Thursday, October 27, 2011

Last Nights Episode

I hate waking up the morning after a break down.  It's very anti climactic.  Even last night, as I was melting into oblivion, I was able to think about how angry I would be when I woke up in the morning and felt "fine".  Not fine, but numb.  As if the horror of the night before happened ages ago, or that maybe it was something I'd seen in a movie once.  Not that it happened to me, not only hours before. 

As I lie awake in my bed, shaking sleep from my mind, evidence of the night before presents itself.  My eyes are swollen from crying, my pillow still a little damp.  The sheets twisted all around me.  My body aches from the specific muscles strained as I curled up and wept.  Remembering the feeling of lying on my back, tears streaming down my face into my ears, muting the sound of my cries.  Feeling as if my chest will explode.  Taking in small, sharp breaths and pushing them out of my lungs in time with the heave of my shoulders.  Kicking off the covers in frustration.  Sweating.  Curling over on my side facing the empty space that was TJ's side of the bed.  Gripping and twisting the fabric of his fleece that I lay in his place, soaking it with my tears and spit.

Then, slowly, as if my mind is showing me a montage of events, I am reacquainted with my thoughts from the night before.  They're mostly vague, like some strange fever dream I can't fully remember.  What I do remember; covering my face completely with both hands, shaking my head no, asking out loud "why why why".  Forcing myself to conjure images of him.  TJ in our kitchen, cooking.  TJ at his drum kit in the basement when I walk in from the garage, TJ in his office at the computer.  I stretch my mind further, trying to remember details.  The way his shoulders felt when I wrapped my arms around him.  The way he'd try and pull away from me when he was tired of the embrace and I didn't want to let go.  How I would reach up from bed, arms stretched to him.  Beckoning him to come to me, then watching him walk past me out of the room.  He was always so busy doing something.  I wonder if he ever regretted those moments.  He would get frustrated when I'd hold on too long, or want too much of him.  He knew I'd never be finished.  But now we are.  Does he understand now?  And yet, there were so many times that he showed me.  Probably more times than he walked away.  Coming home to find him in the bathtub, candles lit, waiting for me after I'd told him I had had a horrible day.  Sitting together in our living room, TJ sharing new music with me while we sat together and sipped our drinks.  Watching him stand up and reach out a hand for me.  We slow danced in our living room to a song by Band of Horses, though I can't remember which one.  I felt the secure hold I had on his shoulders, I felt tears pricking my eyes before they silently slid down my face.  He leaned in to kiss me, and I lingered on his lips as long as I could.  Looking up at him, I curled my hand around the back of his neck.  Gazing into his eyes, my voice was a merely a whisper "I love you.  I love you so much.  Can you feel it?"  He smiled and nodded.  We kept dancing until the song was over.

These memories are the only ones I can recall from last night, though I know there were many others that I'd sifted through in my sadness.  I've been trying to record all of these memories that pop up.  Seventeen years of them.  I wonder how many I can unlock, long since forgotten.  This is why I am upset with my numbness after an episode.  I need to be able to tap into that melt down to extract the goodness.  To be able to remember the images, the experiences I was plucking out of my brain and examining.  I want to remember those as clearly as I'd felt them for the first time.  I don't want to forget anything.  I want to preserve all that I can, so that as the years pass I have something to look back on, to feel the warmth of his memory.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

To Baltimore, with Love

I went into the city yesterday.  Dear friends welcomed a beautiful baby boy and I couldn't wait to meet him.  I've always jumped at the chance to drive into the city.  I've always loved it.  I remember my first ride in, as an adult, TJ at the wheel.  We were driving in to go to a club, so it was dark and the city was a ball of light.  Driving up the long, elevated ramp the city looks like a pop up book.  A page opened up to reveal buildings, all shapes and sizes.  Old and new billboards alike.  My eyes always flying to the older, dilapidated industrial buildings to admire the lettering style on their signs.  It was always special, riding into the city.  And yesterday was no different than any other trip.  The sun shone bright in the sky and the weather was so pleasant.  Not too hot, but not too cold.  I had my windows cracked to let in the air.  When I'm stopped at lights, I look up.  I always try to remember to look up as often as possible.  There's so many beautiful and interesting things to be seen that so few experience.  I took the familiar roads past the harbor, watching people bustle through their morning.

