Our guest writer this week is Peggy Wolf. Peggy Wolf has worn many hats, some better than others: school administrator, airline employee, fashion model, advertising design and sales, bar owner, house painter, construction foreman, actor, writer, real estate sales, calligrapher, office manager, photographer, graphic designer, editor, foster parent, and advocate for special education. She likes writing the most. Peggy lives in a log cabin on the side of a mountain in Western North Carolina. She shares her homestead with one husband, one duck, one goat, one bunny, one turtle, and two cats.
The name on caller ID made you suspicious and fearful. You knew. You knew without a doubt and that’s why you dreaded to pick up the phone. Your longtime and dearest friend’s son wouldn’t call you unless…
There are final bills, final exams, final notices, final report cards, but nothing is as final as death. You know it will come someway someday. It will be there for you, for your husband, for your children, for your siblings, and for your parents. It will be there for everyone you know and for everyone you don’t know. Death is uncomfortable and mean. Death can be ugly. Death will be a part of all our lives. We know it’s coming, but we do little to prepare for it. Death is our final and longest trip and we don’t get to pack a single bag. Death has no schedule and honors no timetable except its own. Death doesn’t always wait for us to say our final good-byes.
At this time, loss, grief, and friendship dominate your mind, and rightly so. Sometimes true appreciation isn’t realized until we no longer have what we took for granted.
Shock and Denial: First Stage of Grief.
“No! No! It can’t be. When?…Today! Just today?…How did she…Cancer? When did she get cancer?…Three days ago? How can someone get cancer and be dead in three days?…One year? If they told her she had a year, then how…In her lungs and liver and…Too far along? I can’t stop the tears. Please, Steve, I’m sorry, so sorry. I’m having a hard time accepting this…Are you okay?…And Brent and Julie?
Pain and Guilt: Second Stage of Grief.
I couldn’t bring myself to make the trip for the funeral. I don’t do well at funerals. I didn’t even go to my dad’s…I knew there would be a lot of people there to comfort you…Over five hundred?…She was loved by so many…She said that? She said I was her best friend? Hold on, need more tissues…I haven’t cried this much since my son died five years ago. Losing a friend that I feel so close to reopens all the wounds. I love her so much. No matter what burden she carried, she always put on a smile and made people around her feel good about themselves. Was your dad there?…He sang? Oh, man! I remember, that man could sing, but I didn’t expect that…”It’s a Wonderful Life?” Guess there wasn’t a dry eye in the place…I miss her so much. I bought a condolence card and wanted to include a letter, but every time I sit down to write, I can’t. I feel like if I put it down on paper that will make her…her death…real. Oh, Steve, I don’t want it to be real. Weeks ago I bought a funny greeting card that I knew would make her laugh. It’s still here, buried somewhere on my desk. Will I ever get my act together?
Anger and Bargaining: Third Stage of Grief.
“She was in a lot of pain when I saw her last year. It was her leg. She had trouble walking. That sore looked horrible. Did it ever heal?…I did notice her shortness of breath, but of course she smoked, like a chimney. She always had. That’s the only thing I didn’t like about your mom. And her back…She went to that many? With so many damn doctors, why in the world didn’t one of them pick up on it. What good does it do, when it’s too late?…Dammit, they’re pimps! Most of them are just pimps to the big pharms…Why her? She was such a good person. I would give anything to bring her back.
Depression and Reflection: Fourth Stage of Grief.
Brent? So nice of you to call. How are you?…Steve told me your mom asked y’all to keep in touch with me. That warms my heart…She’s still in my dreams. We’re doing fun stuff together. You kids were in some of them. You were little. It seems so real. It’s like she’s alive and then I wake up. Oh, Brent, I don’t know that I’ll ever get over this. I don’t want to go out, don’t even want to be around people…I know it must be hard for you…You’re right. She was such a fun mom and a good friend now that you’re adults…I know, our lives will never be the same…Our friendship was unique. For most of the fifty-five years we’ve known each other, we lived twelve hours apart. It’s strange, but our hearts didn’t feel the distance. I felt closer to her than most of the friends who live here. Sometimes I believe we could read each other’s minds. Back in the early 60s when we lived in the same town, before you were born, we played cards and board games. No one stood a chance to win if Jan and I were partners. Your mom and dad were fun loving people. They threw the best parties ever. Just being with them was a party. Your mother taught me how, and gave me permission, to have fun. My mother wasn’t a happy person. She made sure no one around her could be happy. She stripped the fun from our home and my childhood…Yes, you were fortunate…Can’t choose your family, but I’m mighty glad we get to chose our friends. Oh, geez, Brent, I hope you don’t mind me going on and on…I have some photos from our early days. I’ll make copies and send them to you…I was in awe of your mother when I met her. She was a college graduate and seemed so worldly. College is something my father wouldn’t let me do. He thought education for girls was a waste. Lucky he let me finish high school. I had to get two jobs during my last two years to earn enough to pay him room and board…Both your parents had a certain sophistication, yet were down-to-earth. The gang that they hung around with…many of them have died…Well, anyway they planned a progressive New Year’s Eve Party. Your mom wanted the party to start with cocktails at our house. From there we would go to each home for a course of the meal. Cocktails? I had no idea what a cocktail was, and I was too embarrassed to ask. The next day when grocery shopping, in the juice aisle I noticed a bottle that read “Tomato Juice Cocktail.” Oh, so that’s what it was… Yes, I did. Can you believe anyone could be that stupid?…When the guests arrived at our house, that’s what they got, a glass of tomato juice, just tomato juice…This will be our first Christmas without her…She was so much fun to buy for. I always looked forward to exchanging gifts. I’ll forever treasure the “Welcome to Our Neck of the Woods” sign I received from her last year. It’s so perfect for our cabin in the woods…You were with her when she bought it?…No way did I ever think it would be my last gift from her…Yes, she definitely needed a new blanket. When she told me hers was 30 years old, I knew just what to give her. It almost seemed too practical, but I got it anyway…When I took out our Christmas decorations this week, I came across the Santa dish she gave me years ago. I sobbed. Right there surrounded by fake holly, glitter, sparkle and the joy of Christmas I cried my eyes out.
Well, Peggy, losing someone dear has a high level of suckitude. In time, as you progress through the levels of grief, you’ll come to an acceptance and learn to live with memories. Like what else can you really do? Remembering all the crazy and fun stuff, will bring smiles and warm your broken heart. The laughter she brought will live in you…until it’s your turn to say goodbye.
To read more letters, click on The Path.
For more of Peggy’s writing, please visit her blog Take Heart.