January 8, 2013. At 10:30am, a message popped up in my Facebook inbox. One of the guys I’d gone to the Dominican Republic with in the summer of 2005 had suddenly and tragically passed away. It was shocking, and it took a couple days for me to process his death.
January 11, 2013. I got the news that Pop Pop, my mom’s father, had passed away at roughly 5pm. After shutting the door to my office, I folded over in my chair and cried big tears that hurt as I tried to stifle them.
When I left the office. I alternated between fine and tearful. As I pulled out of the parking lot, a thought, as clear as if it were spoken to me, came into my mind: “Pay attention to the sounds.”
It was an odd moment. I typed the note to myself in my phone, and then I paid attention. I turned off my music and rolled down my window. I listened to the sounds of the traffic, the wind in the trees, the hum of my car’s engine. When the ambient noise quieted, I tried to hear the more muted sounds. I don’t listen enough, I realized.
I watched the red light in front of me. The world felt emptier. Pop Pop was gone. Our link to that generation, at least in my family, was gone. All the stories and memories of life before my time, before my parents’ time, were now lost.
The clouds moved overhead, as they always did. Life continued on, as normal, for everyone around me. The world didn’t stop spinning when my friend died, and it didn’t stop spinning when Pop Pop died, either.
The light turned green.
A week later we drove north to Indiana for the funeral. Pop Pop was cremated, as Grandmom had been, so we didn’t have to rush to have a service. My sister, her fiance, my friend Chris and I stayed in a hotel. I felt stressed, like if I cracked or made a mistake, everything would go wrong.
Before the service, as I was getting ready, I stood in the hotel room, fixated on my suitcase. My thoughts were simple, but I was having a hard time processing them. Chris was on the other side of the room, going through his things, and mentioned that my former boss wished me well.
“Oh. I need to thank her. And I need to thank Della. I can’t forget -”
“Mandy, you don’t need to do anything.” He said it gently, and I halted, staring hard at my suitcase. I heard him walk over to me, and I threw my hands up, gave in, and broke down. I sobbed as he held me.
Visitation felt like it lasted forever. Finally, Chris sat to my left, Mom on my right, Mad next to her, then Steven at the end. Dad gave the eulogy. I struggled to pay attention, so I closed my eyes and bowed my head as tears rolled down my cheeks. I kept it together.
The service ended, and we stood. Then, without warning, I couldn’t stop the flood of emotion, and I sobbed again. Mom and Dad hugged me, and as I quieted, I turned and hugged Chris. My parents went to talk to relatives and friends milling around, and Steven went to the restroom. Chris, Mad and I sat on the pew.
Mad and I looked at each other. I realized she was crumbling. With a look of sudden, sad realization on her face, Mad said, “We have no more grandparents.” Her emotions forced the words out just before she lost her composure. To my relief, Dad was suddenly at her side, and he comforted her.
Later, after leaving the funeral home, then spending a few hours at my aunt and uncle’s house visiting with family, we were back at the hotel. I was emotionally lighter, but exhausted. Chris held me as I fell asleep, and twice he asked if I was okay. Apparently, as I was drifting to sleep, my body was jerking and twitching.
This past Friday, I went to see a counselor for the first time. Over the course of an hour and fifteen minutes, I spilled my thoughts on my life as it is now. She wanted to know my goal. Why was I in therapy? What did I want to achieve?
“I hold everything in. I haven’t been talking to anyone, really, about how I’m feeling. When I do talk about it, I can feel myself reacting physically to all the anxiety. My eye twitches, my stomach is a mess, my heart will start racing and pounding out of my chest.”
“Those are definitely signs of anxiety,” Nancy said. “So what’s your goal?”
“I need to get it out, I guess. I can’t hold it all in.”
The only time in those 75 minutes that I lost my composure and started to cry was when I talked about Pop Pop’s death. I stammered and fought the tears.
“He fought for so long. He was miserable! We were so grateful that he let go. I miss him, I do, but it’s more… he’s gone. That generation is gone. Life is going too fast. I’m only 30, but I feel like I’m losing time. There’s just not enough.”
Since returning from Taiwan, I’ve been handling a lot of stress. It’s only been recently that I’ve been able to put a finger on the underlying thread of it all: I feel mortal. I feel as though I am running short on time, and that everything I want to do will take more time than what I have left, no matter if it’s 40 years or 100.
“We have no more grandparents.” When Mad said it, it didn’t affect me. Now, I think about it often. One generation’s length away from fighting life out on my own.
It’s a scary thing, to think that there’s not enough time. I have anxiety about it. I have to stop it from invading my life and taking away my joy. That’s the goal.
I need to live.