When the world goes dark

Everything seems a bit brighter, and my troubles a bit smaller when in the mountains

This last Thursday, we received the call no one wants. My father-in-law will only live a few more weeks. We were shocked, perhaps because we were hopeful the brain cancer wouldn’t spread so fast…that we would make it to the summer…one more Fourth of July, one more birthday. But one of my mantra’s in the corporate world is “hope is not a strategy,” and sadly, it applies to our personal life as well.

The tears had barely started to give way to a deeper level of grief and pseudo acceptance until Saturday, when I got another call. This time, telling me the husband of our dear friends and neighbors of 15 years had 24-48 hours to live. There was no time to process that–just stunned disbelief and grief. He died this morning, and my husband, who was still in his robotic, I-can-and-will-take-care-of-my-family mode, was determined I wasn’t going to spend another day riding the waves of tears and weepiness. He announced he was taking us skiing, and loaded me and our youngest daughter into the car and up to the hill we went.

I cried for most of the drive, then the liquid seemed to dry up the higher we climbed in elevation. At the top of the gondola, the sunlight blinded me and I had to concentrate on my eight year old zooming down the mountain. The heartache of loss was gradually replaced with the joy of youth, her unfettered happiness of swishing down a mostly empty hillside. Rog caught me in a moment of smiling, that point in time where I forgot everything and just saw the beauty of life.

Taking another look around, I pulled out my phone and took a photo. From above, the grief I experience down below, in the real world seemed so far away.

As we rode down the gondola, the dark clouds weren’t just metaphorical, but very real. My heart constrained again, my eyes blurred, but I didn’t lose it. I felt like a little of the hurt had been replaced with light, not a sunbeam or super nova, but enough to allow me to see through the dark.

 

The Reluctant Dad

As tempted as I am to write about all things Halloween, I can’t get the image of a man sobbing in the arms of my husband, and then turning to me when my husband says, “He just lost his baby. He needs a hug.”

To backtrack, we’ve known this slightly-built man in his mid-thirties about eight months. The time it has taken him and his crew to work on projects on the property. Over this time, I’ve learned several things: he hunts, he has two rescue pitbulls, he’s married to his high school sweetheart, he’s never really believed in dental work or caring much about what he puts into his body other than highly-caffeinated drinks and beef jerky. I’ve also learned and seen that he works tirelessly, can eyeball nearly any piece dimension at a glance (and is nearly always right after he measures) and has a hard-as-steel outward countenance and like most men with a tough outer shell, is equally as mushy on the inside. Oh, and he has always maintained that he never, ever, wanted children.

Then came the incident above. This was preceeded by a week-long all-expense paid trip to Hawaii, courtesy of his boss, the owner of the small business. It was the boss’s 20th anniversary, and he was treating the man I’ll call Travis and his wife for a week on the big island. When Travis showed up at our house, it was two Saturday’s following his return. Rog observed him from the kitchen window, noticing he kept going back and forth between sites, looking around and off into the distance. His pace was slower, his head kept shaking. Rog thought something was amiss. He went out to investigate. Not long after, I looked out, and saw the two talking. Rog didn’t have his normal, casual stance. It was a serious, stand-to-the-side pose, his arm up on the temporary chicken coop, then I saw him put his hand on Travis’ shoulder.

At that point, I’m not sure what is up, but it wasn’t good. It needed a woman’s perspective (or at least input). I go out, the typical smile on my face, ready to say hello for the day. I see Travis’ eyes are red and he quickly put his fingers up, shadowing his eyes. I look at Rog. His own eyes are a little glassy. I tell Travis it’s nice to see him, and that it must be a hard day. Rog looks at me and says bluntly:

“Travis’ wife was pregnant and she just lost the baby,” he says in typical Roger fashion. “Travis needs a hug.”

“You asshole,” says Travis as I come forward, wrap my arms around him and hold on. The man loses it, his shoulders shaking so hard and his gasps come ragged. I say what someone who’s been through a late stage miscarriage says: it hurts. It’s normal. We love you.

He cries harder.

Eventually, I release him and tell him he should have stayed home. His wife and her emotional needs take priority over anything at our house. Rog concurs, and eventually he leaves. Only later does Rog inform me that his wife had told him on the Hawaiian vacation, and at first, he was shocked, then freaked out, then, as all men who originally don’t want children (think Roger, for 7 years), he turned the corner.

A child. His child. A family. Together, the three of them. All the emotions that accompany the prospective of creating a life and new experiences together came rushing forward. He had all the joy of that ideal for two weeks. They shopped for baby items, started talking about names and then it was over. His wife had waited over three months to tell him once she learned she was pregnant.

Then it was over. Since this occurred, two and a half weeks ago, the doctors, and Travis and his wife, expected the baby to come out on its own. It didn’t. Yesterday, she had to go in, and the baby had to be surgically removed. I will spare you the details. It was horrible. Like another death, all over again. I think in some ways, for those of us who have experienced this, it’s worse than the fetus dying (when its that far along, I call it a baby, for everything is formed).

Once again, Rog got a call that he was going to come today, the “day after.” I said no. Roger pre-empted me, already telling Travis to stay home and be with his wife. He did, and we were both grateful for it.

The entire experience has caused me to repeatedly reflect on how the unexpected changes us, and then how those of us surrounding the one in pain are able to–and I think, required–to give love, empathy and support. It’s the benefit of going through painful experiences: helping others. Love comes around. Empathy can be universal. The unexpected hug can mean so much.

It’s also another confirmation point that we have no idea what is going on in another person’s life. When I was at Costco, the day after my brother died, I was standing in line, with toilet paper and tissues; we were out of both. Life had to go on, I was the mother, and the man behind the counter, with whom I usually bantered with, got very stilted when I didn’t smile or laugh or joke. He took it personally. I found myself going out of my way to be happy and what I thought was “normal” because I didn’t want him to believe I had taken a sudden dislike of him.

And therein lies the resulting change in my perspective over the years. When someone cuts me off, I don’t get mad. Maybe that person just lost his/her job or got dumped. When a person is mean in line, I think–maybe that person just lost his or her brother. We never know the lives, loves and heartaches of another, and I’ve learned that listening is a great gift and hugs don’t cost a thing.