Won’t Do That Again

I went out of town on a family trip on Friday, and, despite having had only 3 hours of sleep total spread over the previous 36 hours, I took my knitting out of my bag that night at the hotel. My BEADED LACE SHAWL that I had spent the last month knitting. The one that is my favorite piece of lace so far. And even KNOWING not to knit lace when tired. And KNOWING I probably wasn’t going to knit it that night. And KNOWING better than to PUT IT ON THE BED, I did it anyway.

I took it out.

I put it on the bed.

I went to sleep.

I forgot about it.

I got up the next morning.

I packed.

and I checked out of the hotel.

Now, when I say I know better, I’m not kidding. A little over three years ago my mom was hand-appliqueing a garment for a show for our friend Rachel Clark. Mom had it in a cream colored cloth bag, and when we got some tragic news, she missed the bag when we were throwing things in suitcases to race home, and it got left behind. The housekeeping staff also didn’t see it when they grabbed the sheets. Unfortunately, it was over a week before my mom noticed it was gone, and by then it was GONE Gone. Never to be found again, even though the hotel and staff diligently searched. Ever since then, we’ve both been SUPER careful about taking things to bed in a hotel room. And when I got up at 5:00 am on Saturday morning, and took out my Kindle, I thought about mom’s garment. I know how upset she was and how she’s never had the heart to try and recreate it. So I really DO know better.

After breakfast, we drove around town for a while before we actually hit the road. When we pulled off the road to take a quick picture before hitting the town limits, I decided to hop out and get my knitting, since it was going to be a long drive to the next town.

OMG. It’s not there. I’m sure my mother saw the panic in my eyes when I turned to her and said “My Little Mermaid…it’s not here!!!” Panic. Took everything out of the knitting bag. Took everything out of my purse. Rifled through my suitcase. Not here. Not here! NOT HERE!!!!

We turn around and head back to town. I call the hotel right away, and they check with housekeeping. Anna, the head of housekeeping looks around, but doesn’t see it. I ask if I can come and check myself. Absolutely! My uncle stops for gas, and my mom, aunt and I hop out and start systematically searching the van and luggage. If I can find it, we won’t have to go all the way back.

Front seat? No.

Knitting bag? No.

Purse? No.

My suitcase? Mom’s suitcase? No and No.

The back of the van? Backseat of the van? Under the seats?

No. No. No.

Still panicking, we head over to the hotel. Anna comes downstairs and meets me and mom and takes us back up to our room to search. We walk in and Serena is in the middle of cleaning the room. Anna asks her if she found anything in the room?

Oh, yeah, she says. A little drawstring bag with some knitting in it? And a pouch with charts? Yeah, it was in the bed. I tagged it and took it downstairs. It should be sitting on Anna’s desk.

I cannot possibly tell you how relieved I was. I was practically giddy with it. Aside from the cost of the yarn and beads, it is a gorgeous piece of knitting and the time and emotional investment I already had in the piece was not inconsequential.

So I’m THRILLED to have it back in my possession, and a letter to the management of the hotel about the wonderful staff will be written.

And, Greg, if this was you? NOT. FUNNY.

Okay, a little funny.

But not yesterday.

Signed,
Lynda the Guppy
Aka The Fish With Sticks
Aka The Guppy Who Learned Her Lesson 

Dear Greg…

Dear Greg,

It’s two years today since we lost you. Can you believe it? It’s hard to imagine that life has gone on for that long without you.

I went to see you today. I was feeling strange because I wasn’t feeling this large grief like I did last year on this day. Until I got in my car to go home and I started crying, and I sobbed the whole way. It’s like I’m moving on and coming to terms with you being gone, but there are these large pockets of grief that sneak up on me, and the next thing I know, I’m crying my eyes out on the 101. Like I said. Strange.

The first Year Without You seems easier, as everyone EXPECTS it to be hard. They expect the first birthday, the first vacation, the first Christmas to be so, so difficult. And it was. BELIEVE me. But the second year seems even more difficult, but in a different way. I guess I imagined this second year would be easier, and…it’s not, because it means that a significant amount of time has passed and you’re still gone, and you’ll never be here again. I can’t tell you how much that pains me.

Your brother and sister had a marble stone carved and placed it on the shore of Lake Powell. Your Aunt Nancy took you to England. Your parents took you to Paris. Did you see all that? Do you know how much you’re still missed? Do you know how much we all still grieve for you, even as we know you’re okay up there? Do you see that now during holidays and other family events there’s always that moment that nobody speaks of…the one where we all realize you’re not there. Do you see that we still look for you in the room, even now? 22 years of habits cannot be changed in a measly two years’ time.

