In Which Life Stopped but Didn’t

Somewhere, hidden deeply on this blog of rambles and rants is a wise quote. A quote so wise that I’m pretty sure I didn’t say it and that I just paraphrased it. And I’m going to paraphrase it again because I literally cannot remember what I originally wrote.

“when a person doth die, it feeleth as though thine world should cease. Alas, it doth not.”

Moral of that story is that I couldn’t hang with Shakespeare on my best day.  A greater moral is that life truly does move right along with someone dies, and this truth is disturbing to say the least.

After finals wrapped up and I finally conquered Chemistry with a passing grade this summer, I thought that life was on it’s way up hill. Things were looking better and brighter. I felt like I was a young David and my stone had just pierced the delicate flesh on Goliath’s forehead.  Yes, I was victorious that Friday. And then Saturday rolled around. It was hot, of course, and sunny. I mean, it’s Mississippi. It’s hotter than….hot things….My stepdad came in the house, smelling like wildlife and magnolia trees, and told me that he was taking the neighbors fishing.  He’d already been fishing that morning, but was really excited about finally going to this secret fishing spot way out in the woods that our young neighbor knew about. I love to fish, but in that heat I let him have it all to himself. I figured I’d catch a fishing trip with him in the brief weeks between that weekend and the start of the fall semester. So we shared a good laugh, and I joked about him having to drive back to the house to get his phone that he left on the charger. As I watched him through the peep hole of the door, to ensure that he would not be knocking at the door for anything else he had forgotten, I didn’t quite realize that our jovial exchange would be our last.

Earlier that week I’d been having an odd feeling. I kept asking myself what I would do if David (my stepdad) died out of the blue. It was sort of the feeling I got right before my Grandfather passed away, but he had been sick for over a year so death was looming over all of our heads like a storm cloud waiting to erupt. I chalked the feeling up me just being paranoid. When you have anxiety, you’ll ALWAYS think, “well, what if the worst thing that could happen actually happens.” Never fails. It’s the unfortunate part of anxiety.  Well, Ma and I were customizing a pizza order for dinner when the neighbor’s mom came knocking at our door, looking agitated and pained.  As her and ma conversed, I thought that perhaps she was just wondering when David would be delivering her son home, as it was getting dark and the rain, which suddenly began pouring down minutes before, was not letting up.  But my anxiety started escalating as I heard them talking, and I knew something was wrong. And when I heard Ma say the words, “heart attack,” my heart sank. I rushed into the living room to stand beside her as she talked on the phone with the neighbor who had gone fishing with David.  From what I could understand, something had happened and they were thinking it was a heart attack.  Of course, I’m mulling this over like, “A heart attack? Okay, we’re going to go to the hospital and he’s going to have emergency surgery and everything is going to be okay.” Wrong. What Ma failed to tell me is that the coroner was already on their way to the fishing pool. That the neighbor had done CPR for 20 straight minutes to no avail. And that David was already gone.

Driving that long ass forty-five minute drive to the middle of Edwards, MS was like an out-of-body experience. The whole time I just kept thinking this isn’t happening. This isn’t real. This isn’t really happening to us. When we finally made it to the scene, the police standing at the road immediately took off their hats and began with the apologies. But Ma was a woman on a mission. Through their explanation of what happened Ma stopped the sheriff and asked, “Okay, where is he?” They pointed us up a long, gravel drive way and allowed us to walk up to where David was laying. Even as we saw him on the porch of the pond owner’s home covered in a black tarp the reality of the situation did not set in. Ma was praying and went bent over David, moving his head so that he faced her. Saying his name and patting him, praying that he could be that Saturday’s Lazarus. But it was not to be. And when they had to move him to a body-bag to prevent the ants from attacking, I just knew deep down inside, where faith and denial intertwine, that he was going to move. That a miracle was going to happen and he was going to bust the zipper on the bag or cry that he couldn’t breath in there. But it didn’t happen. Ma walked around, dazed and calling David’s friend for the name of a funeral home. I was dazed as I saw them lay him on the back of the firetruck and drive him to the front of the driveway to await the funeral home. And we were eerily calm. I’m sure the police officers out there were puzzled as they asked us if we were okay, and we said in even tones, “Yes. We’re fine.” And the wait. THE WAIT. The funeral home did not arrive until 10:00 PM.  So we had to drive home in complete darkness. And if I thought the drive there was bad, the drive home was worse. First off, we got lost, SUPER lost. My phone battery had died and Ma’s was dying, but thank God, we arrived in a church parking lot that was clear enough for us to pick up an internet signal. After Ma’s phone directed us to our designated street which would lead us to the interstate, it died as well. On a night that can make you question the inner workings of God, it also affirms that God was looking out for us. But we silently drove home. No music. No talking. No prayer. Just silence. And this thick cloud of disbelief. He was just fifty-five. It was a beautiful day. He never showed any signs. He is no longer here.

