Two years ago, although occasionally mired by a rainstorm or two, our life was pretty much rainbows and puppies, sunshine and ice cream. I’m not going to lie, we had it good.
I had somehow happened upon the life of my life, despite being tucked in the woods as he was, and we fit together seamlessly. I felt like the knight who had rescued Rapunzel (or however that went) and off we had ridden into the sunset.
And then the sun didn’t come up.
Two years ago in August, we lost our dog Cinda Lou in a terrible, and preventable accident.
Eight months later, the Chief’s mother died suddenly in a car accident the day before his 40th birthday.
Less than two weeks later, his grandmother Jane passed.
A few months later on a cold morning this Winter, I received a call that my godmother Ellen had passed away suddenly. She had gone in for routine surgery and never come out. She was a beautiful jeweler and we were designing the wedding rings she was going to make for us. Suddenly, she was gone. The news hit me so hard it took my breath away. I sat there catatonic as a meeting for work started. I just stared forward, numb.
Times were dark. It felt as if the world had closed itself off to us, as if we’d hit our limit on happiness. We had been so lucky. Maybe too lucky.
We waded through the pain and stumbled as we reached its new depths. We tried to hold one another close but felt alone. We fought endlessly, our anger at the world had nowhere to go in a tiny wintry cabin and so it found its way towards one another. Still, we remembered how it once was.
And then, a ray of sunlight.
Somehow, almost suddenly, The Chief and I came together again. The anger lifted. We softened. I hadn’t realized how far we’d gotten from one another, how cold our new normal was. Grief has a way of sneaking you away from yourself, away from your loves without your even realizing. It leaves you alone.
Yet we could finally see we weren’t alone. Our sun was back. We cuddled again, sat entwined on the couch again, lingered in one another’s embrace again. The sadness was still there but for the first time it wasn’t blinding, we could see past it. We could find the beauty in what remained and the excitement for what was coming.
The Chief’s dad, Christopher was part of that beauty. We grew very close in the month and a half we spent together in California after Donna and Jane’s passing. His consistency made me feel so safe in a time where it felt like our world was collapsing and again he was there when Ellen died and it felt ready to collapse again. Despite the immense pain he felt in the losses, he always found a way to be kind. When issues would arise or plans would change he would simply, softly say “Ok, dear” in a way that made my hardening heart melt ever so slightly. He was a steady port in the storm and I clung to him.
Two months ago, he died of a heart attack.
The anniversaries of Donna and Jane’s passing had hit us hard in the week leading up to his death. One year gone already. Gently, we navigated through the reminders, trying to remember the good instead of fall deeply into the pit of sadness. Two days after Jane’s passing anniversary (which also happened to be her birthday and Cinda’s birthday) the call came.
The man who had become a beacon of hope for our newly blossoming family, who had tied us all together when the seams started to fray was gone.
He was a man full of surprises. As an ex-military man, full of discipline and prestige, I was intimidated by him at first. I would set alarms just to make sure I woke up “early enough” because I feared he’d think me lazy if I slept in. When I did manage to get up, the payoff was wonderful as I’d get to accompany him on his walks. Every day he walked the property to check on his thousands of olive trees and despite his love of solitude, he welcomed my presence to become part of his norm too.
He was methodical and principled and repetitious to a T but just when I’d think I had him pegged, he would surprise me again. He would send me random texts to say “Hi” or “What’s your weather like today?” with a picture of a bluebird morning at the farm. I once received a text from him with a picture of himself, sweaty as can be, in front of a hot yoga business. Since it was pouring rain, he couldn’t be outside and get his exercise and so, he tried something new. I loved that about him. He didn’t care what anyone thought, he didn’t have to stay put in any idea others had about him. He was his own person, through and through and I will forever wish he were with us still.
Despite his ashes in our living room, his death still feels unreal. I still expect a text from him to remind me not to worry, that he will do all the cooking at the wedding and to offer other help I didn’t know I needed. I still wait for a call to randomly check in and tell us he loves us.
These days, the simple ringing of a telephone strikes fear in my heart. I feel fear constantly and picture death and destruction in even the safest situation. I fear for the family and friends I have, for our Leto, for The Chief, for myself. I fear for the worst for I know it’s face, I’ve stared right into it’s eyes and still it doesn’t back down.
Yesterday, the phone rang again, this time to tell me that my grandmother Gam had died.
I had just worked up the nerve to tell of the loss of my father-in-law, to write about him here, to tell his story and what he meant to me. I was not prepared to write two obituaries. It feels odd and unseemly to group two of the most important people in my life into one post, yet they are interwoven, all of our losses are.