The closer I got to the hospital, the more nervous I became.  My stomach restless, doing little flips inside me.  Listening to the sirens of the ambulances.  I shook my head in an attempt to clear it several times.  This was a good trip.  Beautiful new life.  I found my way to the garage and drove to the very top.  I couldn't wait to view the city from that height.  Before I opened the door to reach the elevators, I took three deep breaths and let them out.  Then I opened the door.

It wasn't the same hospital that TJ died in, but there are characteristics that all hospitals have.  I found the information desk to check in, got my badge, and worked my way towards my destination.  The lobby was just a lobby.  I was just fine.  I was directed down a long hall towards the correct set of elevators.  As I went, I passed several waiting rooms on that main floor.  I looked at the faces that I saw.  Some were sad, some tired.  I wondered what they were suffering from, or who they loved that was suffering.  I made a point to smile as I walked along, tricking myself in some ways and genuinely meaning it in others.  When I came off of the elevators on that 15th floor, the smell hit me.  I was in the hospital again.  I closed my eyes and tried to remember what it smelled like in the lobby instead of up here.  It didn't work.  I lifted my hand to my face, fist clenched against my mouth, my index finger slipping upward to rest under my nostrils.  I smelled the salt of my own skin.  I breathed deeply and prepared to move forward.  This was a happy time.  New life.  Time to build new associations.

I enjoyed my time spent with my friends and their precious baby.  I relished the small moments I was able to steal time just to look at him.  I kept thinking about how TJ would look holding him.  Welcoming him to the world along with me.  How much he would have wanted to congratulate and dote on our friends as much as I do.  I realized then that this will be my new future.  Being able to help friends any way that I can.  To be able to play with their little ones and spoil them rotten.  I'll be that weird "aunt", the one everyone has.  That woman with the tattoos, organic smells, flowing skirts, and a hoop in her nose.  I accept this new part to be played.  It will be a pleasure and a gift.

As I said my goodbyes and closed the door behind me I felt a sigh well up inside me.  As I exhaled, I thought about how much I really needed different air in my lungs.  I walked quickly past the nurses station to the elevators.  In the lobby, I wove a path as best as I could through the sea of ailing people.  I needed to get my ID back and some cash for the garage.  Finally, I arrived at my garage elevator.  I watched the lights tick away my ascent; 4th floor, 5th floor, all the way to the rooftop.  Swinging open the glass and metal door, a rush of crisp air filled my lungs.  It tasted like fall and exhaust.  It was wonderful.  I didn't leave right away.  I just leaned over the cement wall looking out into the city buildings and breathing deeply.  I wasn't ready to get into my car yet, I needed more air.  I looked around, studying each building I could see.  Wondering how many people were in it at that moment and what their lives were like.

Once I was home, I couldn't seem to get the smell of hospital off of my hands.  It's the soap there.  After TJ had died I didn't want to leave him.  After a few hours, the medical examiner arrived to make his assessment.  He said I didn't have to leave, but that it may not be a good idea for me to stay.  I decided to allow myself a break.  I hadn't used the bathroom, brushed my teeth, or even combed my hair at that point.  And it was after 9am.  I went to the restroom down the hall.  When I went to the sink to wash my hands I cried and cried.  As I scrubbed, I couldn't even see my reflection in the mirror; my vision was clouded with tears.  Whenever I cried, I put my hand over my mouth.  As if the action would save me from hearing the sound of myself.  I know that's why the smell of hospital was stuck on me yesterday.  Being so familiar with the smell of the soap from covering my mouth with my freshly scrubbed hands that one morning in March.  I tried all kinds of smelly soaps all evening, but it just wouldn't go away.  It was distracting, the smell.  But it didn't suck me back in time like I kept waiting for it to do.  The memory of the scent was there, and the association to my emotions was there.  I felt unsettled when I'd get a whiff of my skin, but it never held my mind back there.  I was able to let the wave pass instead of being swept away by it. 

