For the last three weeks, at least most of the time, we have been staying in a suite at the Boulevard Hotel in St. Joseph, MI. Nice place, right on Lake Michigan. But hotels are tough to live in for extended periods of time, especially when you’re not staying there for fun. Now we’re home making the adjustment back to having our own space, sleeping with our own pillows, eating our own food and being together without a ton of extended family around.
Yesterday I woke up at 6am and couldn’t go back to sleep. It was awful because I was soooo exhausted. I finally got out of bed, went to the store then came home and made breakfast (hash, with these two enormous t-bones we had the night before). By 10am my eyelids were sagging again. I was asleep by 10:30. Rhonda kind of napped in and out all day too. In fact, we went over to some friend’s house for a bbq in the evening, at like 5pm – before that ALL FOUR of us were in bed resting.
The last month has simply depleted us, each week taking a little more than the last. It was hard on Rhonda, because she has been on the certain path of losing her father, not to mention all the emotional periphery that came with it – dealing with family dynamics, needing to take care of the funeral, having two small children that don’t know what’s happening but need to understand what is going on…a working husband that travels all the time.
And it’s been tough on me for different reasons. Between the days we’ve spent in a hotel in southwestern Michigan, I’ve been trekking back and forth from Michigan to Indiana to Ohio to Washington D.C. for work – every week – tacking a night or so on in our house to make sure all of our things are still there, our dogs are doing ok, etc. It isn’t like my DC trips have been walks in the park either. I have been getting out of bed by 6am and not wrapping up work until after 9pm. The social functions I like to pad my emotional life with when I am out of Lima are nowhere to be found. Replacing them is the storm season of this career path I have chosen. Usually I’m ok with that. But with death at home and a political holocaust on the horizon for Democrats, I’m just having a hard time seeing the bright side of anything right now.
We didn’t tell the girls that Pops had died until the day of the funeral. That’s because our schedules have been so erratic that we thought it best to wait. We should tell them when we are together and at a point where we can stay together to let them process it, we thought. Furthermore, it was important to us to acknowledge Avalena’s birthday and not eclipse it with everything else going on. Maybe we would have to have a party later or do something more to celebrate once all the funeral arrangements were completed. But we wanted her to know that we know it’s her birthday and that is a special event for us.
The time finally came last Sunday morning. Cutting cartoon time short, I told the girls we needed to have a special family meeting. Ava immediately put a finger in each ear, closed her eyes and turned away from us. She never does that.
“Bird,” I said. “Are you ok?” Furious head shaking. “Bird, do you know what we need to talk about?”
In fact she did. After a minute or so of me coaxing her fingers out of her little ears she put it like this: “I don’t want to hear what you have to tell me.”
Fair enough. I didn’t want to tell her so I guess, in a way, we were having a parallel experience. Lily, on the other hand, pulled closer and her eyes got wide, waiting to see what we had to say.
From there, Rhonda and I struggled through explaining death to two toddlers who were hearing for the first time that there is something out there, a concept, something that, when it happens, results in you never seeing someone again. Ever. No matter what. There are a lot of things my wife and I are good at, some because we’re older parents, wiser than others perhaps, educated and making informed choices about how we govern our house and the lives of our children. There are even things that we’re good at by accident. But make no mistake – the list of things we aren’t good at exists and I’ll report now that explaining death to our kids is right there at the top of the heap now. Ugh. Not fun. We all cried, and for more than one reason. While we were thinking about losing Pops, we were also thinking about losing others and, inevitably, we were thinking about losing each other. Each girl digested the information a little differently, and it was interesting to see how it played out through them over the course of the following 24 hours.
Ava had obviously known what was coming. After the conversation, I watched her closely noting that she was pack ratting all of her stuff and carrying it around with her everywhere she went. It was important for her to see Pop’s body at the viewing. Both of them, actually. And even after they’d seen him one time they wanted to do it again and again until the casket was finally closed. It was important to them to even give him a kiss. Then later at the service, Ava opted to sit by herself, away from us, at the end of the pew. I wasn’t comfortable with that and eventually made her come sit between Rhonda and me. After it was all said and done and we were back in Lima, Ava decided it was time to get rid of her blankie. It seemed to me that it would make sense to put it away, maybe only for night time or maybe just store it in a box indefinitely. Nope. Bird wanted to put it in a box alright. But she wanted to put it in a box, throw flowers on it and bury it in the back yard. (We didn’t do that).
Lily had a thousand questions. Could this happen to you? Is it like him is sleeping? Is it ok to cry? On and on she went, each question more earnest, each making me sadder than the last. Later at the burial site she had a pit in her belly that she couldn’t describe. “It feels sad and it hurts!” she cried. I asked her if she needed to throw up. Yes. I asked her if she was hungry. Yes. I asked her if she needed to poop. Yes. I asked her if she wanted to go home with mommy and daddy. Yes – and then she started sobbing. I didn’t know how to explain to her that it was her heart that she was feeling, that it was so heavy it was sinking down into her belly. Just as they were getting ready to lower Pops into the ground in front of a silent and solemn gathering of friends and family, Lily broke the silence by loudly whispering to her little cousin. “Emmy! Pops is dead! Sometimes when you get sick you die! It’s ok if you want to cry Emmy!”
We’ll see how it all goes. Overall, I think they are doing well and perhaps more importantly – I think my wife is doing well. She’s had a long descent into losing her father, so I think in some ways she is both prepared and relieved. Still, things like this are tough, and your emotions sometime hide out inside your head and wait to sucker punch you when you’re not looking. Know what I mean?