us had reached THAT POINT. You know, the point in the relationship where “I love you’s” were exchanged and families were introduced. My parents had already taken an instant liking to Alex, so the pressure was on for me. I had never met a guy’s parents before, so I was nervous as hell and back then couldn’t fake make shyness away.
We went out for a hibachi dinner, I barely said two sentences to the man, and I was so worried about what everyone thought of me that I never stopped to consider what I thought of them. That’s inexperience and young age for you…
The last day I spent with my father in-law he was driving me 7 hours north to my parent’s house because I didn’t have a car or a way to get back to the airport.
That’s how much our relationship evolved in nine years’ time. From a teenager too shy to hold a conversation with a stranger to a father/daughter in-law road tripping across Florida. I think that speaks volumes for the bonds of family and the effort both of us put in to welcoming each other into our lives. Once I married Alex, I was part of the family. Not just an extension of it…I was IN IT.
I’m there, I’m a _____ through and through. Nobody ever made me feel like an outsider, Ed included.
It hurts to know I’m not going to make more memories with him. That jolt of realization that hits me out of the blue knocks my breath away and leaves me gasping. Because man…what a stockpile of adventures I would have had if things didn’t play out like they had. Just think about it in the grand scheme of things. My heart breaks this much after nine years, imagine what would have happened had I gotten another nine?
That’s because if there was one thing Ed did, it was enjoy life. He lived and I know how cliche that sounds, really I do. But it’s the truth and something that I’ve thought a lot about in the past week. The man cruised two – if not three – times a year! He made sure vacations and trips and seeing what he wanted to see took precedence. In the last couple years alone, he went to Barcelona, Alaska, Rome, Puerto Rico, and Cuba! Adventure wasn’t “out there” it was within his reach and no place was unattainable. The same could be said for any goal. He wanted to lose weight…so he did. He wanted to try scuba diving again…so he did. He wanted to own a boat…so he did. If the desire was there, Ed found a way. It might not have been the best way or the wisest way, but he found a way.
Was our relationship perfect? Absolutely not. We butted heads. A lot. I can’t tell you the number of times we each held our tongues with one another out of respect for our spouses. I didn’t want to make Alex’s life harder and he didn’t want to incur the wrath of an upset mother in-law. Truth be told, though, I think he held back his retorts from me more than anyone else in the family. I can close my eyes right this second and see him physically struggling to keep his opinion to himself.
And I’m okay with that, because I have told numerous people over the years that I believe we butted heads because we were so alike. When you get two people who like to be in charge together, they can clash. Ed and I both liked making the rules and being the boss; we weren’t good followers. And bless the man, nine times out of ten he allowed me to do things my way without question. When we went to Rome, he let me say when to eat for the kids’ sake and when to visit sights and what to buy at the grocery store. I am an observant person, at least I like to think I am, and I knew the two of us had personalities that didn’t mesh well together but heck if we didn’t make it work.
I’m lucky in the fact during this time of uncertainty and blunt pain, I have a store of happy memories to pull from to help cauterize the open wound his loss has created. Some are shared with Alex, with my mother in-law, some with the kids, but a few are my personal ones. Conversations we had just one on one, times we were together without anyone else, such as the late night walk we shared over the summer. Those are mine, and I’m holding them close to my heart, selfishly not letting anyone else in. Nobody can have them because I won’t have more to receive.
If there’s one hope I have out of writing out these feelings, it’s to tell my kids how much their PaPaw loved them. My goodness, it was a sight to see. This big burly bearded man completely at the will of two tiny little humans. Landon and Evie won’t remember the moments that formed their relationship, but I will and it will be my pleasure to recount those stories to them. Landon dropping his toy car in Papaw’s Big Gulp cup not once, but twice. (When I gave away those toys a few months ago, I kept that one for that very reason. How glad am I that I did!) Evie meeting him for the first time when he was playing Santa Claus. Landon and him swimming in the pool together, just the two of them. Him reading Evie Moo, Bah, La La La more than he probably would have to his own kids because he couldn’t say no to his granddaughter.
It’s difficult. Every day so far, it’s been hard to think he won’t be around anymore. His family has to learn how to live a new life now, a life without Ed, and I don’t know how they’ll do it. Really, I have nothing to guide them on this new path. It’s something only their grief and the passage of time can set for them. And each individual is going to have to find their own way. Alex’s journey is going to be different than his brother’s whose is going to be different than his mom’s. Because every relationship shared with Ed was different, unique to that individual. The bond I shared with him was special to me, and therefore my heart will find a way to live with the shadow his passing has marked on me in a way that is unlike anyone else’s.
That’s the crux of losing someone you love, isn’t it? You can’t truly help someone deal with the loss, only be there to guide them and hold them and reassure them as they make that awful journey themselves. So the only true bandage I can give to Alex’s aching heart at this time is my promise to keep his memory alive in his children’s minds. I’m a storyteller, and there’s nothing I love more than hearing stories.
It’s my bread and butter, and so there’s one day going to come a point where hearing tales of his dad brings a happy nostalgia to mind, and when that day comes I’ll be there for Alex. I have a ton of them, and I can’t wait to remind him of all the stuff his dad had done or the way he lived. Like how he never had less than twenty flashlights on hand at any given time, or how everyone got so sick of French Onion Soup because he’d make it for me every time I came to visit. I’ll tell my kids the gravy story and how he got MiMi to eat rare meat by keeping the lights dimmed on dates; I’ll tell them I hope they can call Alex up one day for any little favor the way he did with his dad. (If your father in-law won’t order and ship a computer for you, then who will?)
And on the days to come, when something out of the blue really makes Alex miss his dad, I’ll remind him that he’s doing the best thing he possibly could. He’s taking the lessons and values he learned from the man who raised him and living them himself. He’s the type of father who will go back into the BX and search every aisle for a Rudolph toy his daughter dropped, because his father was the kind of man who jumped back on a city bus to rescue an imaginary dragon toy. He’s honoring his father in the best way imaginable, by not letting his teachings and his actions go to waste. They live on. Through Alex, through all his siblings, through his wife- every day we get to see them and be reminded of the man we were all blessed to know and to love.