Ever since I left the city yesterday, I've been thinking about going back.  How I think I'd like to live there, in Baltimore.  A friend told me two days ago that he thought I should move away.  It stung.  I heard it as rejection.  It still stings a little; my vulnerability ever present.  But I get it.  It's a way to be in a new environment that isn't so fraught with memories of my old life.  I'd be lying to myself if I didn't admit that he might be right.  Visiting Alaska was freeing.  Being in a whole new place, a new routine, smiling at people knowing they could never know what happened to me.  Frederick is small.  Everyone knows my families.  When I leave a room, I can only imagine what goes on.  If I'm discussed.  At what length... but in Alaska I was just me.  Tragedy wasn't so extreme.  I could breathe easier.

I realize that at this point in time I could never go that far.  I don't know if at any point in my life I could ever go that far.  But maybe I could get the same desired effect and not have to move across the country.  Maybe moving down the road to Baltimore, or outside of it, would be a step.  It's a different place filled with newness and also familiarity.  It's not far, but far enough.  I could still see my friends and my family often.  It couldn't hurt to try it.  If it doesn't give me what I'm looking for, I can come back.  TJ always had a special place in his heart for Baltimore.  We even talked about moving there just months before his death.  I hope he won't be too upset if I make that move without him, after all of the years of poking and prodding me in that direction.

I've got a lot to think about, but I'm feeling good about a change of scenery.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Future Dissolves

Life is moving forward.  Not for me, but for everyone around me.  I watch others lives develop and change in front of me.  Yet I stay still.  Not by choice.  If TJ were still alive I wouldn't feel so empty.  If TJ were still alive I could look into his eyes and tell him that I love him.  If TJ were still alive I might be pregnant.  If TJ were alive we would be moving forward into that future we saw for ourselves.  But none of those things will ever happen for me.  For us.  Tonight, I think about all of the things we won't ever get to have.  I won't see his heart swell with love for me as I tell him that I carry our baby in my womb.  The way husbands look at their wives.  The way father's look at their children.  The way father's look at the mother of their children.  I got a little taste of that once.  It was last Christmas.  I was two weeks late, and on that Christmas day I felt terribly tired and nauseous.  I could barely eat.  TJ would look at me with a face I had never seen before.  It was full of hope and love.  I can't even begin to describe it, yet it is burned into my memory.  I wish it weren't.  I will never see that look again.  I can only imagine how he'd look at me after our child was born.  After creating something beautiful together like that.  The depths it would take our love for one another would be endless.  The memory of hope in his eyes is killing me tonight.  Knowing how badly we both wanted that life.  To be settled, to be content, to be a family.  The new adventure to share with one another.  The joyous roller coaster it would become.  All gone.  I feel the pain ripping at me from the inside.  Deep down in the pits of my belly.  I feel like gagging.  I feel like retching this pain up out of me.  But it will always be there, no matter what I do.  Life goes on without us.  He is gone forever, and I am mentally gone.  I find no hint of momentum.  I can't figure out how to get started.  So tonight I allow myself to mourn the future we wanted.  The future we were right on the cusp of having before he was taken away from me.  When I think the pain couldn't get any worse, I am pulled deeper and deeper into it.  I try to fight against it, but tonight it swallows me whole.

I can't stop thinking of what could have been.  I am filled with hate.  Hate for whatever took him from me.  Hate that I am sitting here alone in a bed that is not our own.  Hate for this empty future I face at this moment in time.  I want him back.  I want to have his baby.  I want to have our family.  I want to feel all of the love that I had before.  There is nothing left.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dazed and Confused

I can't stop myself from thinking about him.  It's constant.  I wish he could see me now.  He doesn't know my hair is red.  He doesn't know what my new sweater looks like.  He doesn't know about my new tattoo.  I found this really great photo of us from 1999.  We're in his dorm on the love seat.  We're so fucking happy.  I'm laughing with my head half thrown back, leaning in to his chest.  He's got his arm wrapped around me and his head tilted touching mine.  I framed it and put it on my night stand.  I leaned over tonight to look at it and something inside me snapped.  I was overwhelmed with complete and utter confusion.

