My year from hell began in late 1991. Mary's mother, Dorthy (not a typo) became sick sometime in the late summer or early fall. She possibly had an inkling that she was sick, because she had started to write her life's story shortly before she went into the hospital. I gladly took on the job of typing her handwritten pages.
Dorthy was born sometime in the Depression. Her own mother died when Dorthy was relatively young, and her stepmother seemed less loving by comparison. She was still a pre-teen when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and was sent to live with relatives in New Mexico or Arizona. Thus, as reflected in those handwritten pages, her life began with significant loss, and a sense of rootlessness.
Sadly, Dorthy did not write more than a few pages of her story.
I met Dorthy when Mary and I started dating, in the latter half of the 80s. Dorthy immediately accepted me as part of the family, and loved me as if were another son. She quickly became for me a new positive image of a mother figure. Ironically, Mary came to claim that her mother loved me more than her.
Mary and I were not told what Dorthy's illness was, even after she entered the hospital. Mary suspected it was a form of cancer, related somehow to the TB she suffered early in life. Whatever it was, it claimed her in November of 1991.Thanksgiving and Christmas had been very special holidays for Dorthy; she always pulled out all the stops. We were acutely aware of our loss as we made our way through November and December. We could have been easily mistaken for zombies.
My father died in January of 1992, just a week after his 65th birthday. As I have said a number of times before, Padre had essentially given up on life almost 15 years previously. Brother Dave once said that Padre had been committing slow-motion suicide from the time he was laid off in 1975. That was Padre's year from hell; his wife Wanda (my step-mother) died that same year.
Despite knowing all this about Padre, I was still pained by his death. I suppose I always held the hope, or fantasy, that he would rediscover life, and the man I had grown up admiring would be restored.
Mary and I drove to Midland, TX, where Padre had spent the last several years of his life in a curious symbiotic relationship with his mother. Our trip was made possible by our church, which passed a special collection plate to help cover our expenses, and a friend who loaned us his gas card. Mary's younger brother loaned us a CB radio to assist with the drive south. There had been some serious snowfall, even as far south as Dallas.
Brother Dave had already dealt with most of the necessary arrangements. The last item was a visit to the bank where Padre had his account. I rode with Dave. It was during this ride that I screwed up the courage to ask for Padre's guitar. As the eldest son, Dave was supposed to inherit the guitar. With tears welling in my eyes, I said I really would like to have it.
Brother Dave simply said that it only made sense that I have it, as I was more likely to play it (he jokes that the only music he plays is on his sound system).
That evening, Mary and I were invited to stay at Gran's, in the bedroom Padre had occupied. This was just too eerie for me, so we stayed at a local motel.
Padre's memorial service was on Saturday. Gran insisted on an open casket, and sat beside it weeping up until the time the service started. I did not even care to think about looking in the casket. I preferred my childhood memory pictures.
Padre's cemetery plot is in OKC, about 30 minutes east of where I now live. His internment was the Friday following his memorial service. Following a tradition he and his siblings had started (Padre was the youngest of four), I laid a single yellow rose - for remembrance - on his coffin.My biological mother died a year later. But I do not include that loss in the official "Year from Hell".
A month after Padre's death, Bob died. Bob was Mary's brother; Mary was the oldest of three, and Bob was the middle child. The year prior to his death, Bob had become a crack addict, and his death was associated with that. Though I'm pretty sure no explosions were involved.
Both Bob and his mother had served in the Navy, and the "Navy Hymn" ("Eternal Father, Strong to Save") was played at both services. I still get misty when this hymn is played in church. It is, at best, a melancholy mist.
By the point of Bob's funeral, I had developed a routine for the receiving line. Shaking hands and saying, "Thanks for coming" had become as automatic as saying "Amen" at the end of a prayer.
I had the image, in the year or so that followed, that grief comes in waves. At first, it's very intense, like an ocean at high tide. Then, as months and years pass, the waves decrease in intensity. A high wave might reappear with certain anniversaries, but even those waves become smaller, or at least more bearable, with time.
My blog friend had an interesting image for this: "I'm heartened to hear that others have Hell Years and that they fade into some kind of past, maybe not fade from memory or touch, but at least take a back seat on the bus. "
I also think that grief has stages, similar to the ones Elizabeth Kubler-Ross discerned for death & dying. There may not be a one-to-one relationship, but there is definitely some journey from the initial shock to the eventual acceptance.
For New Year's Eve 1992, Mary and I attended the celebration in downtown OKC. The evening concluded with fireworks. Thanks to the city's concrete canyons, it was almost like being under heavy mortar fire (at least the movie version). I had the notion that the fireworks were a form of "destroying" the old year.
So, Mary and I stood on a low retaining wall and shouted the year down: "Good bye!" "Good riddance!" "Be gone!"It was not a cure, but it was a relief.