In the last two months, I have lost three family members. Actually, in the last fifty days, I have lost three family members.
Three phone calls.
There is so much that goes along with all this, I hardly know where to start. So I’ll be spewing my feelings and thoughts to the outer space inter-webs. Here I go.
The first was my grandmother, my father’s mother. She was old, I don’t know if she was “elderly,” but she had lived her life. The strange thing was, she wasn’t supposed to die first. My grandfather learned last year his heart valve was failing and he was suffering from blockages in his veins and arteries. The surgery to repair this was very risky, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to even bother. The doctors told him he may live two years without doing the surgery, and the longer he waited, the bigger the risks.
So last fall, he and my grandmother visited us in Connecticut, seemingly out of nowhere, and got to meet their great-grandson, my son Theodore. When they were about to leave, I asked them to come visit our apartment, so I could see them one more time. We had a lovely visit and took photos. I thought it could be the last time I saw my grandfather, so I savored their laughter and presence. I hugged them tight and said good-bye on September 11, 2017.
On Friday, April 13, 2018, I was getting ready for work when I got a phone call from my mother. She was upset. She said, “Deborah, I just got a call. Grandma Devenney is gone.” At first, I couldn’t even process what that meant. She went on a trip? I have learned these last two months that your mind can trick you to protect you. It is an eerie feeling.
I learned what she meant and collapsed in grief. Out of nowhere! She was fine! How could this be?
That morning, my grandmother had woken up early like every other day to get about her work. She went to put on laundry before going on her swim, when she had a stroke and collapsed in her apartment. My grandfather found her an hour later. That was it. Instantaneously, she was gone.
I was heartbroken. I went to work just to say I was leaving. My eyes were like buckets filled to the brim; at every wobble and nudge, water splashed over the sides.
That was it. She was gone. I could hardly believe it. My poor father. My poor aunts and uncles. Out of nowhere. No good-bye, just a woman who was faithful to the end and went to be with her Savior. God called her.
The most curious detail of her death was the date: Friday, the thirteenth. Most people feared these days, full of “bad luck,” but my grandparents laughed at such superstitions. They were married on Friday the thirteenth of June. They loved that they had confidence in Christ and didn’t have to worry about such trivial things like, “bad luck.” That was ridiculous. They had Jesus, what can bad luck do?
On Saturday a week later, we loaded up the family and traveled to Quarryville, Pennsylvania. Everyone was coming to the funeral. We were all supposed to see each other at my grandparent’s anniversary party on June 9, but we were getting together early instead to lay my grandmother’s body down. I saw my grandfather, who was stoic but noticeably lost. He did not talk much, which was unusual for him. But he was still grandpa.
My parents stayed behind for an extra day, but we left Monday to go back to life. I had closure. I was sad, especially for my father, but I was happy she was with the Lord and lived a life worth admiration. She was a beautiful woman, to the very end. She was faithful to the end, and I was so honored to know her.
I went back to work Tuesday. On Wednesday, I spent the whole day at a conference learning about wills and trusts. On Thursday morning, I drove Theodore to my parent’s house before work. After getting him set up and saying good-bye, I got in my car.
Something prompted me to look at my phone that morning, Thursday, April 26. Massimo was at home getting ready for a big trip to Cape Cod to show his guitar to a luthier. Maybe I wanted to check on him? Maybe it was just the Hold Spirit. I got my phone out of my bag. I had a missed call and two text messages.
Massimo’s text messages said his brother, Johnny, overdosed, his mom was on her way down there and he was nonresponsive. Massimo said he didn’t know what to do, as in whether he should go to the Cape or not. I understood he wanted to be there for his family, but it seemed strange to me. What would he do? Johnny had overdosed so many times, why would this be different? But Massimo already knew it was different and didn’t want to admit it. And my mind was protecting me by tricking me.
I called Massimo back, right there in the car. I said it could be hours before he knows anything, and he should go. He could always come back if he needed to. Massimo still didn’t want to admit it. And my mind was still blocking the truth. We prayed for Johnny on the phone. I ran inside to quickly tell my mom, brother, and sister in law to pray for Johnny and I didn’t know anything else.
It took nine minutes to drive to work, and I was already running very late. I shuffled in and let my bags drop to the floor in my office. My phone was in my hand. It rang. It was Massimo. That was when I knew.
It was too fast. If Johnny was being taken to the hospital, there would be so much going on, no one would have a chance to call, and I wouldn’t hear anything for a while. This was way too fast. Bad news travels fast, I have learned.
I answered, watching the last bit of hope disappear entirely. “Deborah,….” “Yes?” “I’m sorry…..” He broke down. I fell to the floor, screaming. My office staff was stung by my crash, and came to me.
I didn’t know what to say, so I told him how much I loved him and that it would be okay and I was sorry. I said I was coming, and he said he was going to his parent’s house. Pat closed my office door and I called my mom.
