With every attempt at writing in this past year, I’ve stymied myself–and allowed myself to be thwarted. Edd’s and Brett’s deaths are recounted in these pages. My friends, representing large swaths of my life, gone too early, leaving vacant craters behind that leave empty spaces never meant to be empty. Time has passed and I’ve carried on, but their absence is a very real presence in my life.
Then, just before Thanksgiving, my cousin Craig Varner, died unexpectedly. He didn’t take very good care of himself and his heart gave out. It was a blow that capped off 2016 with another deep crater. In our childhoods, Craig and my brothers and I were all very close. In recent years, I’ve become closer with my cousins and Marilyn, Craig’s sister, and her husband Don came to visit us last summer, before Craig’s death. We will also see them again this summer. But in the midst of that, I got to see Craig last in 2012 and I could tell then he wasn’t as happy as I’d like to have seen him.
I have fond memories of Craig coming to our home in the San Fernando Valley in summer when we were all young. We swam in the pool, walked to get ice cream, played fast pitch, went to movies. Those were happy times. I just never imagined he’d be gone so soon. He leaves behind a son, a senior in high school, whose grief is terrible. And all we can do–all anyone can do for the bereaved, is to show up and shut up. Nothing makes it better. Nothing heals it. I was listening to comedian Patton Oswalt whose wife died in April last year. “You can say you’re done with grief,” he said. “But grief will let you know when he’s done with you.” Those words struck me square. It’s true. I know because I’ve lived it.
I didn’t know Craig as well in my adult years. We both moved on, had families and made lives for ourselves across the country from one another. Craig wasn’t much of a talker, but he was kind and caring and he was lovable and he had a great smile. I’ll always remember that wry smile. He was sarcastic and dry and many times, silent and withdrawn. He had his reasons. But my childhood is filled with memories of my cousin and I can’t picture those frosty New Year’s Nights in Maryland without Craig and my brothers and a trip to Mike’s Sub Shop.
Early next month, I’ll go with my dad to Baltimore where we’ll participate in Craig’s memorial service. My cousins all decided that they didn’t want to have the service so close to the Holidays so as not to allow that to be the main memory of the next years–and as Craig’s birthday was April 8, we’ll hold his service on that day. The closure is necessary, but not wanted–and I write this more as testament for myself than anything else.
In recent months, Sue’s health has changed and we had a scare in the last two weeks as she suffered another pancreatitis attack, which brought on dehydration and that combined with some truly awful meds she’s been taking for several years caused her kidneys to begin to shut down. Last weekend this time, she was in the hospital rehydrating and going cold turkey off of those meds, giving her kidneys a chance to stabilize. Apparently, once the damage is done–the kidneys don’t mend. If the damage is severe, then dialysis is called for. So far, that doesn’t seem to be Sue’s case. Her numbers were closer to normal, though not quite, when she was released last Sunday. And her marching orders are for real lifestyle changes, weight loss, no alcohol, low sodium, you name it.
I have faith and I think Sue does, too. She has taken a walk after dinner every night since she got home from the hospital but one. We have been eating healthy food and she’s seeking the counsel of good medical professionals, though that irks her beyond words. She’s tired of the medical runaround. But we’re determined to see her through and make some positive changes that will help her.
And this is where it all peters out. I’m frustrated by my own inability to write about this in a way that makes me feel better. Writing has always been a way for me to express myself and I don’t know if I have here. Perhaps–or perhaps I’m still grappling with it all to see what happens next. I know I’m not interested in company these days. I’m tired, too–anxiety ridden from all of this pain and uncertainty and since Sue doesn’t feel 100 percent, it’s easier just to stay hunkered down with her-figure out what the next step is and take it cautiously.
But, as the title of this post intimates, I’m following Shakespeare’s advice: “The weight of this sad time we must obey. Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”