I keep imagining you, your Grandma Dorothy and your Grandpa Jim up in Heaven. I picture you and your Grandpa Jim building things, and he’s teaching you how to build it bigger and sturdier. And you’re teaching him how to make it go faster, with your Grandma Dorothy either trying to keep you two from getting yourselves kicked out of Heaven for being too rowdy, or strapping on a helmet to join you. And as comforting as that thought is, I realized something a few weeks ago…

Your brother is now 22. At some point this year he’ll become older than you ever were, and I realize how much of our lives you won’t be there for. And how much of your life will never be. And I wish you were here.

Today is the beginning of the third year without you.

I still love you. I still miss you, Gregger, all the time. We’re all getting better, but it is taking time. A lot of it. But we’ll always love you, no matter how long you’ve been gone. And I think we’ll always look for you in the room. Every now and again, I hope you’ll be there.

Love, Cousin Lynda
A Still Grieving, but Slowly Healing Guppy

Looking Back…

3 years ago today, my cousin Allison and I were just pulling into the parking lot here at Loop Head lighthouse in Ireland…

 Loop Head, Ireland, 2005

…When we heard the news of the bombings in London. And we knew her brother Greg was planning on taking the Chunnel from Paris to London that day and we were trying to decide which was better: calling her parents to wake them in the wee hours of the morning to tell them about the bombings, and knowing that Greg was probably fine? Or wait a little bit, let them sleep a little longer, and risk them turning on the TV to find out themselves?

For what it’s worth, we opted to wake them up, and Greg arrived safely in London later that day.

Lynda the Guppy
aka The Fish With Sticks

Twenty-Three

Today would have been Greg’s 23rd birthday. It is so obscene to me that it’s his birthday, and while he should be turning 23, instead he will eternally be 22. It’s been six months since we lost him and it feels like forever…and sometimes it feels like yesterday. One of the last times I saw him was one year ago today. I was in Phoenix working and he drove into town to pick up something for his bike. I took him to lunch next door and we sat and talked for well over an hour. I’m glad he got to see SOME family on his birthday…even if it was just me.

I knew I wanted to post something here to remember this day, and I’ve been considering how best to do that for the better part of the last month. I can’t tell you how many times I started this post only to send it off to the recycle bin. So, here goes.

In the spirit of the way Greg lived his life, instead of looking at all the ways in which we miss him, here is a list of 23 things I love(d) about Greg…

  1. He would talk so fast his words would practically trip over themselves.
  2. Checking an incoming text messages on my cell phone and seeing him in his blue hair.
  3. His crazy t-shirts.
  4. His ability to get away with darn near anything!
  5. His pointy chin.
  6. He was almost always laughing about something.
  7. He had more energy than the rest of the family combined.
  8. His brilliant mind.
  9. His outgoing voicemail message. Even now it makes me laugh. It was so Greg.
  10. His absolute enthusiasm for anything he enjoyed and his willingness to explain it in terms that wouldn’t make people’s (my) head explode.
  11. His sense of the absurd and willingness to be silly. And allow photographic evidence.
  12. His ability to take really great self portraits.
  13. Getting an instant message from him one day saying “I need help translating some Latin and I thought of you.”
  14. His willingness to take off on an adventure, like traveling to Europe for school, or Hawaii to sky dive.
  15. His skill at flipping off a camera…A skill equaled only by his father and siblings.
  16. His appreciation of and love for his family and friends.
  17. His beautiful eyes.
  18. His stupid, silly, groan-inducing jokes.
  19. His open mind.
  20. An innate curiosity about how things worked.
  21. His sense of humor about himself and willingness to laugh at himself.
  22. His love of all kinds of music (Except country!)
  23. His amazing heart.

Happy birthday, Gregger. You are loved and you are missed every single day.

Love, Cousin Lynda

aka Lynda the Guppy
aka The Fish With Sticks

Remembrances

Today I am calling my friends. It was the birthday of one of my closest, dearest friends yesterday, so I didn’t want to call any of them, as I knew they were having a party for her and didn’t want them to have this in their heads. I have only been able to tell three people. Apparently that is my limit. That is the most times I can say the words “Killed in a motorcycle accident” without completely losing my sanity. I can’t say it anymore. To say it again would be to make it real, and it can’t be real. Can it? It’s all some sick joke someone’s playing on us. It’s not really him. It’s someone else’s son, brother, cousin, nephew, not ours. It can’t be OUR Greg.

But it is our Greg. And it is OUR beloved son, brother, cousin, nephew. And there is no escaping or changing that fact.