“Mommy?……. He’s gone.” My mother gave a moan like I had never heard. She saw a storm coming, and couldn’t stop it. I could hear her heart trying to cover us all and stop this pain, but it was coming and she knew. I told her to please watch Theodore for a while and we’ll get him later, but I was going.
Patty drove me to my in-laws. The rest of the day was a stream of people and crying and calls and texts and becoming someone I had never wanted to be. It was cloudy and awful. The day was awful.
We planned his funeral and found a grave site. The wake was May 2 and the funeral and burial was May 3. Johnny was twenty-four years old. No one is prepared for that, even though his mother imagined it over and over during the years of his addiction, she still wasn’t ready to plan his funeral. It was beautiful and horrible and there are so many things I could say about it, the internet itself isn’t bit enough. But it happened and that was that. The week after the funeral was good, as good as it could be. Mother’s Day was awful and ushered in an awful week. The next week was a little better, the following was the best and worst. We went camping and I wished Johnny was there. He was supposed to be there, and had been there with us in the past.
I thought about all the things that changed in one year – one year. We go camping every Memorial Day weekend, ever since I could remember. The same place, the same meals. Last year I was pregnant with a complication-free pregnancy and thrilled because I just found out my cousin Lauren was pregnant, too. We were waiting any second for a phone call that my brother’s baby was coming. His wife was due with my parent’s first grandchild, and we were waiting for news all weekend. Phones were fully charged at all times. My sister was engaged to be married in August, and had just worked on packing her apartment to move to Germany after the wedding. She told me about how her fiance was doing at the military base. The year ahead looked busy, but exciting. Life and excited expectation were everywhere.
Fast forward one year. I had a scary pregnancy and delivered a four-and-a-half pound baby. It that turned out fine, but was stressful. My brother and his family have been all but stuck in the United States for a two month visit which turned into a year thanks to the government’s paperwork management. My sister did not get married, and in fact is no longer with her fiance at all. She did not move to another country. We have just buried my grandmother and my husband’s brother in a two-week span. This year was not what we expected at all. I have not decided yet if it was better or worse, but I have learned not to make plans.
On Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, over the grill outside his camper, my father said to me, “You know my dad is having his heart surgery Tuesday, right?” I said yes, and we paused. We both knew what that could mean, but didn’t want to say it out loud. His heart was not working properly, it was failing. I knew it wasn’t good because they scheduled the surgery much sooner than was discussed in the past. So we paused and let the moment pass, without acknowledgment.
On Tuesday, we learned the surgery went well and grandpa was in the ICU for recovery. On Thursday, my twenty-eighth birthday, his heart was shocked to try to get it back into rhythm after the surgery. He got through that and was doing well.
On Saturday, June 2, it was my niece Luciana’s first birthday. We had lots of family come up and had a huge party. It was beautiful and joy-filled. Luciana loved it.
On Sunday morning, I fed Theodore and fell back asleep with him by my side. Massimo got up early to bake a birthday cake for me. We were going to my parent’s again that afternoon for a graduation/birthday party. My phone rang.
I first thought it was the pastor, telling me I was supposed to be at church already for worship team. But I saw that it was my parent’s house and my mind again tried to protect me. Why do we have to talk about the plans for this afternoon? It’s just a small party.
I answered. It was my father. His voice gave it away. “Well, my dad…” I don’t remember the rest. He was gone. I knew it. I was getting the message more quickly these days. I learned how this went.
I didn’t cry right away, not until I hung up the phone. Out of all the times I had to do this in the last fifty days, this one was the most expected. My grandfather said his heart wasn’t feeling right all day Saturday, and he told the nurses he thought he was going to see his wife soon. They did everything they could, but he bled into his stomach and his heart kept pumping but he soon left this earth and entered heaven.
I told my dad how much I loved him and that his parents were so proud of him and his siblings are so lucky to have him. I said how nice it was that his parents did not have to suffer and they wanted to be together and they were. He kept saying, “They get to be together for their anniversary,” over and over.
We went to church and then to my family’s house. We all mourned and did the routine: calling everyone, eating gifted food, looked through pictures, telling the story over and over. It was like a dream. It felt so familiar. But my mind was protecting me, making it feel like a memory instead of the present.
On Saturday, June 9, we will once again wake up early and get on the road and go to a funeral. Fifty days ago, we were planning on gathering together on June 9 to throw them a sixtieth anniversary party. Instead, we will lay my grandfather’s body down next to his bride. They are already in heaven, which is getting crowded. They are with so many others we know and love. They are in God’s glory, living the life we could never dream of.
While their bodies are buried, their lives have just begun. I am left here, having buried three loved ones in fifty days. My heart is so close to my skin I can feel it. I am raw. I think I have gotten dehydrated from crying, if that is possible. I am tired. I am tired of people being sorry. I am tired of trying to convince my mind they are really gone. I am tired of being at the center of all this love and emotion. I tired of the guilt and the love and the sadness. These fifty days…. I am out of words.