The last thing I remember of my father-in-law was seeing him walk back in the house as Chris pulled out the driveway.
It was January 1.
Christmas Eve he found out he’d have a grandson and granddaughter in May. The holidays came and went as they always do. Chris and I flew back to Florida a few hours later with plans to come back to Pennsylvania when our twins are born.
Fifteen days later I find myself on a plane to Philadelphia. Headphones plugged in my ears, Emeli Sande is the soundtrack. A stewardess asks if I want my backpack from overhead. I say no. Out the window, a thin stream of white clouds paint a canvas of blue. Blue sky above blue waters below.
I dyed my hair blue Friday.
Now I wish I hadn’t. The timing sucks.
Emeli Sande is brilliant. This album is beautiful.
The stewardess brings water.
I take a sip. The bottle now lodged between my crossed legs. I got these new Gola shoes, they’re pretty cool. My mind wanders when I’m anxious.
Kinda have to pee again but the two strangers next to me are asleep. Their heads lean against each other, fingers interlocked.
I wish I were with Chris right now.
The last thing I remember of my father-in-law is seeing him disappear into his home. Or maybe it was his face through the glass door. I remember he said he wasn’t feeling too great, everyone had been sick over the holiday.
The last text message he sent me was shortly after the gender reveal of our twins, his new grandchildren. It read: boy, girl. Then a bit later I text him a poop emoji, which was a joke between us. He responded: how cute. Followed by a skull emoji. Then me with a green face, puke emoji.
I love making him laugh. Especially because he makes me laugh.
Just after Chris and I had the twins’ gender reveal, I noticed my father-in-law walked in the garage. I grabbed Chris, asked him to congratulate his dad with me. He was so happy to have two grandkids on the way. Happy his son was bringing life into the world. He was so happy. We walked into the garage to find him tearing up. Eyes red and swollen, smiling. He was smiling. We all hugged. It was like he felt blessed, like you could see the genuine joy beaming from this six-foot-something man. My father-in-law is a big guy with a big heart.
Anyway two days ago – thirteen days after he disappeared into his house, twenty days after hugging him in the garage – my father-in-law was unable to move. He suffered a severe stroke, went into cardiac arrest and, just like that, everything changed.
Just like that he disappeared. Like watching him head back into his home, but not at all. Not like that at all.
Now several days in the hospital, Chris is in Philadelphia with his family.
Everyone prays for the best outcome and recovery. Prayers become pleas. Pleas become quiet tears and so many questions. Quiet tears and so many questions become dry answers. And those answers, they become painful. And pain, pain has to become purpose.
Pain has to transform into purpose.
Because otherwise it makes no sense and there is no comfort. Even in the smallest dosage, faith can offer purpose; purpose can offer a pin drop of comfort. That everything happens for a reason and there is a far greater plan we are not meant to understand. With joy is sorrow, with light is dark, and with life is always death.
Fifteen days later I find myself on a plane. To be with family, my husband, as they make an unbelievably difficult decision to honor my father-in-law’s living will. His wish to not have a compromised quality of life if anything was to happen. And the extent of his brain damage proved far too great.
The couple next to me on the plane is awake. He drinks Sprite, she has Coke. He’s got a turquoise neck pillow, they both watch something on Starz.
Emeli Sande on repeat.
The clouds thicken into a dense haze till the great blue is swallowed by white.
The couple has no idea.
They have no idea my father-in-law will never meet his grandchildren. My husband and brother-in-law will have lost their father. His mother, two husbands. They are oblivious to the pain brewing, the life slipping away. They are oblivious to the fear. Of what lies ahead. Of how my family will cope. Of what this will do to my husband, to everyone. How my mother-in-law will push through. How the birth of our children will be laced with the fresh ache of loss. At the realization they will never know the man who so inherently loved them but will never meet them. The fear that life is a gift and those people we love are not forever. The familial staples so easily taken for granted in day-to-day living can be removed without warning.
They can disappear.
And I think of my mother and father. Chris. My aunt. Think of the people I’m so dependent upon, the ones I don’t think I’d be able to move on without. I think of them as a face disappearing in the window. As a sudden urgent phone call. I think of them as removed from the script.
I think of them as not.
And it’s an overpowering weight. Two strong, firm hands wrapped round my throat. It’s the end.
We never know the universal plan, the complex storyboard of our repeated existence. We just have to trust the Writer. Trust that one character affects another affects another, one plot line steers another steers another, one death is the catalyst for new growth is the catalyst for greater understanding.
I’m sorry. So, so sorry this is happening. Love is what makes it so hard and love is what will keep us together.
Love is the only way.
I call my father-in-law Grumpy Pants and Poopy Paul because when he was upset once it made him laugh. Thus the poop emoji. I call him Slow Paul sometimes because while he technically beat me in a go-kart race, I’m still convinced it was a computer error and I was faster!
But my father-in-law, his name is Paul.
Paul, I am going to miss you so much. I promise to take care of your son, to make sure he is happy and always loved. I promise to take care of your grandchildren, to make sure I am the best father to them I can be. I know what a special man you were for Brenda, Chris and Craig. I know what you mean to Chris, and just how significant your acceptance of him truly was in his life.
And I promise, I promise your grandchildren will know you.
I love you, Poopy Paul.
Paul passed away tonight at 7:15pm. He was surrounded by family, listening to some of his favorite music. Simple Man, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door and Dream On were part of his final soundtrack.