Sixteen months later
Last year, Dan's parents died in a plane crash, likely caused by a severe storm. What follows are my reflections from the event and how it has changed me. Out of respect for Dan, I asked for his permission before I shared this and leave his feelings mostly out my musings. His response to the event is his own story to tell, not mine.
I have decided not unthoughtfully to write about vulnerable parts of my life in a public forum because I think we tend to highlight the bright, sunny parts of our life on the internet--sometimes twisting everything to be so, even when it is not--to the exclusion of what is real. I enjoy my share of the silly stuff too, but my world is not perfect and joyful all the time. Thanks for exploring the less sunny side with me.
Today it has been sixteen months to the day. We got the call on Friday night. I had served in a funeral several hours before. The site for the funeral was an atrium of sorts--the building had huge picture windows encompassing the entire structure--and during the service, light flooded into the room and danced off the pews and the blond hair of the deceased's grandchildren. It was beautiful and happy, if a funeral can be that.
Later that evening, after I was safely home and Dan had finished with work, clouds overtook the sunny, clear skies and rain began pouring, so furiously so that water began seeping through our storm door. But otherwise Dan and I were content. We were cozy on our couch and enjoying a lazy start to the weekend, free from needing to go anywhere, free to stay sheltered from the rain and listen to its peaceful pounding.
Dan answered his phone. He had missed a call while we were eating dinner. His grandfather began: "Dan, I'm afraid I have some bad news."
* * *
People say that the busy-ness right after a death absorbs you, and I found that to be true. We had to retrieve his parents' cars--one was in the shop, and one was at a small airport (we did not know which ariport and visited two before finding the correct one) and plan a family funeral, a public memorial service, and a commemorative military ceremony. We had to move all of their belongings out of their house on the Ft. McNair base quickly, since the house was needed by another family. We had to begin settling the estate, making sure that we uncovered every bank account and insurance policy, that we cancelled every credit card and magazine subscription. We were doing, doing. We did not have much time or space for thinking. That was okay by us.
* * *
Grief did catch up with us (as it always does), but my grief was of course much different than Dan's. My grief was for Dan's sake, not my own. I never did know Joe and Sue very well and could not miss them as I would my own parents or dear friends. They were good, kind, big-hearted people, but because Dan and I were still young in our marriage, they had not yet made a significant imprint on my life, which helped me to appreciate all the more how much they had a firm hold on Dan. Dan and I were--still are, I suppose--still babies, adjusting to being married and beginning a family unit of our own. Not that he would have loved his parents less as he grew older, but he would have become less dependent on them, less shaped by them, less beholden to them--and more committed to our marriage. We were in the process of leaving and cleaving. Joe's and Sue's deaths sped it along.
* * *
My soul aches for what never was and never will be. Dan's parents would have delighted in Dan's promotion to captain, far more than I could, because they know the military world so much better and understand fully what it means. Dan's dad would have teased and encouraged Dan as Dan tackled home improvements, good-naturedly pointing out every flaw and misstep while beaming with pride. Both Joe and Sue would have pressured us to spend every holiday with them, like all parents of grown children are wont to do, and given us grief those times that we declined. That was how it was supposed to be.
My thoughts often drift to the mundane, which is somehow more painful than the realizations that our future children will only ever have and know one set of grandparents and that we will never spend a Christmas with Joe and Sue ever again. These revelations catch me by surprise, when my guard is down. I think about how I do not have any funny in-law stories to share anymore, how I cannot commiserate with friends about what a pain my husband's parents can be. When I search the Facebook site, I occasionally see Joe Brown pop up in the search engine, and I marvel at how strange it is that social media pages survive human bodies (Dan and his sister opted not to delete their parents' accounts so that they could have access to all of the pictures and messages of support that the pages have recorded). Instances when Dan and I spend money for professional help rather than attempting to do a task ourselves, I hear Joe and Sue's comments in the back of my head (The two were incredibly frugal and almost never hired a job out).
Time lessens the sting of these memories and imaginings, so that they now, more often than not, evoke in Dan and me a smile or a laugh rather than pangs of sadness. But I am not sure that any amount of time will make all of the pangs go away, or that I would want them all to be gone. Loss is still loss, and my husband and his sister lost decades with their parents. At the end of the day, they are just children who miss their mom and dad.