No Magic Words

You know that feeling when someone passes away, but you don’t really know them, and you feel for the people that have lost them?  That’s me this week.

As the usual reader knows, my brother-from-another-mother is a man named Kevin.  A brief backstory on Kevin’s family tells us that he was adopted.  In his early teen years, he discovered he had two sisters, Jessica and Melissa.  This delighted the boy who wanted family, as all kids do, and he was happy.  Over the years, he has grown closer to both of them.  I know Jess pretty well, as we are almost the same age and she lives in state, while Melissa, the youngest, has been elsewhere for some time.  We’d met a few times, but I don’t know her the way I know Jess.

The other night, I woke up around 2am, for no reason. There was a text from Kev on my phone, stating that his little sister had died.  I knew he meant Melissa, in the way that I sometimes know things.  He wasn’t awake at 2am, but I wanted to hop in my car and drive to his house and hug him, because ohmygod, I would be crushed. 

I was a little crushed.  She was too young, it was a tragic accident, and it hurts when someone you know passes, no matter what your relationship.  And then, I ached for Jessica, who grew up alongside her sister, and Kevin, who I think always wanted that chance, to grow with siblings.  I mean, we always had each other, and I consider him to be the brother I never had, but it isn’t the same, especially when you’re an adopted kid looking for some sort of tether to your heritage. 

He went to Tennessee the next day, where Melissa lived.  Were it a decade ago, I would have dropped what I was doing and gone with him, but alas, it is not.  Instead, I went to work, but I worried all day.  I worried for my friend, and hoped he would be alright out there, and when he came home, he described the whole experience as “intense,” and I suppose that is probably the best word to use.  I felt intensely when I heard she was gone, not for myself, but for her siblings that loved her so much.  I felt sad because I always meant to hang out with her, for real, as adults…and I will never get that chance.  But furthermore, her family will never get the chance to see her grow and change and become more herself, and that is what makes me sad. 

I am sad for my friend Jessica.  I am heartbroken for my brother, Kevin.  But I have no direct contact to Melissa, so I feel almost fraudulent in my emotions, as though I have no right to have them.  Alas, I know, through years of therapy, that all emotions are valid, and embracing them isn’t the end of the world.  So, I will accept that I feel terrible, but I know it is only because people I love are hurting. 

Perhaps the gods will grant me some magic words to say to make it all better.  Probably not, though.

Edit: Melissa’s gofundme can be found here.

Just One Week

March 15th

I am sitting on the sofa watching the news when my cousin G comes in, the first of the girls to wake up after their sleepover.  She crawls under my blanket with me and puts her head on my shoulder.  I love my kiddos, but I have known G since she first arrived here on planet Earth and we have an inexplicable bond.  She watches the television as I sip my coffee.  A breaking news alert comes on, and it is Erie Executive Mark Poloncarz telling us there are three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our county.  G turns to me, tells me she is scared.  I reassure her that kids are mostly unaffected and she shouldn’t worry, but she clutches my arm and tells me no, she’s scared for me.  I tell her I am strong.  I will be fine.  In my head I am screaming, because I have diabetes, and that alone makes me high-risk.  Still, I am not that worried.

March 16th

I awake to a text from my sister.  “Are you up?”  It is barely 7am, and I already know in that moment what’s happened.  “Did mom call you?”  No, she did not.  I call her, and her phone is off.  I call dad, no answer.  At this point I am certain.  I text my father “What is going on???” and he calls me, finally.  “I didn’t want to tell you over the phone.”  Oh dad…I already knew.

When we got to my grandmother’s house, I did not think of Coronavirus for a single second. I ran right to my Gram and hugged her, and we sobbed together.  I hugged each of my grieving aunts and uncles.  I sat with my cousins and tried not to cry.

March 17th

Usually my favorite day of the year, when Mark said “Happy St. Paddy’s” to me, I shrugged.  I’d forgotten.

March 18th

I sat on the sofa watching the press conference about the virus and thought to myself, how on earth are we supposed to have a funeral?  Any idea of a lunch afterwards was ruined with the closing of all restaurants.  The funeral parlor said they would monitor the number of people at the wake.  However, there’s something like 38 people in my immediate family.  The church told us they could only service immediate family, though theoretically anyone could come in while it was open to “pray.”  I couldn’t help thinking that this was not what my grandfather deserved.

March 19th

My family was there. Several older people who knew Poppa showed up for quick visits.  There was hand sanitizer and wipes everywhere.  There were warning signs posted on the doors.  I, who hates wakes on principle, actually thought that it wasn’t as bad as I expected.  It was just a long, sad, worrisome day.

March 20th

At the funeral home, no one really spoke.  Everyone was sad.  It was very difficult for me, who does not deal well with such emotions and has a tendency to crack a lot of jokes to try to cheer people up.  Obviously, this was not the place.  We paraded across Seneca St. to St. Teresa’s church, and after we took our seats we were immediately told to move, to spread out amongst the church keeping 6 feet between us.  I took this opportunity to move towards the back where I was more comfortable.  I thought I would be sitting alone, but suddenly there was my sister, throwing herself into my arms and sobbing.  Listen, if one of us is going to get it, both of us are going to get it.  I will not begrudge my sister a hug after she was just a pallbearer for our grandfather.

I made a couple jokes to her in church to cheer her up, like pointing out the members of the fam who have clearly not been to Mass in a while.  She seemed to do a lot better carrying him out.

Instead of a luncheon, we threw a party at Gram’s house, despite the fact that we weren’t really supposed to.  The way my cousin Mick put it, we’ve all been around each other for the past two weeks while Poppa was sick, so if we’ve got it, we’ve got it.  It was relatively small given the big family, and was just my Gram, her kids, and their kids.  It was actually a lot of fun, as people had pretty much packed up their tears for the day and were reveling in the company of family.  I was stressed for a few hours when Gov. Cuomo announced that all non-essentials had to stay home, but then Mark texted me with “I’m essential” and I had a celebratory drink.

That night I went over to my dad’s to hang out with him and his brother Tim, and we drank and laughed and ate pizza.  I fell asleep thinking that maybe, in the end, it was the perfect sendoff for Poppa.

March 21st

Mark and I took a drive, to clear our heads and think of something other than illness and death.  Still, it lurked. It lurked in little moments when Poppa crossed my mind.  It lurked in 30 second news updates on the radio.  It lurked in my husband’s mind, who handles materials from China on a daily basis and has to take three buses to and from work.

March 22nd

Press conference tells me there are now 57 cases in my county.  That’s 54 in a week.  I think back to the previous Sunday, snuggling on the sofa with G, and I feel my heart grow heavy.  Last Sunday, we had our Poppa, still.  Last Sunday, we had our bravery, still. 

Just one week.

My grandmother, taking a swig of her husband of 70 year’s favorite drink.