The past few days have been a whirlwind. I look back at this photo, taken at the turn of the year, and marvel at how quickly and completely things went off the rails. Here we are, out enjoying the sunshine and the return of warmer temperatures following an unheard-of winter storm that included snowfall. A friend of mine had come to visit and we’d taken her out, shown her around. Poppy was in the hospital when this was taken, still fighting for his life with every breath, on serious life support and all of us uncertain as to whether he’d pull through. And miraculously, he got better: incrementally, slowly, stubbornly, he got better, right up until he just – didn’t, and he’d gone.
It’s about object permanence, and impermanence, the things that happen when we aren’t looking. The family who flew into town to share stories at Poppy’s visitation, to pray a rosary whether or not we knew the words or believed, gone home now and continuing to live and grieve and move on in their own time and way. The cousins who’ve grown to adulthood when my back was turned, the children of mine who have somehow not been babies or even toddlers for a very long time, and it’s happening right under my nose. (Not for much longer; Libra is already 48″, a mere head shorter than I am.)
It’s about that very weird stage of grieving that is anger that the world dares to go on as though nothing has changed, which is both true and not, and it’s the truth of it that stings: not even that the sun still rises, for it will go on rising and setting long after it has set on the last of human eyes alive to witness it, but that I still have to wake Libra in the morning to shower before he can go to school, that I will eventually have to look at my budget and try to salvage it from having fed anywhere from ten to forty people for a week, that things will begin to settle down again, the same as they ever were except in the strange and sliding way that they are not. I am worrying about my youngest cousins, who lived with Poppy, who have seemed all right most of the weekend but who will be the hardest hit, returning to their routines without the steadfastness of his presence to make them bearable. I am worrying about my mother, whose entire month has been given over to caring for her father as he lay in that bed, nursing him back to health only to have him snatched away at the last possible moment, who returns to the other side of the country in two short days where she is bereft of the rest of us.
It’s about the hedgehog’s dilemma. Because I’m sure it’s said that there’s nothing like dying to make you think about living, but surrounded by the grief of family and friends who had lost someone so dear, I could only hope not to leave so many wounded in my own wake; I would rather no one mourn my loss, as it is, frankly, not a great one. My grandfather was worthy of that kind of love, because he loved openly, generously, and completely. I lie here wondering how to bring my family, flung so far and wide, closer together, that we might better rely on each other and care for one another in the way that he cared for all of us, but afraid of imposing so much. Surely there are reasons we are so widely flung, that only the death of a great man could put us all in each others’ path again.
Libra and Gemini both attended the funeral and internment, and were briefly present at the visitation that preceded both. It’s hard to tell how much it affects them, how much of their restlessness was the product of the boredom of any kind of religious service and the starched formalwear versus any hint of deeper emotional waters. Gemini did report being frightened, and I am at least still convinced that the better part of Libra’s anger is actually masking feelings of helplessness (why, hello there Pot, just call me Kettle). It hasn’t helped that all week they’ve been following nothing resembling their normal schedule, that they’ve been eating poorly and sleeping worse, that they’ve been inundated with cousins they’ve met perhaps once or twice and utterly enthralled with the lot of them. It’s been overstimulation central, I’m sure. Even with all that, though, I think they may have just not been close enough to him to really feel it the way that the others are; shamefully, we only visited in bursts a few times a year, usually coinciding with the times my mama was in town, so they didn’t know him as a constant presence the way we did. I wish they had.