Twelve years we were together.  Well, just shy of by one month.  We did so many things together.  I have so many memories.  He's been a part of my life for the past 17 years.  How can I keep going alone now?  He was always there.  Always.  He was my best friend.  I know that sounds cliche, but it's true.  We could do everything, or nothing, and have a fabulous time.  We could fly all the way to Las Vegas just to see Morrissey, or we could lay in bed and read next to each other.  Both of those things made me happy beyond words.  We went to a concert, just the two of us, in October before he died.  I really didn't feel up to it; he always joked that I was in my 40's.  But we went, and while I was dancing in the balcony of the 9:30 Club I looked up at him.  The connection we shared was blinding.  When I looked into his eyes, I saw the same love I was feeling right at the exact moment he was feeling it.  He leaned down to kiss me then, and it was one of the most exciting, most contented feelings I've ever had.  All I'd ever wanted was to settle down with him.  To build a life and be content.  To not want for anything more.  We were there when he died.  The happiest, most solid I have felt in my life.  I know he felt it too, and for the first time he wasn't afraid of it.

I can only imagine all of the adventures and new experiences we could have shared if he hadn't died that day.  Life seems so boring without him.  Almost meaningless.  I fill my time with friends.  Having lunches, dinners, low key parties.  I love my friends.  But I honestly could take it or leave it.  The outings.  The niceties.  99% of the time I would rather just sit in the same chair and not move.  I've been struggling with that recently.  Just wanting to be alone, be quiet, and not move.  I could think, or not think.  Like a permanent time out.  But there are expectations.  And I do enjoy those outings once I force myself to move.  But it just feels right to sit still.  To be alone.  That's how I feel.  Without TJ, nothing is as fun or as satisfying.  I hope that feeling subsides eventually.  But, I find it interesting that I'm afraid for it to go away, though.  I embrace those urges at the same time.  It means that he was real.  That he existed.  That our love was just as strong as I remember.  The pain has come to be a faithful companion to me.  If I can't live with TJ, I can live with the emptiness he left and cling to it.

I can't imagine anything in this world, or anything elsewhere, filling that space that was created when TJ died.  He was such a huge part of my life for more than half of the years I've been breathing.  How do I recover from this?  I can't project myself into the future and see happiness.  Not at the level we'd achieved right before he was taken from me.  Everything was perfect.  We were finally on the same path.  He had his goals that I supported, and I waited for him to be ready.  To be content.  So we could start a family and continue our adventures.  There will be so many missed opportunities for love.  For joy.  For contentment.  Without TJ, life doesn't make sense.  I'm always confused, or dazed and floating through.  My life have no purpose or direction without my partner by my side.  I have to work hard to make things happen for me.  I have to start all over.  All over.  I have no foundation.  TJ was my rock.  Everything I do feels superficial.  I feel like a shack of a person that will tumble at the slightest winds.  I really have no idea what I'm doing.  I really have no idea where I'm going.  I really just want to sit in silence and be left alone right now.  I'm tired of fighting against the grief.  I just need a break.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Courtney Luck: List Maker

It's a beautiful day.  I took my lunch to the park and found a nice half shaded picnic table.  I always carry a note pad around just in case the urge strikes me to write.  Or make another list.  I keep them all in my notebook so I can reflect on them, too.  I made several lists at a time today.  While I sat in the sun and enjoyed the breeze, I wrote...

What Do I Want?
a job I look forward to going to every day
a cozy little apartment of my own
self love
ability to make my own happiness
visit all 50 states
conserve my energy for the things that matter
mutual relationships
write a book
live healthy
outdoor seating/fresh air
an apartment with utilities included in the rent
being in a position to make a relatively significant difference for others

As I looked up from this first list, I found a curious sight.  A young man, about 18, who decided the picnic table right in front of me was a great place to work out.  He was in a ball cap, low slung jeans, and a wife beater.  He proceeded to check his cell phone repeatedly, then progressed to doing several reps of push-ups and hanging from the beams to do chin ups.  It's wasn't as distracting as it was ridiculous.

And now on to my next list...

What do I want my new life to be like?
no debt
loving relationships
comfortable in my own skin and mind
Then I wrote "Side note: there are way too many sirens around here!"

There really have been an excess amount of ambulances and fire trucks in and around my neighborhood.  I don't like it.  The sound makes me cringe.  I just pray they aren't too late, like they were with TJ.

