Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reality bites

The process feels so familiar that it's almost seamless, like stepping back into a room that I only just left a few minutes before.  I walk into the house and it's filled with the same people who were there last time.  They all know me and they hug me tight and whisper, "I'm so sorry."  I hug them back and we say some words about how awful it is, and maybe crack lame jokes about how "we've got to stop meeting like this."

It's surreal.

There's food and beer, and we sit around and tell stories, some of them relevant to the situation, others more random and organic, as if we all just got together on a Wednesday night to hang out. Politics.  Gossip.  What the kids are up to.

But then it's the day of the funeral, and as the time grows closer and we're dressed and heading to the funeral home, that's when the walls really start to close in.  I look over at my brother and see that the strength that he's been projecting up to now is starting to crack.  He's such a rock, but he's hurting.

In the room where the service is, there's a slideshow of pictures, playing in a loop.  Pictures of Lori from all different points of her life, looking vibrant and happy, her bright blue eyes shining.  It's so fucking sad.

But what's even more heartbreaking are the pictures of her and Emma.  Emma as a baby, as a toddler, as a teenager.  Seeing them together is a punch in the gut.

Josh has kept it together so well, but when it comes time to eulogize his wife, whom he loved with his whole heart, that's when the pain he feels becomes so obvious.  That's when everything shifts from surreal to utterly fucking real.  He cries and tries to speak, but has to stop to compose himself, until finally his older daughter joins him at the podium and reads the words that he can't bring himself to read on his own.  It's an extraordinarily moving moment, actually.

He lost his daughter and then his wife in the span of a year and a half.  His daughters lost their sister and then their mother in the span of a year and a half.  Plus a few weeks ago, one of their dogs died when she was hit by a train.

It's beyond tragic.  If someone were writing a fictional story with these facts, an editor would be all, "ehhh, it's too much. Too melodramatic.  Not believable."

Later, back at the house, everyone gathers again for beer and deli and coffee cake and condolences. And eventually, the youngest daughter, my niece who is Zeke's age - who has been remarkably composed in a way that's hard to fathom - finally falls apart.  And I find myself sitting in the bathroom with her on my lap as she sobs uncontrollably on my shoulder.

I hold her as she cries and cries.  I can't say anything except, "go ahead and cry as much and as long as you need to, honey.  We can sit here as long as you need to."  I rub her back and stroke her head and hug her to me.

"I want my mom," she wails.  "I want my sister back, I want my mom back, I want my dog back."

I bury my face in her hair and start to cry as well.  The depth of her loss and her grief is overwhelming.  How is an 8-year-old child supposed to deal with something like this?  How is her sister, a 13-year-old child, supposed to deal with something like this?

What I do know is that if anyone can guide them through, it's my brother Joshua.  His strength, his decency, his integrity, his commitment to doing right by his girls - all of that will be their saving grace.  He will lead them and protect them.  And his family and his friends and his community have his back - being here and seeing the extent of the support he has, the amount of love and respect he has among his friends and family, is awe-inspiring.  He's such an amazing guy, and everybody sees it and loves him for it.  It makes me proud to be his sister.

But damn, the road ahead will be long and bumpy.

1 comment:

  1. Wendy - your comment about the editor reading the "story" and saying it is "too much" just struck me. I can barely even read this post without sobbing. It is just beyond my ability to comprehend and I was on the Board of Kate's Club if you remember - the non-profit for kids who have lost a parent OR a sibling. Now your nieces have lost both.