I went over to my aunt and uncle’s house both yesterday and today and it was excruciating. No one should ever be a witness to that kind of pain. They have to be the two strongest people I know, because if I were them, I would be under the bed trying to figure out how to breathe, and talking to friends or family would be beyond my capabilities. But there they are, functioning, making decisions, talking to people. Breathing. And they humble and amaze me.

They left for Arizona today to bring Greg home. For one last time the entire family will be together for a road trip. If I remember correctly, to get where they are going they will most likely pass the spot where he died. I can only imagine what that will be like for them. Are there flowers? Candles? Are there little remembrances as there so often are at sites like this?

While we were driving back from Lake Arrowhead late Friday night, things kept running around and around and around. Aside from the memories of the past and the loss to come, a few images kept showing up.

This one was taken, I think, at his older sister’s birthday party. I don’t know what was happening when this was taken, but it makes me laugh every time I see it. He just looks so annoyed.


The next was taken at my Aunt J’s house. She always had family over for New Year’s Eve, and we’d stay the night. This must be the next morning, and it so perfectly captures Greg: full of energy, going non-stop, and a little bit wild.


And finally, this one. He dyed his hair blue about a year ago. I remember when he sent this picture to my cell phone. I laughed and laughed because it was so typically Greg, and I thought he looked good with blue hair! He had both the personality and the build to pull something like that off.

While searching for those photos, I came across a few others. This past summer I spent some time in Arizona and his sister came out to go with me to the Grand Canyon. We went to Greg’s school so he could show it off for me. We were standing outside the main building and I wanted a picture, so I said, “Hey, smile! I want a picture!” And simultaneously, this is what they did…

They are their father’s children.

This picture was taken before a homecoming dance, I think. The two brothers. This picture also cracks me up because Chris never learned to walk. He strutted from the moment his feet touched the ground. He was Mr. Cool, whereas Greg was the space nerd. In this picture, there Chris is… He looks good and he knows it. And I can almost hear Greg snickering at him and saying “Get over yourself, dude.”

There are other, better, more important pictures of Greg. Pictures of graduations, his senior high school photo, the family pictures taken with his siblings, with his parents, with his grandparents, but those pictures above are my favorites because they show his personality. They show how he really was. I’ll stop counting the days soon…probably after the funeral, but until then…

Today was the second day without Greg.

Lynda
A Grieving Guppy

A Life Too Short

This weekend started out great. My mom and I were headed up to Lake Arrowhead with my Aunt K and Uncle J for this big conference. This year, my mom’s boss was going to be absent, so she was acting as host to over 300 doctors, nurses, and cancer researchers. This year, for the first time, I was able to get away and go with them.

We all left town in the afternoon and made it up there more or less by dinnertime. Mom and a few other doctors kicked off the conference by talking a bit about what was happening in the world of cancer research and what the programs involved were doing. After that was a “Social hour,” where we mingled, ate some snacks, and caught up with people who were there. At about 11 mom and I went back to our “condolet” and sat around talking for about 20 minutes or so before we both decided to call it a night. It looked like it was going to be a fun getaway weekend.

Then our family was shattered.

My Uncle J called just before midnight. He just got a call that Greg, his middle child, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Words cannot possibly do justice to the magnitude of our grief right now.

There’s this cliché that people use when someone dies. They say the person that died was the best of that family/group/office, whatever. And I also thought it was such a dumb thing to say. After all, how could it ALWAYS be the best person that dies? And here I am thinking just that very thing.

In my family, there are no dummies, but he was smarter than all of us put together.

He was going to school at Embry-Riddle to become an AstroPhysicist. While on summer break, he was building a laser. I teased him that he was living the movie “Real Genius.” And, believe me, he was TOTALLY the type to want to fill his teacher’s house with popcorn.

When he was young, like about 7 or so, my aunt came into his bedroom. He was standing on a chair holding two stripped wires and said, “Look mom! Sparkies!”

When he was younger than THAT, he got under my mother’s platform rocker and unscrewed every nut and bolt under there, but left it completely intact. He wanted to see how it worked. The problem was he didn’t tell anyone. We discovered it when the next person sat in it.

He was always building something or taking something apart to see how it worked.

When Greg went away to college, he was lonely and slightly depressed. His mother kept urging him to join a club. Get out. Meet people. He joined a skydiving club. She was thinking more along the lines of book club or movie club. This was not quite the hobby an Emergency Room nurse wanted her child to participate in.

I always felt an affinity to Greg. He and I were always the oddball children. There was 15 years between us, but we were always the kids that went and did our own thing, no matter what anyone else thought. We were the ones most likely to sit and listen to someone’s advice and we’d nod and agree and say “yes, absolutely,” and then turn around and completely ignore them and do it our way. In a family of extroverts, he was the only introvert. But once you got him talking about something he was passionate about, you couldn’t get him to stop.