Things I'd like to work on:
quelling my desire to please others first
worrying about what others think
getting healthy
depending on others for my own happiness
expecting to figure it all out
expecting others to reciprocate love
mirroring others behavior to try and find myself
quit waiting for opportunities to magically land in my lap
bending and changing to suit others
fear of telling someone what I really feel
Remembering that I am not being punished

Qualities I like about myself:
genuine love for others
sense of humor
lust for knowledge
hard worker
emote well/ able to find good words
good communication
I am pretty and smart
I like my eyes, my cheeks, and my chin

By this point in my afternoon, I was distracted once again. This time a huge hawk landed on the roof of the pavilion to my left.  It was holding something with a long tail in its talons.  As it flew away to meet it's other hawk companion, it dropped what it was holding; a squirrel; then quickly caught it before it slid completely off of the roof.  They were huge, and made loud cawing sounds to one another.  I literally said "whoa" out loud, Bill S Preston Esq style.

Jobs I would Enjoy:
college professor
NPR reporter (I think I have a great voice for this)

Several of these will require a masters degree of some sort.  And others I really have no idea what those professions entail or require in an applicant.  I have some research to do.  I'd love to hear some feed back regarding my career speculations.  I'd also welcome new suggestions, if you care to post them in the comments section.  I know there are virtually tons and tons of different jobs out there, and I am feeling a bit limited when I made my list.  Brainstorming with others is always good.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Day After

I didn't think it was possible to miss TJ any more than I already do, but I was mistaken.  Since Grandpa died, I've cried more over TJ than anything else.  It makes TJ's absence even more painful.  Any time I feared, any time I felt sad, TJ was there to help guide me out of the dark.  He held me, made me feel safe.  He is all I know.  Losing Grandpa and TJ both has been a bigger blow that I realized.  It's more evident now that the hustle, planning, and services are over.  It's the same let down as before.  It's the dam breaking.  You have so much to focus on between the death and services.  Lots of things to do, events to anticipate.  But when it's over all you're left with is your grief.

Two strong men in my life are gone.  Two men who made me feel safe, made me feel loved, will never walk this earth again.  I'll never hear their soothing voices.  I'll never feel their arms wrap around me tight.  I'd dreaded my Grandpa's death in the past couple of years.  Speculating, worrying.  The images in my head, the events to transpire... that picture always included TJ.  Being able to collapse into his arms when I got the call.  Having him hold me during the viewing.  Being able to bury my head into his shoulder to weep.  Feeling his hand in mine during the services, squeezing mine tightly.  I never could have imagined the tragedy of losing TJ first. 

Three deaths in 7 months.  I feel numb regarding my grandfather's death.  Like my brain won't allow me to process it fully as a defense mechanism.  At the viewing my grandmother embraced me and cried harder than I have ever seen her cry.  Finally she said to me "oh, dear-heart, you've had a double whammy".  I thought she'd been crying for Grandpa.  I'm sure she was, but also crying for TJ and me.  When I went up to see Grandpa in his casket, when I got relatively close, the smell hit me like a punch in the chest.  The pungent smell of flowers mixed with the chemicals and cloth in and around Grandpa's body.  I hadn't gone up to see Uncle Spud in his casket when he'd died.  Now I'm thankful that I didn't.  Those scents brought everything back for me.  I couldn't bring myself to touch even his hand, knowing all too well how cold and stiff he would feel.  He looked good, though.  Like he'd sit up and say something.  TJ looked so very painfully dead to me.  He didn't look at all like himself.  People commented on how good he looked, but I just couldn't see it.  The way he was lying with his head on the pillow, his lips- lifeless and wrinkled.  I don't want to remember him that way.  But the image, the scents, the emotions are with me.  Carved forever into my memory. 

I don't know what to do with myself tomorrow.  Or the day after that.  Or the day after that.  I have no motivation.  I have no energy.  I will wake up tomorrow just as I have every day for the past 7 and a half months.  Alone and wondering.  I can't even tell you what I've done with myself.  It all blurs together.  Every day blending into the next.  Little series of blips come up: Spud's funeral, quitting my job, traveling to Alaska... but every other day is just that.  A day.  Just another day that I have to live through.  I guess that's how I get through each day without TJ.  I wake up alone, I try to fill my days.  I end up thinking about how to start my life over again, along with mourning my love and my life lost.  I lie awake and count the hours until it's acceptable to try to sleep, and then go to bed knowing I'll do it all again.  Living like that for days, weeks, and months.  Biding my time until the day where the fog will begin to lift and show me my new path.  Until then I suppose I'll just concentrate on breathing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Hard Working Man Finds Rest

This post is dedicated to my Granddaddy, George Raymond Wilhide II

My Grandfather died today.  My father was with him as he took his last breath.  It was peaceful and seamless from what I am told.  It doesn't feel real yet.  Being home while he was in the hospital in North Carolina has made me feel detached.  I'd been receiving updates since Sunday night when my Dad and brother's arrived.  I keep bursting into tears at random moments.  I feel such a great loss, and yet I am so numb to it.  I assume it's my minds defense to feel less right now.  Deciding to stay home; recognizing the pain inside of me surrounding TJ's death and Grandpa's illness was, and is, overwhelming.  I know I couldn't handle it.  It's going to get worse when the boys come home tomorrow.

