Pictures on the nightstand, TV’s on in the den
Your house is waiting, your house is waiting
For you to walk in, for you to walk in
But you’re missing, you’re missing
~ Bruce Springsteen – “You’re Missing”
Loss is one of those emotions that can sneak attack you after days, weeks, years, even decades. And everyone experiences loss differently, some go through all the stages of grief and others settle in on one of them for a short while or for a much longer period of time. I tend to find that I most often hover for awhile around anger when it comes to loss. I am angry at the person for leaving so soon, at God for calling upon them far too early, and at the universe for being so damn unfair! Even after I move past the anger and into acceptance, I am still often reduced to tears by a photograph, a song, a memory, anything that reminds me of them. Those moments sneak up on me all the time and in the wake of the anniversary of their death, I am overwhelmed by their loss all over again.
There are three people in my life that meant the world to me and still do even though they were not meant long for this world. When I was ten years old, I lost one of the most important people in my life and that was my Dziadziu. And for all of you that are not from my community, Dziadziu is Polish for grandfather. My Dziadziu, my mom’s father, was my everything. I saw him pretty much everyday of my life, with the exception of when I was born and he refused to visit me in the hospital in case I didn’t make it. He was never really practical when it came to those types of things. For example he claimed that he wasn’t going to give me anything, ‘presents’ until I was aware of who they came from. And once I knew they were from him, he tried to give me the whole world. My favorite memories of him are playing cards at the kitchen table for Friehoffer cookies, getting chocolate milk, coffee cake, and scratchies at Grampy’s whenever we could, having ‘coffee’ at McDonalds with his silly guy friends (Tony and Ernie), and making puzzles after school. Aside from those everyday things, he took me to airshows and even took me up in a four seater biplane for a scenic tour of the county. He loved planes and used to parachute from them as a hobby. As I result, I love planes and plan to some day parachute from one in his honor since we never got to do it like we planned when I turned eighteen. I was heartbroken when he died of a sudden heart attack on the 4th of July. It felt like my whole world turned upside down. He claimed that I wouldn’t visit him when I got older, so to this day I go to the cemetery to visit him and prove him wrong. Even after twenty two years I feel his absence and his presence. I live in his old house and am comforted by my childhood memories of such an amazing man who taught me to be strong in so many ways. (Also where my mom gets it.)
My second heart wrenching loss came as shock to my entire family and community at large and that was the unexpected death of Josh, my second mom’s (Nancy) son. I’m not even sure shock covers it. My family first heard the news through a mutual family friend and the rest of that day is somewhat of a blur. At the time I was a sophomore in college and Josh was weeks away from graduating from the same college. We had grown up together. It was always me, Noah and Josh at every family function, vacation, etc. They were my ‘brothers’; they tormented me like a sister too. They teased me and cut the hair off my barbies. We had adventures of making mudpies and catching salamanders and bullfrogs. They were why I played sports. As I got older, Josh looked out for me like an older brother would. He commented on my drinking at parties or my boyfriends when he didn’t like them. I remember once he brought me light bulbs to my dorm when I needed them. I struggled with his loss for a long time, it just didn’t and doesn’t seem fair. The community, his friends, and more importantly his family have found ways to honor his memory over the last ten years by paying it forward in his name. His impact on everyone is staggering. I miss him and little things sneak up on me and I feel that loss all over again, especially on May 11 on the anniversary of his accident.
My most recent loss sometimes seems unbearable even still. This weekend marks a full year since Mike died on September 21st and some days I feel like it just happened. Sometimes it hurts so much It takes my breath away. I’m not even sure how to describe Mike in relationship to me. We first met in seventh grade when the two local towns merged into one middle school. Mike and I were selected at random to be in a group together, where he decided to tell me “just sit there and look pretty for him”. I vowed never to like Mike that very moment. And if it wasn’t for one of my friends developing a sickening middle school crush on him it may have stayed that way. My friend at the time discovered he lived up the street from me and begged me to call him and feel out the situation for her. They dated for ten minutes and somehow we became friends for a lifetime. That summer we spent all of our time together, he would ride his dirt bike to my house and I would attempt to ride the Honda Spree (a moped) to his. Eighth grade was no different, we were inseparable. It was during that year that he decided it was his mission to look out for me. I blame my mom for this development, because she told him she’d kill him if something happened to me when we went skiing during school vacation. I had never been skiing and well if you know me I lack the grace to be any good at it. I went down that mountain like a flying X with a crazy man behind screaming “I’m so dead”. Sometime after that, Mike decided he saw the whole world in the four months before I was born and he knew better. Thus, my entire high school experience was under his watchful eyes. Back then I found it aggravating, he wouldn’t let me date, didn’t want me to drink or go to parties, and even told on me any chance he got. And yet there was no better friend / slightly older twin. He drove me to school, helped me find my track skills, made the perfect Pitch partner, even found me a date just days before my junior snowball when the guy I had originally been going with turned out to be a loser. In essence he was always there for me no matter what. That continued straight through college. I remember when I first got to school, I was terribly homesick and all I did was cry. So on one Wednesday night he told me not to worry and that he would be there in less than hour with pizza and I would be just fine. He walked through the door 50 minutes later and he was right, I was fine because he was there! He still tried to run my life some from a distance, he hated my first real serious boyfriend. And I regret now not listening to him because he really was the worst. Shortly after I graduated from my undergrad program, I met Mike’s future wife (he just hadn’t met her yet) and we became fast friends. I introduced them at a wedding for another friend and the rest is a fairytale love story. They had two beautiful children and got married and carved out a happy home. I saw less of Mike but I always knew he was happy. Last April when I heard he had cancer, I was devastated. I was even more devastated when I learned by summer that his melanoma was terminal and it was only a matter of time. My friend Matt, who was also Mike’s best friend during those middle school years and on, was the one who broke the news to me and constantly checked in on me in the weeks that followed. I didn’t know how to be there for Mike and I certainly couldn’t see him. Not like that. I wanted to remember him as he was, a larger than life guy with a big heart and the most beautiful eyes you had ever seen. I couldn’t see him wasting a way from stupid cancer. I did what I could to help at the time, volunteering at fund raisers and sending gift baskets. I needed him to know I cared even if I couldn’t bring myself to see him. His mom, who I grew up around, assured me that he wouldn’t want me to see him that way anyhow. And that gave me some solace. When he died, I felt like my world collapsed. Why him? It wasn’t fair? He would never see his children grow up. His wife was so young. I just couldn’t make sense of it, I still can’t. I definitely hovered around anger for a long time. I was mad at God and the universe for taking him so young. It just breaks my heart.
After Mike died, I felt like the world was a scarier place without him. We may not have been close in recent years, but I always knew if I needed him for anything at all he would be there. Without him, my safety net was gone. The one I never thought I wanted. Oddly enough I rely on him now more than ever. It was only a few weeks after he died I started experiencing weird symptoms and just a few short months later was diagnosed with my own cancer. Now I do not believe we needed to have this shared experience, but it is the way it is. Now I look to him as a guardian angel of sorts. When I need to cry or vent, I often find myself sitting at his gravestone talking to him. It has sort of become ‘that place’ for me. Sometimes I just go there to be close to him, on occasion I bring my Starbucks and my music and I just sit. My own cancer has made his loss a constant reminder. And I know in my heart that he must be at peace, without suffering, but that doesn’t make me wish he were here any less.
Loss is just one of those emotions that sneak up on you regardless of time or circumstance. While I feel loss much like everyone else, I know that in return I have three amazing guardian angels who push me to keep fighting and will do their best to protect me. And I hope “the angels know what they have”.