My Gam is the reason I feel comfortable calling myself a writer at all, and only because she called me one first. She was the person I was most afraid to tell I was moving to Alaska because I was afraid she’d think I failed her. I was so wrong. She beamed at my choice, prized my passion and applauded my leap of faith. She once told me that if I loved The Chief, I had to love all of him. I hadn’t realized that this was how she had loved me, all along. She was smart as a whip, did the crosswords every day and could hold a conversation with anyone. She was an avid reader, a teacher, a lover of art and nature and jazz and a constant help to those in need. She stood up for herself in a time when women were expected to be quiet and continued that strength until she passed. When she had had enough of you, she would tell you “I’m ready for you to go”. She adored The Chief. He was the only man I ever brought to meet her about which she said “I like him”, with a special emphasis only she could put on “like”. I can hear her say it now. That was a very high regard. She gave us her blessing and when she found out The Chief was planning to propose, she immediately offered him her wedding ring. I wear it now and forever.
I adored her. She was a force to be reckoned with and I will deeply miss her.
I hope, ever so much that these are the last obituaries I write for a very long time and that instead this place holds happiness in its tales of the Last Frontier. I hope with all my might that a phone ringing won’t always make my heartbeat quicken and that in every way I won’t always fear for the worst. I hope The Chief and I can continue in kindness and gentleness and hold tightly to the even keel we once had and that our wedding in September can move us forward, together in love and lightness. I hope our ancestors gather around us to celebrate in spirit. We love you.
I wish for you that you and yours are safe and sound.
from Alaska and a couple of hand holding, “don’t embarrass me, Mom” pups to make you smile.
Such sad news….prayers your way. You may not get over this, but I have every confidence you will get through it. It has happened to me, so I have the greatest empathy for you both. Keep your chin up.😞💔
Thank you dear friend for sharing with us. I love you both. You’re a ray of light – a genuine beam of goodness and your union with the chief is as beautiful as the life that’s ahead of you. I hope writing your words help you as much as they’ve helped us. Grief lead me to McCarthy – and it was the only thing that got me through it. I’m crying in Seattle Airport – but I still look fabulous. All the love in the world to you both xxx
Beautiful Julia. So sorry for all your loss. But a moving, honest, and courageous tribute to some amazing people. Keep at it.
Thank you for sharing these painful losses, been there with you on some, but knowing you have made it through and have each other when the sadness gets too much is a comfort.
Love to you both.
Thanks, Kathy. Love to you too.
Hugs. So much and so constantly – that bolt to the gut when the phone rings – it’s awful. Hugs, and I’m glad you posted. I was missing your presence here in the ether.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you, Keely. It feels good to be back. Hoping for some lighter feels in the future. Best to you and your new adventures.
I understand so well. When loss comes rapidly it can be crippling — but do not let it take you out of living. Honor the memories and go through the grieving and walk back into the sunshine where memories live. The place where we see how much better we are for having had such love in our lives. It is never easy. It’s gutting. But there is life and love in your eyes and many more stories to come. I send you love and understanding from someone who has lost so much, but has so much to look forward to.
Thank you, Maggie. So true. There is so much goodness. Everything has a beginning and end but it’s best to focus on what lay within those markers. Love to you.
LikeLiked by 1 person
To all these wonderful folk who have enriched your lives, may their memory be eternal.
Thank you, Esther. I don’t remember how or when I first heard you say that, but I think of it with every passing.
Dear Julia and Chris, Oh, dear hearts, it is too much. I am so sorry you have had such tremendous loss over the past two years. This part of life is raw and penetrating…..you are navigating it with courage and honesty. …sending an enormous hug to you both.
Thank you, Cece. I can feel it. Love you mucho.
Dear Julia, Lolly and I just arrived back home after these long, long last few days. Too much to sort through yet, but reading your words — especially about Gam, but also about everyone and everything else was a real gift and a balm. Thank you. Love you. Talk to you soon. Your Uncle Rich
Thank you, Uncle Rich – that means so much to me. Love you guys ❤️
😭😭😭 Oh Julia. I’m sitting here in a hammock, holding our baby, who is laughing and squeaking in his sleep while tears cascade down my chest to join the ever leak of breastmilk onto his tiny dreaming body. Tears with your beautiful words, honoring each of the heavy losses you two have / are enduring. Tears at how readily I can access my own chasm of grief, as I just moved through the anniversary of my brother’s death last summer and am currently working through what to share at a dear sister friend’s memorial this coming weekend. Tears with the melting ice caps and glaciers and mounting ways that we have so little control over the course and duration of these miraculous, gorgeous, and painful lives… That said, in all the ways that one may have the wherewithal (and privilege, of course) to choose thoughtful, reflective living, beauty, kindness, generosity, and grace, you sure do. I’m so glad you and Chris have each other and feel certain that all of your peeps will be dancing joyful-raucously with you at your wedding (baby Matija and I included), whether there in the flesh or not. Sending you, Chris, and pup all the love and cuddles.
Love, that was beautiful. I can see you two now and it makes me smile to think of new life as we let go of those on their next journey. We can’t wait to see you all. So much love to you and yours.