Grandpa, me, and the boys

He loved us so much.  I can't stop hearing his voice in my head.  He was born and raised in Norfolk, VA.  He's got a slight twang in his voice that I can never mimic.  He'd called me "Courtney Annie" and "Darlin".  He'd leave voicemail messages like "Courtney Annie, this is your Granddaddy.  Call me back when you get this, there's no rush, and don't call me while you're driving.  Bye bye."  I have one saved that he left me a month or so ago.  I haven't been able to listen to it yet.  I can hear his voice so clearly in my head.  I'm going to hang on to that as long as I can, the sound of his voice.

Something is funny, and only he and I know about it.

He was in the merchant marines during World War II.  He traveled all over the world.  He and a buddy stole a train, he drove a cab and sold liquor to sailors out of his trunk, he got arrested for knocking out another guy, he went on a date with one girl and ended up wooing my grandmother instead that same night.  He was so smooth, even my grandmother to this day says she had no idea she was getting married, even when they were standing in front of the judge.  There isn't a person who's met him that hasn't loved him from the start.  He was so charming.  You should have seen all of his nurses over the years.  I took him to a few appointments and one in particular was amazing to me.  It was about a year ago, and I had to take him to the eye doctor in Towson.  We'd gotten settled in the waiting room, and I'd left him to go use the rest room.  When I got back he was leaning on one elbow over the nurses desk, and there were about three or four of them gathered around him like moths to a flame.  They were all smiling, giggling, and blushing.  And the thing is, he was never fresh.  Just had a way about him that made everyone feel special.  When his name was called back, all of the nurses watched him walk away with disappointment on their faces.  One called after him "We'll get that drink after you're finished".  "OK!" he shouted back at her from over his shoulder.  That's the kind of man my grandfather was.  Infectious.

How I Picture Raymond
 Grandpa was also smart as a whip and tough as nails.  He started his own painting business.  One my father runs today, and my brother has plans to continue for our family.  Grandpa worked hard all the time.  He built his beach house with his own hands.  My father helped.  If Grandpa was breathing, he was working.  Even a week and a half ago I was with him in North Carolina and he was trying to drill in some slats in the railing that had come loose in the hurricane.  Strapped with his oxygen tank and tubes up his nose, he sat down on the deck with power drill in hand.  He eventually acquiesced and let Dad put the screws in.  It was really hard in the past few years for him to ask for help.  Even when I saw him last, he hated to ask me to bring him even a glass of water and some pills.  He was always able to do everything for himself.  More like he could do anything for himself.  He really was a jack of all trades.  He could fix your car, make a killer steak, paint your house, and make you forget you were ever mad about something he said.

Silliness with Hats
He was always teasing us.  He'd wrap his arms around us, pinning our arms down and daring us to try to break away.  He'd challenge us to punch him, and pretend it hurt really badly when we tapped his arm.  Grandpa loved try and get a rise; "How old are you?  Oh that's right, you're only five..." "But Grandpa, I'm eight now!"  or "You don't know how to use a knife, you're just a baby..." and we'd be at least 10 years old or something.  It was always "I bet you can't do this" or "I bet you can't do that".  He'd quiz us on math all the time.  All the time!  "What's 1,549 plus 3,571?"  He'd barely give us time to answer before he'd blurt out the correct number.  I'd checked him on a calculator and he was always right.  Genius at math, that man.  He would have contests with me to see if he could look up a phone number in the phone book faster than I could google it.  I always won those, though.  Ah, technology.

