My Last Day With You

I was very lucky growing up because I was the first kid for more than a few years, so I got to have the family all to myself before my younger cousins came along.  We spent a lot of time together, and a big chunk of that time was spent with my cousins John, Mike, and Tom.  They took me to see Disney movies, played games with me, and, when I was three, they bought me a Lego set that would spark my desire to build things, putting me on the path to obtain my degree in construction.

One fateful day a couple of weeks ago, I received news that Tom, the youngest of my three older cousins, had passed away.  I’ve mentioned this in an earlier post, but Tom and I could always sit down and pick up right where we left off, no matter how much time had passed.  When he would come home from Florida, we would pretty much be joined at the hip whenever we were able to spend time together.  I love Tom so much.  He was one of my first best friends and role models.  The following is dedicated to him.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been spending a lot of time with you.  How I wish I could have gotten one more hug, a goofy joke, or even something as simple as a smile.  I wish I could have had coffee and chatted with you one more time, just like we used to.  To say that these last couple of weeks have been surreal is a severe understatement.

I was given the honor to document your last couple of days here with us physically.  I know that you’ve already moved on to another place, somewhere the rest of us can’t go yet, but that hasn’t made this any easier.

Yesterday was difficult, seeing everyone cry.  I know that’s not what you want, but it seems to be what we can muster for the moment.  I made sure to take pictures of the flowers and of the people who came and went in the time we were together.  It was a long night, and we were all exhausted by the time all was said and done.

Before we all parted ways for the night, we sat down and discussed details for the next day, but we also shared stories.  I knew you were there with us every time we’d laugh.  You could make anyone laugh; it was infectious, just like your smile.

Last night, I tried to stay up late to watch some hockey, but I was just so worn out that I was almost falling asleep during overtime of the Florida game.  I tried listening to the Stars game, but I fell asleep during part of the broadcast and ended up shutting it off.  When I woke up this morning and saw that they had lost, I was bummed.  It sounds so dumb to say, considering what’s been going on, but it’s true.  But today, Mike said something during your eulogy that made me smile – you were the perpetual optimist when it came to sports, especially Cleveland sports of all things.  So I can’t help but be optimistic about the Stars.  I guess that’s a wait and see thing, huh?  I’m sure you’d tell me to hang in there and not lose hope or faith in them, that the series had just gotten more interesting and suspenseful to make advancing to the next round that much sweeter.

This morning we got to the church and made our rounds to make sure things were ready.  We had everything prepared:  the flowers, the readings, the programs…but I wasn’t prepared for your arrival.  None of us were.  I had my camera to my eye when I saw you, but I couldn’t see well, despite things being in focus.  My shoulders were pretty shaky, and I’m pretty sure I forgot how to breathe for a minute.  None of it felt right.

I took a lot of photos during the Mass. A few of each person who read something, including me (I had to give my mom a quickie crash course on my camera so she could take my picture, and she took some great photos from the choir loft as well as while I was reading), a few of Father during his homily and prayers, some of the family.  I snuck out after Father blessed you for the last time and took some more from the back of the church before you were walked out.

As you were carried towards me, I forgot how to breathe again, and I was shaking.  When the guys picked you up to carry you back out of the church, I reached out to touch you one last time to say goodbye.  It wasn’t the same, but I just had to do it.  I took photos as you were walked down the stairs, but I couldn’t bear it anymore when they put you in the car.  I was standing there at the top of the stairs, grief stricken because I had just said goodbye to my best friend one last time, but I wasn’t the only one.  Stacy and the girls were there, too, and we were all crying.  Stacy reached out and pulled me close to her, hugging me tightly.  I made sure to hold tightly to her hand.

My dad came back up from carrying you, and I had to reach out and hug him. I told him that my best friend was gone, even though I know a part of you is still with me and always will be. 

Thank you, Tom, for showing me how to make other people smile and laugh, for teaching me to persevere, for encouraging me to find my way in life and to not be afraid of the big changes.  Thank you for being one of my very first best friends and role models.