Shock is the most powerful stage of grief I have ever experienced. When my grandfather died, I wasn’t at all shocked. I was expectant. And I was shamefully glad. He had been suffering for months with no relief. His kidneys were failing. He was in pain every second of the day that he was awake. He’d lost more than fifty pounds. I was happy that he no longer had to be in pain in an Earthly vessel which no longer functioned in a manner conducive to living. And when my biological father died I was only five years old. I understood that he was no longer coming back even though I didn’t understand death (and Ma didn’t tell me either), but with the support of our family who assisted us financially and emotionally I adapted to the loss. But when David died all I could think about was how he laughed on his way out of the door. How we were just planning to call him to see what he wanted for dinner right before the fateful knock at the door.  And to make matters oh so worse, we got up Sunday morning and the sun was shining. Cars were driving to wherever their destinations were. And life went right along. Monday came and we searched frantically for life insurance information and life moved on. Tuesday, my brother and Ma had to finalize a funeral home and life moved on. Wednesday, the stress took a toll on my brother and we had to take him to the emergency room. Shortly after getting him back home to rest, Ma and I rushed to a meeting at the cemetery. And life fucking moved on and in my mind I thought this is the most messed up thing. I felt like the whole world should have stopped. I wondered how we could live on, move on. What I needed to do about school. What ma needed to do about the house. Did we need to move back to our hometown? Did we need to sell everything? Panic consumed me and I just wanted everything to cease for just a minute so that I could catch up with the chaos that had unfolded. But it didn’t. It never does.

And then Friday, the day before the funeral, my sister gave birth to a six pound, nineteen inch healthy little girl and I realized that I needed to accept that life does not stop when a life stops. As the newborn baby squirmed in her bassinet, trying to warm up under the heater, the epitome of continuance sank in. Probably for Ma more so than me.  As crazy as it is, we have to move on, and it even sounds heartless to say. We have to move on. Our bodies are still functioning. Our lungs still filling up with air. Our hearts still beating. And we are still living even when we don’t know how.

Every time a person would ask me am I okay I smile and say yes. I joke. I laugh. Not because my stepdad meant nothing to me. Not because I’m made of stone. But because I can cry anytime alone. Anytime. All hours of the day and night. But I’d rather laugh and smile with others, enjoy that moment in life when I have it because once it’s gone it’s gone. Time will not pause for me to grieve. This isn’t to say that everyone should just stop crying and accept death. We each move at our own pace and mourn in our own ways. It’s perfectly healthy and normal to cry or to not cry. So don’t let anyone tell you how you should grieve. And I was fortunate and blessed enough to have enjoyed a moment of banter. To have seen his smile and heard his laugh. And when I think of him I see his happiness. His mischief. His annoying habit of busting into the room while I’m taking a quiz, talking on speakerphone with one of his fishing buddies. Or how he always ended a text or a phone call with, “10-4 good buddy.”  I’m glad I got experience having a dad, even if it was for a brief time. And I’m especially glad Ma got to spend a decade with someone who loved her and cared for her. To think that the day that would have been their 12th anniversary was the day she placed a rose on the casket before they lowered it into the ground is gut wrenching. But we’re still here. And we have each other. Plus, all of our family came to town and it was good for us all to be together again. It was like a signal that we needed to do it more often and on more joyous occasions. But we’ll have that chance because, once again, life remains. It hasn’t stopped at all.

I like to think that David is celebrating in Heaven. That he hates he left early and suddenly, but that he knows that where he is now is paradise. I’m still nervous about the future and what it holds for Ma and our family, but I plan to make the best of it. I’m still enrolled in school, and I know that David would want me to finish (he was more excited than me when I returned). And Ma has so many people looking out for her. Trust me, we got mobbed at church yesterday and our family has been texting nonstop.  So while life going on is pretty crazy, it’s also kinda beautiful in a way. But definitely more crazy.

 

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