My Happy Place

My grandpa built my happy place.  It's where I spent my summers, it's where I lived and worked right out of college.  It's where I played with him in the surf as a child, it's where my husband told me that he wanted to start a family.  It's where I ran to this summer to get some peace of mind.  It's the last place I saw my grandpa before he died.  When I walk in, I inhale and revel in the scent of sea air and tobacco.  I look up at the marlin that he caught and had mounted on the wall.  I see his many golf awards and his tumblers with Duck Woods Country Club etched into the glass.  In the cabinet are his putter swizzle sticks, his McNaughtons, his "El Cheapo Vodka".  In the hall closet is his Cattle Queen towel and his bright green polyester shirt from 1975.  Everything about that house in Duck, NC screams "RAYMOND" to me.  I'm unsure of it's fate.  But I know that my Grandpa will always remain with me, no matter where I am.  He was always looking out for us, and I know that job will never end for him if he has anything to say about it.

Grandpa, I love you.  I'm so sad that you had to go, but I know you needed to rest.  All of those years of working and worrying and doing.  We will miss you terribly and it will be hard, but you taught us well.  We will be ok.  Now it's your turn to rest.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Turn for the Worse

My grandfather is not responding to the treatments for pneumonia.  They are keeping him in the hospital in order to stabilize him enough to be moved.  Moved into hospice.  To make him as comfortable as possible.  That's all there is left to do.  My father and brother's are headed for North Carolina tomorrow morning to see him, and also for my Dad to meet with his sisters in order to discuss the future.  I can't go.  I don't think I can take it.  I thought about it, but it is painfully obvious that I am not in the position to make the trip.  It was painful seeing him the way he was just last weekend when I was in NC.  And he was not nearly as bad as he is now.  I remember trying to keep it together until he was able to vocalize what he needed me to do for him.  One night, he'd walked from the dining table to the island in the kitchen.  Only 5 feet.  When he got to the island, he could barely breathe.  He said "Courtney, I need you to go into my room..." and then he had to stop.  He'd said that first part of the sentence so slowly, and was already unable to speak.  He had to concentrate on getting the air that he needed.  A few minutes later he managed to say "it's so scary to not be able to breathe.  Poor TJ."  I felt my breath hitch in my chest.  I tried to take breaths myself as he continued to tell me what pills he needed.  As soon as he finished the sentence, I turned towards the hall and began to cry as silently as possible.  I love my Grandfather.  He's been a force and presence in my life since I was born.  And he has never wavered from that post.  As much as I want to be with him now, as much as I want to help him in any way that I can, I can't imagine seeing him in a hospital bed.  I can't imagine all of the beeps, and compressions of air coming through the tubes.  I haven't been in a hospital since TJ went in and never walked out.  As blessed as I was to be with TJ in his final moments, the images and sounds haunt me daily.  As wonderful as it was to hear him tell me that he loved me, and that I was able to return the sentiment of love, I wish I could erase all of the fear I saw in his face when he looked at me.  I wish I could forget how he looked while they performed CPR.  I wish I could forget the sounds he made when he gasped for the air he so desperately needed.  Having been through those experiences, I feel extremely fragile.  The choice is obvious to me, yet I still fight it.  I love my Grandpa.

Because of the choice that I have made, I'd resolved to make sure he knew even a fraction of the things I wished to share with him.  So I have written a letter that I will send with my dad and brother's to be delivered to my Grandpa in that North Carolina hospital.  And I share it with you now.  Please keep him and our family in your prayers.

