Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Greatest Loss

I was listening to one of my favorite Broadway play's soundtrack just recently on a road trip. 'RENT' captured my heart many years ago for the social issues it addressed, and its message of love. For those that don't know, the writer and composer of the play, Jonathan Larson, age 36, died the morning of the debut of 'RENT' Off-Broadway. It's ironic to listen to the lyrics of the songs, knowing how this incredibly talented young man died of an aortic dissection, suddenly. He never got to see the immense success his show would go on to have, the social awareness he created, and the message of love so many of us took home.

In one of the songs, 'Seasons of Love', the lyrics talk about the span of  a year and say, "Remember the love, Measure you life in love. Seasons of love." This past year, and its four seasons, has been full of up's and down's no doubt. The loss of love, or what I thought was love. The loss of my rock, my grandfather. It made my previous loss seem so small.  I'll never forget that call. My mom rang me to say that Pop was unresponsive and the fire department was there working on him. The day I had dreaded since I was a kid was here. I drove frantically to my grandparent's little house, the one where my Pop fed me ice cream on the counter, and proceeded to feed all the great-grandkids in the same spot for many years. We have photos of me as a child, my brother's children,  and my own children, being spooned that sugary treat. A big smile on his face in every photo - from 1978 to 27 years later.  The house where we watched our beloved Clemson Tigers every Saturday. You'd find me on the couch in his, "man cave" and him in his chair, snacks on a TV tray for us both. He'd curse Clemson for a bad play but praise them for good ones. The man who taught me how to drive. The man who was happiest when the babies were over. The man who lived for his family. The man who was rarely without a smile and a kind word. And there he was, unresponsive, getting CPR, on the kitchen floor where just a foot to the left was the table where we had shared so many meals, Christmas dinners, birthdays, and just simple conversations. 

Being ex-medical, I knew it wasn't good. They had been attempting to revive him for almost an hour. Our Berea firemen were so good to us. They explained the procedure. I knew it. They'd work as long as they could, with their heart and soul, sweating and trying with all they had, as if it were their own grandpa, but he hadn't responded, and I knew that was the end for my sweet Pop. While he had 83 years on this earth, it wasn't enough for us. Had he lived to be 110, we would have begged for more year. Forever isn't long enough when you're blessed with someone like him. 

Now all that remains are the memories. Sometimes they're too painful to recall, although they're happy memories. You are reminded of the loss. The absence. Voicemails he left on my phone are now safely tucked away. His voice in real time. Leaving a message for one of my kids or telling me something he read in the paper. Some reminding me of the Clemson kickoff time for the next game. While I would give anything for that phone to ring and me to pick up and hear him, the voicemails are all i have,  a way of hearing him again, from the grave. He always ended them with, "Love you". I listened to them non-stop in the first couple of months after his death. To be honest, I can't listen to them right now. It just hurts too much. 

A day after his death, our Clemson Tigers played for the National Championship. A day we had been dreaming of for years. I sat in his chair alone, wearing his Clemson shirt and hats. 5 seconds left and we won. I cried just as hard as I did when I heard the news he had passed. What I wouldn't have given to live that moment with him. I put a National Champ shirt in his coffin. That moment was ours. I celebrated for us both. 

(Cherring on Clemson in 2016)

(National Championship one day after his death) 

(Pop's obituary the next day Clemson won the National Championship. Sometimes life is cruel) 

I have felt guilt for not wanting to think of him. It's not a lack of love, it's a lack of him being here. A painful reminder that he's gone. As for the grief, I am thankful for it. That means someone loved me unconditionally. Someone who had such a huge impact on my life from the day I was born. It means I loved and I was loved. My kids and my brother's kids were cherished pieces of his legacy. They were his life. His death devastated them. My son was an honorary pallbearer. He literally helped carry the man who carried him for years to his final resting place. 

Porch conversations 

My kids are eleven, ten, and six. They never knew a life without Pop. He would show up at my house just to see his, "babies". Yes, even out of the toddler stages, they all remained his babies.  My brother's kids, too. I am so thankful they will remember him. I will remember the moment I had to tell them that their beloved Pop was gone. It ripped my soul apart. They still cry to this day. But, I remind them that tears are just a reminder that they loved him and he the same. He would talk cars and Elvis with Mason or let the girls play, "spa", with him. He got hairstyles from the girls and he smiled through it all. As long as his, "babies", were happy. 

(Pop, Sara Rose, and Mason)

(Pop and his Taylor, his namesake) 

I spent the first few nights after his death with my Grandma. They had been married 65 years. Then, he was gone. Anyone who knew them as a couple would say being around them was fun. Non-stop banter and laugh-out-loud insults were commonplace for a couple who literally grew up together. I knew she would be okay alone, but I had to stay with her. I couldn't bare the thought of her all alone for the first time in her life. I slept in his bed, with his shirt on. I slept like a baby, surprisingly. It's funny how things, such as beds and clothes, make you feel closer to someone who has recently passed. I still wear his shirts to bed every night.  Pop and Grammy had two girls, one being my mom, and the other, my "other mother", my aunt. Pop always wanted a son. So, when my aunt was born, and he was told it was a girl, he hurled the baseball glove down the corridors of the hospital. One he got his hissy fit out of the way, he was partial to the daughters he had and the granddaughters who came later. He lived the life of having boys through my brother's son, Jake, and my own son, Mason. He had it all in his family.

(Pop and Grammy, 65 years later) 

(Aunt Angie, Pop, and my Mom) 

His funeral was fitting and beautiful. A man of faith. A man of good character who wouldn't hesitate to take the recently widowed food my grandma had prepared. He would have taken the shirt off his back for anyone who needed it, even if they were Gamecock fans! :)  He gave me blunt advice when I needed it, and saw the good in those who had done me and my children wrong, referencing the break up I mentioned earlier. He never saw the bad in people. Only the good. And that example is one I hope my kids and my niece and nephew carry with them their whole lives. 

(My babies saying a final goodbye to one of the few men who showed love and loyalty until the end) 

As Adele said, "They say that time's supposed to heal you, but I ain't done much healing". That's me six months in. To the day. I don't know that I ever want to heal. But, I know I want to show love to my family the way he did to us. Rest In Peace, Pop. I miss you more every day. 

Pop, your granddaughter plays this a lot. I'll see you again. Until then, my sweet memories will sustain us.