Of An Age

Of An Age

My great-grandfather died of cancer when I was four. I remember running around the funeral home with my first cousin once removed; I only know that’s his full title because we come from a family with overlapping generations due to surprise-40 babies. He was only a year older than me at the time. Neither of us knew much about death. We knew we liked to run in circles and laugh.

As a freshman in high school, a classmate’s mom died. It rocked our small community. On the day of her funeral, there was also a bomb threat at the school. I don’t know if that was so we could all go to the funeral or because someone didn’t want to finish their midterms. It snowed.

I sang at the graveside service for a boy who passed away in his eighth grade year when I was a sophomore. We sang the Alma Mater. I don’t remember the words now.

My first cat died during the week of finals my junior year of high school.

During my senior year of high school, my maternal-paternal great-grandparents passed away within three months of each other. A severe stroke in August, pancreatic cancer on Halloween. I remember answering the phone hanging on the wall, my fingers twisting in the cord, standing in my best friend’s kitchen after spending the night. I was wearing my cheerleading uniform; we had a competition later that day.

My great-great grandmother didn’t pass away until the summer after my freshman year of college. She already had knitted Christmas gifts, still six months away. At the funeral home, I learned that my first cousin once removed was friends with the brother of my high school into college boyfriend. The world felt small, safe.

While pregnant with my daughter, my sorority grandma’s dad died. Despite being on bed rest, I went to the funeral. Always go to the funeral. While pregnant with my oldest son, a sorority sister died in a horrific car crash. My husband accompanied me to the funeral home. I wish the casket hadn’t been open; I can still see the marks from the fire, the bruising, the way her pink suit didn’t cover the marks of what took her away from us at such a young age.

Rose.

And then the deaths speed up and blur together. Prior to adulthood, they were separate entities, easily recalled because of their rare occurrence. A gentleman from church. An acquaintance’s mom. The father of one of my husband’s Army battalion members. My childhood dog. Friends’ mothers, grandmothers, mothers-in-law.

My step-grandfather who I didn’t call a step-grandfather; he was just grandpa. A note about that one: Our sewer backed up into our first owned home on the same day. That’s not hard to forget, the two awful things smashing into one.

Maddie.

And then the deaths got worse, more personal.

My beloved grandfather, suddenly. My husband’s aunt, after a prolonged battle with ALS. His uncle, lung cancer. Three in three months. It felt like a cruel joke but no one was laughing. Death, death, death. Funeral, funeral, funeral.

That same summer, a friend. Too young. The anger began to build.

A reprieve.

My second cat.

And then my most cherished grandmother. And my other grandmother. And then, nearly myself. Waves crashing atop one another; it’s hard to breathe through prolonged, sustained, never-ending loss.

It’s been almost a year since Biz left us. A picture of the six of us, impossibly young, still sits on my desk. This, the one that surprised me more than my grandfather’s heart attack; the only one for whom I did not attend a funeral, a memorial, anything. Sometimes it feels like she’s still walking among us, still here now.

Today a friend from the old guard, the early days of blogging. She beat the odds once, so knowing now that she’s gone-gone feels like an untruth, like maybe we’re waiting for a punchline. But she’s gone. And we’re still here.

It’s the friends dying that feels unsettling. Don’t misunderstand me. I spent five days last week hoping and praying my husband’s grandmother wouldn’t leave this Earth just yet. I’m not “okay” with losing my elders, the two generations responsible for my existence, my moral compass, my memories, parts of my future.

But losing those in my generation—my acquaintances, my friends, my kindreds, my loves—I don’t suppose that gets easier.

I remember watching my dad put on his suit. I don’t remember who died, just someone he knew as a child or a teen or a young adult or an older adult. I remember the lines on his face. I knew they weren’t best friends, but I knew it still pulled at him in ways that I didn’t understand. Not at that age.

I do now.

We are of an age now. We speak their names and bow our heads. They remain parts of us. Forever.

If You Take a Tween to the Ocean

Yeah, Nope.

“What was your favorite part of vacation?”

He shrugged his shoulders and looked away.

This is family vacation with a tween. The non-committal shrugging of shoulders beats white hot anger directed at everyone and no one. It beats apologizing for his disinterest, or rather, his feigned disinterest because I can see in his eyes that he still wants to play.

It also beats this.

Yeah, Nope. (2007)

I’ll take anger and stomping to his room and so-called boredom over limp-noodle toddler wailing any day of the week. Parenting at the beach in those earlier days felt like the opposite of vacation. Toddlers outside of their own home, eating completely off schedule, and crashing from repeated sugar highs always made me wonder why we drove ten hours to “relax.” Where was the relaxing part?

It’s not that the older of the two boys didn’t have fun on vacation. Occasionally he forgot himself, a smile spreading across his thinning face. He ran and jumped in the waves, crashed boogie boards on increasingly taller waves, and even dug holes and tunnels with his younger brother.

But not before this exchange on the day they put up the red flags on the beach, signaling a strong rip current and to stay out of the water.

“I’m bored.”

Something inside of me snapped, but not in the angry way.

I didn’t get to go on vacation with the boys last summer. We sent them along with my parents as neither my husband nor I could get off work. I missed his last year of childhood joy without tween attitude, and I realized very quickly this year how the dynamic had shifted. Both boys still wanted to play, but only one was content to do so without looking around to see if anyone was watching.

I explained that it was practically impossible to be bored at the beach, listing off a never-ending list of things he could do. More shrugging of shoulders as he walked away, kicking sand. I watched him go, kicked sand myself.

The trip wasn’t all sullen looks and grumpiness though. I watched as something new emerged from our oldest son, especially when we did our day outings to places like the Maritime Museum, the book store, and more. He found lots of joy in these activities, ones that in previous years may have been met with the aforementioned boredom. He declared the museum trip the most fun ever even though we’ve been there about five times in ten years. He also won on the Go Kart track, but I maintainin that’s because I didn’t race this year.

By the end of the week, the red flags disappeared and we frolicked in the waves once more. By frolicked I mean that we got the living tar beat out of us by the waves as there were still storms off shore. The boys loved it. I watched him forget, again, to be a disinterested tween. I watched as he threw himself into the ocean, time and time again, with the pure glee only the ocean can bring.

I did the same. The ocean is the great equalizer, turning us all back into children if only for a few hours.