To my loving Grandpa,

I'm sorry that I am not with you now, but I am glad to have such wonderful carriers who can bring this letter to you.  Grandpa, I love you more than words could ever permit me to express.  Do you remember when you used to tell me that I was your favorite granddaughter?  And I would always giggle, or roll my eyes, and reply "but Grandpa, I'm your ONLY granddaughter!"  I always loved that exchange.  I know we had to discontinue it when Olivia came along because it was no longer true.  Because you love us all so equally.  Growing up under your influence has been immeasurable in it's benefits.  I will never look at my coffee while I'm walking.  I will never stand on my breaks when my car starts to skid on the road.  I will always leave the correct car lengths between me and the driver ahead of me on the road.  I will never loan money to a friend, because they're the first ones to take advantage.  I will always have a soft spot in my heart for cokes and gingerale and Judge Judy.  I remember spending the night at your house and being so excited to have white bread with spray parkay butter, and a gingerale to wash it down.  All of the things I didn't have at home.  Soda, white bread, and butter that sprayed.  It was so much fun to squirt it.  It was as if you gave me permission to play with my food.  I remember when I would get sick.  You would always come over to visit when I was sick.  And sometimes you'd even come over with a McDonald's cheeseburger and a chocolate shake.  No matter how sick I felt, I enjoyed them because they were a treat from you.  You have always taken such good care of all of us.  I can't even begin to recall all the fantastic memories of my childhood.  But every thought of you makes my heart sing.  My life is filled with moments with you.  Your charm is insanity.  I've seen how you can win over any young lady just by talking to her.  You're smooth, Grandpa.  Yet always a gentleman.  You can get anyone you speak with to crack a smile and loosen their grip on life.  You are as tough as nails, yet as loving and sweet as a lamb.  You can build a house with your bare hands, and you can speak with a soft caressing voice to sooth your grandchildren when they fall and scrape their knees.  To call your son "Pal".  To always tell us that you love us, and to "be careful".  I remember recently, over the phone, you said that you loved me before I had a chance to say it to you.  You actually burst out with a "HA!" after you said "I love you" and then said "I said it first this time!"  I could hear the smile in your voice through the phone.  Triumphant.

Your care and concern for those you love runs deeper than any of us may know.  But we feel it.  It overflows from you.  TJ's death was the worst thing that has ever happened to me.  I couldn't wait to seek comfort in your strong and loving presence.  And I found that comfort.  You came in through the back door and came straight to me.  The only other time I'd seen you cry was at your mother's funeral.  It was shocking then, as it was on March 4th, 2011.  You kept saying "TJ was our 5th grandchild".  You loved and accepted him as your own, and you have no idea how deeply that touches me.  I know how sad you were, and still are, about his death.  And also what will become of me through all of this.  You call to check on me often, just to see how I am doing.  How I am coping.  I feel so lucky.  I forget that not everyone is as fortunate as I am to have such loving and supportive men in my life.  You and Dad are my rocks.  You're always there when I need you.  And even when I don't.  I can't even begin to count all of the battles you have fought for me.  Always researching things for me; shopping around for repair prices, fighting with insurance companies when that cab hit me on Patrick Street, negotiating charges on my Verizon bill when I'd just gotten out of college.  The list could go on and on. 

Out of all of the many lessons you have taught me, out of all of the many examples you've shown me, there are always three things: love, strength, and honesty.  You've taught me to fight for myself.  To do what is right and good.  And to love as deeply as possible.  You have taught me to remind the ones close that you love them.  I know I don't have to tell you how much I love you, Grandpa.  But I'm doing it anyway.

Please lay back, relax, and rest.  Let those who love you take care of you now, just as you took care of us for many many years.  It is our honor and pleasure to help you in any way we can.  Let us, as a family, return the favor.   

I love you forever and for always.

Your Devoted Granddaughter,

Friday, October 7, 2011


My grandfather is in the hospital.  He has pneumonia.  And if that wasn't bad enough for someone of his age, he also has emphysema.  Every time my Dad's phone rings I am frozen with fear.  Fear that this is it.  The call to say that he's died.  The thought makes me want to vomit.  I know he's old, and that he's had an exciting, full life... but he's my Grandpa.  I'm his first grandchild, and he has always spoiled all of us.  Just the 4 of us.  None of my aunts had children.  We're it.  He has always taken amazing care of us.  Always teaching us, always doting on us, always worrying about us.

As he's gotten older, it's gotten harder to accept for me.  He's always been so strong.  So able.  It's hard to see him in such a state of dependency.  When I would feel fear and sadness about his condition, TJ would hold me tight.  He wouldn't need to talk.  He'd just hold me while I cried.  I'd wrap my arms around his waist and rest my head on his chest.  His strong arms and broad shoulders allowed him to fully envelope me.  Shield me from harm and ease my worst fears.

I was just lying in bed trying to remember what that felt like.  I can almost feel it, and yet it's so painful to try. 

TJ is gone.  And one day, we'll get that call that I am dreading.  It may be soon, or it may be years.  No one knows.  But I do know that I won't have TJ's loving embrace to hold me up and comfort me.  I miss him so much.  Oh, TJ, I need you.  You always made this easier.

The thought of losing someone else so soon is just too much for me.  And there is nothing I can do but wait.