It’s so hard to know that you’re physically gone, that it’ll be a very long time before I can see you again.  But when I do, how’s about we get some coffee and catch up, just like we used to?

Until then, Tom.  I love you.

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Too Real

Author’s note:  This was written in the wee hours of 19 April on the eve of 18 April, which is why it looks like I posted twice on the 19th.

The obituary on my cousin came out today.  I still can’t believe he’s gone.  We didn’t get to see each other often, but we were close.  No matter how long we were apart, we could sit down and strike up a conversation as if we hadn’t had any time apart at all.

My great aunt, his mom, told me that she thinks we were a lot alike, Tom and I.  Tom was outgoing, funny, intelligent, kind, and had one of the biggest personalities I’ve ever known.  He was one of the first people I wanted to emulate.  He went to college and later moved away from our family in Ohio to Florida to make a life for himself.  I remember crying when he left, not realizing that I would do the same thing myself at the same age he was when he moved.  I still moved south, but I came to Texas.  When Tom heard about my job and move, he offered to let my parents use his air miles.  I thought that was the sweetest gesture ever, and so did they.

I’ve been asked to take part in Tom’s funeral this week, something I view as an honor.  But I can’t help but feel a little empty.  None of this feels right.  Maybe it’s because it was so sudden, or maybe because it’s Tom.  I’m not sure.

When I get on the plane to go home in a couple days, I know I’ll be going to be with my family, to people who feel the same way I do.  But it’s really going to hurt because one of the family’s biggest personalities will be missing.  I’ll miss his smile, his stories, and – maybe most of all – the way he made people laugh.

Rest in peace, Tom.  We all miss you.

Počivali u miru, Tom.  Volim te.

Not How I Planned to Spend My Day

I’m hurting really badly today.  I received some news that totally stunned me and threw me for a loop.  At the moment, I can’t share, but it feels pretty shitty.  Hurting sucks.  Grief sucks.  Anything involving pain sucks, no matter what kind of pain it is – emotional, physical….it all just bites.

All I could think about while I was eating (which I had to force myself to do, by the way – I sort of noticed the feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I felt the numbness more) was that it can’t be true.  No way is this happening.  I’m going to wake up tomorrow, and everything is going to be fine.  This will all just be one, big, bad, stupid dream.

My heart really hurts right now.  I keep going through phases of being completely numb and just losing it.  I break down and cry.  The only word I can really muster is a four letter word ending in “k.”  Yeah, that one.  Eloquent, right?  For someone who is typically loquacious, I have been reduced to a pile of tears, numbness, and – not to be gross – snot.  My eyes feel heavy, almost like sandpaper.  I am almost dreading work tomorrow, but I keep coming back to that one line from Sleepless in Seattle.

“Work!  Work will save you. Work is the only thing that will see you through this.”

I suppose it’s better to be busy than to sit at home on your guza (butt), thinking about something like this.  Because the only good it’ll do you is to bring the endless tears and questions.  I know that questioning things is part of being human.  I keep coming to “What exactly was the plan here with this?”  I guess it beats the classic “Why?”

At the same time that I’m grieving, I feel lucky, too.  When my mom called, she couldn’t get a hold of me, so she called my boyfriend’s phone.  I can only guess that she gave him some pointers on how to help me through this and how to be supportive because he’s never gone through anything like this himself.  He’s been pretty great.  I’ve been able to snuggle close.  I think, after the last three and a half years, that he has learned how I process sadness and grief.  I need to be touched.  I want to be touched.  It helps me ground myself, realize that I’m still breathing, and understand that I have support.  I told him thank you a few times today already, and he’s told me not to thank him.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because he knows I would do the same for him?  I don’t know.

By my standards, it’s late.  I’m usually at least lying down in bed by now, unwinding from my day, but my brain just…can’t.  I can’t really unwind because I can’t feel too much of anything right now, except maybe a little hungry.  I guess hunger is a good sign.

Hopefully I’ll work this out and get to feeling better.  Either way, I’m going to work and likely lifting some heavy weights tomorrow.  I know I need the exercise for sure.  After that, who knows.