I have four kids. If you read this blog often, you know that already, but just for those who may not . . . these are amazing little human beings that have faced a lot of uncertainty and – well, let’s face it, death in the last month and a half. I hadn’t anticipated after losing my wife, their mother, in 2011, not quite two years ago, that I’d have to face it all over again. I really didn’t think I’d have to face it and tell them about it again.
This week marked yet another point where I saw the delicacy and the strength of the four other people living in my household.
I’ve eluded to the complicated relationship my late wife, Andrea, had with her father. It doesn’t change, not one iota, how much she did love him. Human beings are rare and uplifting individuals in part because the cellular computer that runs our entire bodies is also equipped with the ability to see someone and feel at the same time. There were days they hated each other. There were days they screamed at each other. There were also days when she hugged her father and thanked him for helping her. She thanked him for loving her children. Whatever issues she had with her father, she saw him act with love, tenderness and delicacy that she herself claimed to not have seen in her own upbringing.
That led to my children being very close to their Grandpa Hal. So when Hal came down with a cough in September, we thought he was sick, maybe hurt that his wife, Laura, was stricken with a fast-moving, eventually fatal disease that was essentially a version of Parkinson’s on steroids. She can barely walk now, needs help to eat, and is not well. So it would have been easy to think he was just run down and depressed, he was, after all, getting old.
But he visited the doctor weekly. They gave him allergy pills. They gave him x-rays, but never did thorough tests. That is, until about two weeks ago. Then they found tumors . . . multiple tumors. They were in his lungs, on his adrenal system, and he had blood clots on one side of his upper body. The clots or maybe the tumors, something was strangling one of the major arteries of his body. The doctors couldn’t give him a timeline, but he lost dozens of pounds in just a couple weeks.
And now he’s gone.
The cancer, or perhaps the blood clots, took over. He just couldn’t hold out any more and he left.
Unlike their mother, the kids got to see their grandfather before he got so bad he was unable to realistically see visitors. But each time they saw him, they each reacted differently. Still, they were all stressed and the impending grief floated around our house like a fog that wouldn’t burn away even in the summer heat. Amidst this my own Grandma, Lanone, passed away. Abbi and Hannah knew “Grandma Nonie,” as we called her, and she had a very soft spot for my own kids. I purposely held back telling them because of their own Grandpa.
Then came Sunday morning . . . and word that Hal had passed away. I went to Andrea’s Sister’s house that morning, but couldn’t tell my own kids, yet again. Abbi had a drama festival performance and I didn’t want to make her performance suffer because of it. I also wasn’t going to tell some of my kids and not Abbi.
So Sunday afternoon hit and I gathered the kids together . . . and they knew something was up. The last time I’d gathered them together the news wasn’t good. They knew it then. I told them and Hannah tried to stop herself from crying. I told her she had every right to cry . . . every right to be sad. She loved him, as did they all. I was moving across the room when I noticed something. Noah, who had been most affected by his Grandpa’s illness had been acting out for the last couple weeks. Counseling, talk to the teachers, even lots of hugs and a few punishments were in order. He constantly fights with Hannah, his sister. When she asks for hugs Noah gives her the goofiest, most uncomfortable embraces – truly a little brother attitude.
So imagine my surprise when I got to Hannah and Noah was already there, arms around her, wiping the tears off her face. He said nothing but squeezed her tight and then hugged me with her as I calmed her down.
Today . . . as I stayed home, Noah looked up and asked “how is Grandma Nonie, Dad?” I promised I wouldn’t lie, to the kids, so I told him. “She passed away, kiddo, the funeral was today.” He looked down and then said “I didn’t know that. You didn’t tell us.”
“She was in her 90’s, kiddo, she couldn’t take much more.”
Sam chimed in: “must have made you sad.”
“Yes,” I told him, “but it’s okay. She had a great life, and so did I because of it.”
I told my oldest, Abbi, later tonight that I didn’t go to her funeral for a lot of reasons, most of them personal and I won’t play out family drama here. Still, had I gone, I would not have been home to help my kids through the last few days. I would not have helped these little angels balance on the head of that pin.
And they balance well, those four, and constantly surprise me. We stumble a lot, we five, and nearly fall off the edge. But it’s just large enough for us to stay. I worry about them. A lot.
But then, it has been clear to me they worry about me too. They also show me how strong they are, and how much they have to offer as well.