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Death in the Family

December 8, 2014

A few months ago the father of my close friends died.

Our parents raised us together, me and a pair of twins, a boy and a girl (I’ll call them Rachel and Charles) and I’m so grateful for them. We lived on opposite sides of town so we didn’t go to school together until 4th grade when the death-in-the-family-ageeneighborhood boundaries switched and I walked into my new classroom to see Charles waving me over to come sit next to him. We’ve all been there for each other ever since, cheering each other on at sporting events and graduations, traveling together and sending letters across states, friends that are bound by more than just a few shared experiences. They’re part of my family, the fabric of who I am, and though I haven’t seen them more than a few times each year lately, I’ve never doubted how important we are to each other.

So when in August I heard that their father was in the hospital and they were coming back to Utah to see him, I was glad I’d get to spend time my friends. No one thought he’d be dead a few days later. Charles came back in time, spending his last day with him in the hospital joking and taking about where his father hid his weed. Rachel got to the hospital an hour too late, flying in from Alaska was just too far and no one thought their lively, 57 year old father was really at the end.

I sent them a text when I heard, saying I loved them and that I’d tell our friends, not wanting to be in the way when I knew they were about to be bombarded with family and friends and shock. Calling our other friends was hard, I was the only one in town and they all wanted to know what they could do – I told them there wasn’t even anything I could do. We’ve all been so lucky, none of us have lost anything close to a parent.

The next few days went slowly. I worked a lot and didn’t reach out to my friends, crying alone at lunch thinking about what they must be going through. People ask so much of you when you’re the family, I just couldn’t be another person that they had to deal with. I knew they knew I’d do anything for them, but my gift was letting them know that they didn’t have to do anything for me. He died Sunday morning and I stopped by on Wednesday to drop off a few photos of their father that my family had found, they were glad to see me, and insisted I stay to help them organize the photos for the funeral. I stopped by every day after that to help glue and print and fill the boxes of things that would represent their father at the funeral, making jokes and enjoying my friends liked I’d hoped to a week earlier.
My friends are tough, so strong that I only saw them cry about their father at the funeral when they were speaking together on stage. The rest of the time they smiled and laughed about their dad’s messy office and asked family friends about their lives. I smuggled them food at the funeral and blocked when they needed a break, doing my best to keep the mood light – that is what they needed from me, distraction.

But in the months since I feel like it’s getting harder and harder to keep distracted. The funeral and subsequent weeks felt like they were about other people – extended family, friends, insurance providers – every time I was out with them we ran into another person who wanted to talk to them about it or someone who hadn’t yet heard. I had to stand there as they comforted person after person, nodding and smiling so whoever it was would let them leave. But now it feels so much more personal, not only because I’m doing my best to be there for my friends, but also because I’m starting to admit my loss as well. I’m only feeling a small part of what they are, but I miss their father and without him here things are different.

Their birthday was last week and before Rachel left town for a ski race she told me to take care of her brother, that he’d never ask me himself to make his birthday special. I was planning to already but I took him bowling and out for a drink, trying REALLY hard to ‘act normally’ as I did my best to keep him entertained and distracted. But it felt harder than usual to keep smiling, and I felt a bit like I let him down as I dropped him off at his mother’s house barely after 9pm.

I know the three of them aren’t alone, they all have each other, and so many others, but they have such a large responsibility to each other now. And I know time heals, but lately I’m afraid that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. As the distractions fall away they’re going to be left with the truth. Their father isn’t around. And I don’t know if I can help.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 11, 2014 8:57 am

    That’s so tough. I still can’t fathom that he went downhill so quickly. And Rachel not getting there in time–it’s too tragic. That scary part is this is just the beginning.

  2. thelittlemerskank permalink*
    December 11, 2014 3:13 pm

    So sad for you, Booty– and for Rachel and Charles. I have been there myself and I know how awful it is. Nothing can prepare you for something like that. I will be praying for them.

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