It’s been just over a week since my last blog entry, and while I hadn’t planned on a break, I needed one. The week has been a reminder of how grief slips back into our lives, tripping us up at unexpected moments, even happy ones.
I last blogged as I was about to leave for a family reunion, one I looked forward to attending. It had been two years since I’d attended; I skipped in 2012, the year my dad died — I wasn’t back from Greece at that point. Maybe I meant to skip it — maybe I just wasn’t ready for it. Regardless, I missed that year.
The trip driving up was easy. I plugged in my iPod and sang as I drove north to Many, turned west, and headed to San Augustine. The drive was a familiar one, one I’d shared with Dad a number of times after I’d taken over the driving. It wasn’t the first time I’d driven that route since Dad’s death, yet there was an undercurrent of bittersweetness that grew as I drove. For a lot of the way, even as I sang along with my iPod, there was a running commentary in my memory of things Dad had often said or pointed out on those drives. His enjoyment at being able to relax and be a passenger for a change was always obvious on those trips, and I remembered that also.
When I arrived on Friday night, my sister had already arrived, as had our Aunt Jean, Aunt Mildred, and our cousin Mike and his wife Sissy. Hugs and kisses were immediate; laughter and lots of chatter filled the air as we quickly unpacked and then prepared our dinner. Even though the next day was going to be a long one, we sat for hours and caught up with each other’s news.
By midnight we’d all gone to bed. Kay was sleeping in the living room near the air conditioner. I was sleeping in the fireplace bedroom, the one Dad always used. I read a bit, turned out the lights, and was sound asleep before too long.
Without an alarm, I woke up about 8 a.m. and headed for my truck to get the diet Coke I’d left there — I needed my wake-up caffeine. With it, I wandered back to the living room and joined the family. Soon, though, I was at work in the kitchen, putting my potato salad together for the reunion lunch. Though Aunt Mildred was also working in the kitchen, there was plenty of room. When the salad was finished and covered and in the refrigerator, I quickly took a shower and dressed. By the time my cousin Barbara, her husband Herb, their daughter Larissa and Rissie’s two children arrived, I was just about ready. They unpacked, put their cases in different rooms, and once more it was hugs and kisses time, with yet more laughter. Having two little ones with us was a joy — watching a two-year-old and a one-year-old is always fun. We traded holding Katie, the newest family member, though I admit we usually call her and refer to her as “Baby Girl.” This was the first time I’d seen Katie, and I thoroughly enjoyed our meeting.
Aunt Mildred left first, with some of her cousins, wanting to get to the site early and be sure everything was ready. The rest of us weren’t much longer. Aunt Jean and Kay and I went in Aunt Jean’s car; I drove us, along with our various contributions to lunch. Barbara and her family went in their truck.
We drove up to the empty building that once housed a kindergarten, owned by friends but not yet sold. Other cars and trucks were already there, and once we walked in the door, it was truly old-home week. Some cousins I’d seen more recently, but some I hadn’t seen since Dad’s funeral. Others I hadn’t seen in years.
Food filled the entire kitchen counter/island; desserts filled another separate table. Iced tea waited near ice-filled plastic cups.
Aunt Mildred welcomed everybody, reminding us of just how long such reunions had been going on. She thought over 50 years, but as she kept talking, one after another realized that actually it had to be over 70 or even 75 years, since she remembered attending it as a young child and she’s now 92.
As our cousin Mike Richards was ready to give the blessing, Aunt Jean’s son Jim and his wife Dancie arrived from Houston. We all stood as Mike gave thanks. Then it was time to chow down.
So much good food always ends up on offer, and we always make our way through much of it. Lots of photographs got taken — and over and over during the reunion one cousin after another talked to me about Dad, and how much they missed him.
Once you realize that most of the older folks there were his first cousins, and the rest were either their in-laws or children or grandchildren, you might begin to see just how much our gathering means to us. Though we sometimes had to remind each other who we were, it didn’t take much.
Aunt Mildred wasn’t the oldest Richards grandchild there — her cousin Minnie V., at 97, claimed that. Minnie V’s sister Blanche, nearly 91 (and my dad’s age, she reminded me), was next. Their brother Carl wasn’t far behind. There were younger Richards grandchildren– in their early 70s and mid-to-late 60s. The next generation– the great-grandchildren– include me and my first cousins and our first cousins once removed (follow that?) — in our 50s and 60s, mostly. There were a few a bit younger, like Larissa (great-great grandchildren) and then her children (great-great-great grandchildren).
Lingering after lunch a bit, then cleaning up and re-packing cars, we slowly emptied the building. Next year, we’ve decided, we’ll use a foam board to chart out the genealogies.
Back at the farm, we sat and visited even more. After a while, Aunt Mildred, Mike and Sissy left, returning to their homes north of Fort Worth. The rest of us actually ate. Again.
Once more in bed, I drifted off to sleep. Sunday morning was time to visit a bit, repack our cars, clean up the house, and lock the door, leaving for our respective homes.
That’s when the grief hit, as I drove back the way I’d come. It didn’t come in waves of tears or sobbing. Instead, it was just the slow lowering of a darkness, the realization that Dad was truly gone and that this was yet another first without him. After the first year without him, I guess I’d taken for granted that nothing like that would occur. Clearly I was wrong.
From time to time I did cry a bit, but nothing more than a few tears. And all this week, I’ve just hibernated, meeting friends for coffee occasionally, but not managing much else otherwise. I haven’t written; nothing would really come. I’d sit in front of the computer, stare at the screen, and get up without typing a word. Why force it?
Every day I’d get out, but that was about it. No jewelry got made. Nothing written in other projects than the blog. I had a couple of appointments — the important one being the repairman who got my freezer and washer working correctly again (and only for $318!). By Friday, I told myself that this was enough. One more day, and then it was back to working at something. At anything.
Reading got me through the week — and a bit of television, though not much.
Saturday morning, I got up and dressed. With large diet Coke in hand, I went to a craft workshop and learned how to dye a silk scarf. By 1, I was at a coffeeshop, waiting for my friend Betsy.
I had a beautiful scarf to show from that workshop. And I had the manuscript I’ve not looked at in three years printed out. That afternoon I read through it in its entirety, pen in hand, making annotations, deciding what to move and where.
On Sunday, I met my friend Myra, who worked on jewelry while I worked on the manuscript a second time, making additions and even more annotations. When I left, I went grocery shopping, then drove home and unloaded everything. While my dinner was cooking, I took out the garbage for today’s garbage pickup.
By seven, I’d eaten and then crawled into bed. I watched PBS for hours, reading a bit afterwards, finally falling asleep.
This morning, I was up and dressed by 8. There were phone calls to make, arrangements to be made for the dogs to go to the vet’s for heartworm preventative shots, information to get about insurance for the beach house (due in a few weeks).
By 9, I’d finished and was in my office. I set up my kiln with the the temperature guide and a pyrometer, testing to see how fast it heated up and to what temperatures. Once that was in progress, I turned to the computer and worked on the manuscript, transferring changes and additions to a new copy of the manuscript. By one, I had finished the kiln temperature test, turned the kiln off, and completed sixteen chapters of the manuscript– and was heading to Starbucks for coffee with Betsy.
Now I’ve written a blog entry.
Grief lingers still, but the darkness doesn’t.
I’ve learned with experience that everyone deals with grief so differently, and that for myself, it’s sort of like I imagine surfing might be. I’ll wipe out once and a while, but give me time. I’ll be back on the board. (In reality, I’d probably kill myself even attempting to surf, but as a child of the 60s, I like to dream about being able to surf.)