Holy Cats, Grief Is Hard

Editor’s Note: I wrote this blog the day after my Poppa passed away, and I just couldn’t bring myself to post it. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions, but in the end, I decided to post as is….after minimal editing. The emotions are part of the journey, and can’t really be “prettied” up.

1 January 2018

This is a post I hadn’t planned on needing to make anytime soon. My Poppa passed away in the early morning hours of 31 December 2017. I guess that means he started his new year on his new journey, just a little bit early. He always did hate tardiness.

I’m sitting here at the keyboard, trying to find a way to make a helpful gesture to the universe, and I’m coming up desperately short. I don’t think there’s a way to tie this into a beauty blog, so this will be one of those “Life hits you upside the head, and everyone just has to deal with it” kind of posts. There won’t be much sense here, just lots of feels.

I came to St. Mary’s, GA to spend the holidays with my parents. After Poppa Buck’s last hospitalization over Thanksgiving, we thought he was doing ok. He’d transferred his case to The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL, where he’d gotten a second opinion on a different kind of treatment program that sounded extremely promising. He’d only had his very first treatment, when things went sideways.

I had promised him during his last hospitalization that we would go see the new Star Wars movie together at Christmas, after seeing an ad for it on the hospital tv. There’s a poetic symmetry in that, as the first movie I ever saw in a sit-down theater with him was the first Star Wars, being played way after the first run at a military theater. After the movie, he was worried about some sudden pain in his shoulder and flank, so we headed back home to consult with my step-mom. We ended up taking him to the local ER. They ended up transporting him to the ICU at The Mayo Clinic. Mayo took exceptional care of him….I cannot overemphasize how phenomenal his treatment was. But, I think the years of health issues had just weakened his body to the point of no return. There was a steady decline in his health over the next week, and we finally realized he wasn’t going to make it.

I decided it might be a good idea to help him say whatever he needed to say to whoever he needed to say it to, and also give them the same opportunity while he was still lucid enough to understand and hopefully hold on to the sentiments during the next phase of decline, so I started the process of calling friends and family. After telling them what was going on, I put them on speaker and held the phone up for him to hear them. That may be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It wasn’t long after that he lost consciousness, and never regained it. As long as I live, I pray that he held those conversations in his heart when he was no longer able to be awake with us, and that they provided comfort. I imagine his soul, at that point, in a protective little cocoon, being nurtured by those messages, while his body prepared to transition to his next journey. I can tell you that every time one of us held his hand, or kissed him, or whispered our messages to him, his heart rate went up.

Once family started arriving, things moved pretty quickly. Everyone got a chance to say goodbye to him, and hug him, and kiss him. While that means EVERYTHING to us, somehow it just doesn’t feel like enough. He slipped away quietly at 3:39am. His favorite cousin Denny, who he really considered a brother, felt a sudden urge to visit with him in the middle of the night, so he went on down. After his visit, dad started to go in about 15 minutes. No one can convince me that my Poppa wasn’t waiting for a quiet visit with his favorite cousin before he felt comfortable crossing the veil. I don’t consider myself exceptionally religious. But, I’ve experienced a conspicuous amount of stuff recently that I can’t explain to not feel (at the minimum) spiritually adjacent.

I got the phone call (we were staying at the Inn located onsite), and didn’t even stop to dress. I ran as fast as I could, and was able to make it just in time. I got to hold him as he passed, and it’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.

That’s the bare bones of the story. Nothing makes sense. Up feels down, left feels right. Everything feels so wrong without him in this world, and I don’t feel like I have a place in it anymore without him. But I’ve also never felt such an outpouring of love and compassion. Such a disorienting feeling.

Everything keeps reminding me of him. I’ll see or hear something, and think “Oh, I have to call Poppa Buck and tell him about it!”, and then remember, I won’t be able to do that anymore. I can swear I hear his voice in my head when I’m trying to sleep. God, I hope that doesn’t stop. I could kick myself that I didn’t think to save his last voicemail to me, so I could hear him say “I love you” one more time, even though we said it to each other at least 149 times in the hospital. I feel scraped raw, with every inch of my skin flayed, and nothing soothes.

My biggest fear right now is actually for my step-mom, who after 27 years of marriage to the most wonderful man in the world, is now knocking around in their dream house that they just finished building and moving into, by herself. I’ve got one goal…to make sure she knows how much she is loved, and how appreciative I am that they were still sweethearts after all these years. She was his angel on earth, and he loved her desperately, as do the rest of us.

Now, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do life stuff without his physical presence. I still feel him all around me, which is a comfort. But I don’t think the Poppa Buck shaped hole in my heart will ever be filled. I guess that’s as it should be, I just need to figure out how to be at peace with that.

Some sleep might help, to start. I think my body has forgotten how to do that successfully.