I took my mom to visit her eldest brother and extended family for Easter weekend. When I was a little girl, we’d go down for a week or so every year and we never seemed to have enough time to get around and visit everyone. She and I began to make a list of who to see this time and came up with only a small handful of people. We hadn’t really thought about it until that moment, but everyone else is gone.
We drove past houses where people used to live; now they’re just…empty.
That made me remember one of my flights home from a work gig. I was seated across the aisle of a 3/2 seater from an Honor Guard accompanying the widow of a fallen soldier whose casket was in the cargo hold. I observed the way they were seated; she was closest to the window on the 3 side, and her escort was on the aisle. It just struck me deeply that, to her, that empty seat between them must feel like the most empty seat in the world.
When people die, regardless of the circumstances, they leave holes in the lives of everyone around them.
I wonder what shapes those take?
Gram is an empty chair at her kitchen table and a number in my mobile that I had to label “Gram’s House” because, the first time I got a call from there after she died, I forgot for a split second that she was gone. I had been so excited to talk to her– only to realize my mistake and feel I had lost her all over again.
My grandpa, a brown recliner…and popcorn, Mexene chili powder, eggs fried in bacon grease, cold fried chicken with potato salad, holey socks, and a broomstick pool cue.
I always think of my friend, Bill, whenever I see someone with a unibrow because his was spectacular. My friend, Jim, is a red, 1970 Chevy Nova. Lifesavers and Chivas Regal are my Uncle Randy.
And here’s the odd thing: The void in your life, even if we lose the same person, might be a different shape from the one in mine.
The one person my mom and I didn’t visit this past weekend, her cousin “Big John”, once told us a story: He and his friends went around and bought every bottle of Boone’s Farm wine they could find in an effort to collect and drink thirty bottles for his thirtieth birthday. They cleaned out the entire small town! I always think of him when I see that nasty stuff.
My mom called last night to tell me that he died yesterday…
When my Uncle Dale (suspenders and peppermint tea) died unexpectedly in February, his daughter asked on Facebook whether these things get any easier. I still have my dad –which seems like sheer luck once you know his medical history– and I didn’t feel it was fair to comment at the time. I do understand loss, though, and I understand surviving things that forever change you. What I wanted to tell her was, “No. Sometimes, you’ll want to reach over and shake the person talking to you about their trivial crap and you’ll want to scream, ‘Don’t you understand that something HUGE just happened to me and that I will never be the same?!’ It never gets easier; you just get stronger and better at ignoring the fact that there is a gaping hole in your life.”
Sometimes, something –like the phone call from my Gram’s house or the trip my mom and I just took– makes us confront our emptiness. I don’t think there is a way to be ready for that, so appreciate the spaces people occupy in your life while they are still filled.