We all left town in the afternoon and made it up there more or less by dinnertime. Mom and a few other doctors kicked off the conference by talking a bit about what was happening in the world of cancer research and what the programs involved were doing. After that was a “Social hour,” where we mingled, ate some snacks, and caught up with people who were there. At about 11 mom and I went back to our “condolet” and sat around talking for about 20 minutes or so before we both decided to call it a night. It looked like it was going to be a fun getaway weekend.
Then our family was shattered.
My Uncle J called just before midnight. He just got a call that Greg, his middle child, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Words cannot possibly do justice to the magnitude of our grief right now.
There’s this cliché that people use when someone dies. They say the person that died was the best of that family/group/office, whatever. And I also thought it was such a dumb thing to say. After all, how could it ALWAYS be the best person that dies? And here I am thinking just that very thing.
In my family, there are no dummies, but he was smarter than all of us put together.
He was going to school at Embry-Riddle to become an AstroPhysicist. While on summer break, he was building a laser. I teased him that he was living the movie “Real Genius.” And, believe me, he was TOTALLY the type to want to fill his teacher’s house with popcorn.
When he was young, like about 7 or so, my aunt came into his bedroom. He was standing on a chair holding two stripped wires and said, “Look mom! Sparkies!”
When he was younger than THAT, he got under my mother’s platform rocker and unscrewed every nut and bolt under there, but left it completely intact. He wanted to see how it worked. The problem was he didn’t tell anyone. We discovered it when the next person sat in it.
He was always building something or taking something apart to see how it worked.
When Greg went away to college, he was lonely and slightly depressed. His mother kept urging him to join a club. Get out. Meet people. He joined a skydiving club. She was thinking more along the lines of book club or movie club. This was not quite the hobby an Emergency Room nurse wanted her child to participate in.
I always felt an affinity to Greg. He and I were always the oddball children. There was 15 years between us, but we were always the kids that went and did our own thing, no matter what anyone else thought. We were the ones most likely to sit and listen to someone’s advice and we’d nod and agree and say “yes, absolutely,” and then turn around and completely ignore them and do it our way. In a family of extroverts, he was the only introvert. But once you got him talking about something he was passionate about, you couldn’t get him to stop.
I forget why we had it, but I remember my dad had this whistle. This whistle sounded EXACTLY like a train, and Greg was obsessed with trains almost since birth. And when he was about 4 or so, we’d sit in the living room and someone would blow on it, and his eyes would get huge and he’d say There’s a train! A train! And he’d race around the room looking for it, and we’d pass the whistle to someone else, and they’d blow it, and he’d run around to them. We could have kept this up for DAYS.
When my grandmother died about a year ago, we found a lot of things of my grandfather’s. And I remember telling Greg how much Granddad would have loved Greg. He was a carpenter and was always fixing or building something, and he would have ADORED his grandson. Watching Greg grow up, I always wished Granddad could have seen him. He and Granddad would have been tinkering with something every chance they got, and I can only imagine what kind of trouble they would have gotten into.
What keeps running through my head are all the stories I want to share about him. Things I want to tell people…tell anyone…tell everyone. Just so he doesn’t completely disappear.
Another thing that keeps going around and around are all the missed opportunities, like getting married, having kids, being there when his siblings get married and have their kids. Graduating college. Buying a house.
I always thought Greg would grow up and go to college and do great things. I thought he’d find a new galaxy or build a better rocketship or something. Now…now I can’t even imagine a world without that amazing, brilliant brain in it. It is incomprehensible to me that the bright and beautiful light that was Greg is now dark. There is this huge, aching hole inside me and I don’t know what to do.
On the way up to Arrowhead we had heard Garth Brooks’ latest song, and, like the earworm it is, it got stuck in my head. There was too much noise during the party and conference kick-off for me to pay attention, but on the drive home I kept hearing in my head, like this endless loop, the following lyrics…
Waking a friend in the dead of the night
just to hear him say its going to be alright
When you’re finding things to do, not to fall asleep
Cause you know she will be there in your dreams
that’s when she’s more than a memory
And every time it replayed in my head I wanted to scream and cry and fall to my knees, but I couldn’t. I had to suppress all the grief and rage and every emotion just to make it home safely. Driving down the mountain in foggy, white-out conditions was probably the dumbest thing we’ve ever done, but there was absolutely no other option. Waiting for morning wasn’t even a consideration. We WERE going to get down. And we WERE going to do it safely, because anything else was not to be tolerated. This family could not have taken even one iota more of difficulty. My mom and I were reduced to banal conversation, small talk, chatter about her work or my work, because anything even touching on what we were racing towards would have broken us both, and we didn’t have the time for that. The goal was to get home. Get to my aunt and uncle’s house. Get to my cousins. Hug them. Hold them. And then and ONLY then could we take the time to start grieving.
When we exited the freeway and we were only minutes from their house, I had this insane urge to turn the car around and head back to Arrowhead as fast as I could. If we just got back there and went to bed, when we woke up everything would be fine. Greg would be alive. Our family would not be talking about how to bring him home from Arizona. Phrases like “head-on collision” and “medical examiner” and “release the body” would not be part of our family’s legacy. But I couldn’t. And we are discussing just that. And those horrible, hateful phrases are something that will forever be a part of this family’s story.
I remember my grandmother’s funeral just a year ago, and I remember how hard it was and how ANGRY I was. People kept telling me she was “in a better place” or “at least she didn’t suffer” and I wanted to slap them. Just scream at all of them to leave me alone! I remember thinking “don’t these people realize there is NOTHING to say to make it easier??” I wanted to yell at everyone that the best thing is just say “I’m sorry” and leave it at that. I didn’t want pathetic platitudes. I just wanted someone ANYONE to just acknowledge that whether or not we were ready for her to go, it still sucked and it still hurt and I was not ready to hear about her “better place.” Not then when my grief was so fresh.
Greg’s funeral is going to be a million times worse. We were ready and prepared for my grandmother’s death. We had been sitting vigil at her bedside for 3 days. Greg…it’s so senseless. A motorcycle, a crossed yellow line, a semi…And for him to be so young and to know he will never get any older…I can’t begin to wrap my head around it.
Our family has changed in so many ways in an instant. His family went from a family of five, to only four around the dinner table. Of the four grandchildren, there were two girls and two boys. Now Chris is the only boy. There were three siblings, and now the two remaining have to figure out a way to go on with this huge gaping hole in the middle. When you talked about them it was always “J, K, Allisongregchris.” How do we adjust to “Allison____Chris”?
My life was brighter for having him in it, and it’s now so much darker in this world without him.
Today is the first day without Greg.
A Grieving Guppy