Jackie

I’ve been feeling a little blue lately.  It’s Father’s Day weekend, and I’m not sure, but it may be this observance that has had me feeling melancholy.

At our house, Father’s Day has been a celebration for my husband and his dad, or just my father-in-law in the years before our kids were born.  My own father died decades ago, so he’s not been an honoree – not in any cookout/baseball game/ugly tie sense, at least – for over 30 years.

So I don’t think it’s the loss of my own father that I’m feeling so keenly this weekend. It’s my big brother, Jack. Jackie, as we always called him.  That’s who I’m missing.

Maybe it’s because we’re approaching the first anniversary of his death, or because his oldest child, a daughter and the oldest of all our family’s grandchildren, got married a few weeks ago.  Her brother walked her down the aisle, just as Jackie walked me down the aisle when I got married.  And just as I know he was spiritually “there” watching over this celebration, I also know that his corporeal absence was deeply felt.  I’ve been feeling it for several weeks.

Jackie was pretty young, only 60, when he died. He developed pulmonary fibrosis several years ago. He followed an aggressive treatment protocol, but the disease just wore him down in the end. When he died, he was in California, visiting his oldest friend in the world. They met on the first day of first grade, and were best friends for 54 years.  His friend was a fellow musician, and over time had amassed an impressive collection of guitars, which he and Jackie had spent a lot of time playing during that last trip.

I’m sure Jackie wasn’t so much ready to go, as resigned to it. I know he was tired of fighting for breath, or for a decent night’s sleep. The friends and family he saw during his last days all said he was in good spirits and seemed happy.  I suspect he knew that at last, his fight was nearing an end. My rational mind knew that Jackie wouldn’t be with us for much longer. Still, his death caught me completely off guard.

In the week that followed, I spent most every waking moment at my mother’s house, surrounded by family and friends.  This is usually how it goes when someone dies. You’re with the people you need to be with, talking and laughing and crying. Mostly, you’re just trying to wrap your mind around the fact that someone is gone.

In the midst of all of it, I found myself slipping outside frequently just to be alone.  Even after a tragedy, sometimes all that family togetherness can weigh on you. I needed to not talk, to not think, to not feel.  I would sit in my car and listen to Foo Fighters songs –  “Monkey Wrench” for the comic relief, or “The Pretender”, which helped to redirect some of my anger. Or “Home”, when I just needed to cry.

In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, we huddle together and help each other through the shock and bewilderment of loss, and this makes us feel better.  A lot of people that I love and respect helped me through that first week.  But if we’re going to be honest about it, that’s not really the worst part of dealing with death.

Grief is tricky. It sneaks up on you when your guard is down, like the monster in the closet that only comes out in the dark of night, when you’re a little kid alone in your room.  It’s not the business of death itself that’s so hard to take; it’s what comes after, when you have to get back to the business of living.

Because you really have to figure out how to do that on your own.

I can see how, after the loss of a loved one, people turn to drugs and alcohol as an escape. Life is supposed to go back to “normal”, but there’s a new normal, in which you have to absorb the fact that someone is gone and won’t be back, no matter how long you wait.  Whatever normal used to be, this is NOT it, because now there’s a big fucking hole in it.

True to form, I filled that hole with music.

During the weeks and months that followed, when the grief and loss would blindside me, I would turn to the Foo Fighters. I knew their music so well by then that it was ingrained in me.  And a huge part of what my normal had been, and needed to be again. I needed the comfort of the familiar – Chris and Pat’s guitars for the melody and the spark, and Nate’s bass and Taylor’s drums to provide the rhythm. And of course, Dave’s voice, which can go from a defiant screaming anthem to an achingly beautiful ballad and never once sound false. It’s not a perfect voice, but it’s always honest.

When a loved one dies, I think it’s a natural reaction to start thinking about your own mortality. I certainly did. I was not unhappy with my life, but I knew I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing with it. It was time to do something else. I didn’t make any immediate changes, but I knew they were necessary. And scary. Fear rendered me immobile for a time. But one night, that changed.

To be continued…

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