I forget why we had it, but I remember my dad had this whistle. This whistle sounded EXACTLY like a train, and Greg was obsessed with trains almost since birth. And when he was about 4 or so, we’d sit in the living room and someone would blow on it, and his eyes would get huge and he’d say There’s a train! A train! And he’d race around the room looking for it, and we’d pass the whistle to someone else, and they’d blow it, and he’d run around to them. We could have kept this up for DAYS.

When my grandmother died about a year ago, we found a lot of things of my grandfather’s. And I remember telling Greg how much Granddad would have loved Greg. He was a carpenter and was always fixing or building something, and he would have ADORED his grandson. Watching Greg grow up, I always wished Granddad could have seen him. He and Granddad would have been tinkering with something every chance they got, and I can only imagine what kind of trouble they would have gotten into.

What keeps running through my head are all the stories I want to share about him. Things I want to tell people…tell anyone…tell everyone. Just so he doesn’t completely disappear.

Another thing that keeps going around and around are all the missed opportunities, like getting married, having kids, being there when his siblings get married and have their kids. Graduating college. Buying a house.

Turning 23.

I always thought Greg would grow up and go to college and do great things. I thought he’d find a new galaxy or build a better rocketship or something. Now…now I can’t even imagine a world without that amazing, brilliant brain in it. It is incomprehensible to me that the bright and beautiful light that was Greg is now dark. There is this huge, aching hole inside me and I don’t know what to do.

On the way up to Arrowhead we had heard Garth Brooks’ latest song, and, like the earworm it is, it got stuck in my head. There was too much noise during the party and conference kick-off for me to pay attention, but on the drive home I kept hearing in my head, like this endless loop, the following lyrics…

Waking a friend in the dead of the night
just to hear him say its going to be alright
When you’re finding things to do, not to fall asleep
Cause you know she will be there in your dreams
that’s when she’s more than a memory

And every time it replayed in my head I wanted to scream and cry and fall to my knees, but I couldn’t. I had to suppress all the grief and rage and every emotion just to make it home safely. Driving down the mountain in foggy, white-out conditions was probably the dumbest thing we’ve ever done, but there was absolutely no other option. Waiting for morning wasn’t even a consideration. We WERE going to get down. And we WERE going to do it safely, because anything else was not to be tolerated. This family could not have taken even one iota more of difficulty. My mom and I were reduced to banal conversation, small talk, chatter about her work or my work, because anything even touching on what we were racing towards would have broken us both, and we didn’t have the time for that. The goal was to get home. Get to my aunt and uncle’s house. Get to my cousins. Hug them. Hold them. And then and ONLY then could we take the time to start grieving.

When we exited the freeway and we were only minutes from their house, I had this insane urge to turn the car around and head back to Arrowhead as fast as I could. If we just got back there and went to bed, when we woke up everything would be fine. Greg would be alive. Our family would not be talking about how to bring him home from Arizona. Phrases like “head-on collision” and “medical examiner” and “release the body” would not be part of our family’s legacy. But I couldn’t. And we are discussing just that. And those horrible, hateful phrases are something that will forever be a part of this family’s story.

I remember my grandmother’s funeral just a year ago, and I remember how hard it was and how ANGRY I was. People kept telling me she was “in a better place” or “at least she didn’t suffer” and I wanted to slap them. Just scream at all of them to leave me alone! I remember thinking “don’t these people realize there is NOTHING to say to make it easier??” I wanted to yell at everyone that the best thing is just say “I’m sorry” and leave it at that. I didn’t want pathetic platitudes. I just wanted someone ANYONE to just acknowledge that whether or not we were ready for her to go, it still sucked and it still hurt and I was not ready to hear about her “better place.” Not then when my grief was so fresh.

Greg’s funeral is going to be a million times worse. We were ready and prepared for my grandmother’s death. We had been sitting vigil at her bedside for 3 days. Greg…it’s so senseless. A motorcycle, a crossed yellow line, a semi…And for him to be so young and to know he will never get any older…I can’t begin to wrap my head around it.

Our family has changed in so many ways in an instant. His family went from a family of five, to only four around the dinner table. Of the four grandchildren, there were two girls and two boys. Now Chris is the only boy. There were three siblings, and now the two remaining have to figure out a way to go on with this huge gaping hole in the middle. When you talked about them it was always “J, K, Allisongregchris.” How do we adjust to “Allison____Chris”?

My life was brighter for having him in it, and it’s now so much darker in this world without him.

Today is the first day without Greg.

Lynda
A Grieving Guppy