A lot of things had happened beforehand, and they had a dramatic impact on my life. But I still held onto the belief that I could hope for some time in the future - however brief - during which I could take a breather and get some relief from the overwhelming sadness and pain. And while there have been weeks (maybe even entire months!) of respite during the intervening years, there was always something that came up and brought the pain back, and something beforehand that left a lingering pain that obscured those periods of peace.
Following a number of smaller losses, I have recently experienced the slow death of a near and dear relative - my PopPop (that's "grandfather" for those of you living elsewhere who may have never heard this term). I've only ever dealt with quick/unexpected human losses in the past (as an adult, and one not so great at keeping in touch with people), so this situation was very different and very affecting. Now that he is finally at peace, I am infinitely grateful to have had the time to spend a few more days with him and several chances to tell him how much I loved him. But the past week was one of the most wrenching, confusing, and gutting of my life. It also came during a time where it seems like ALL of my friends are going through terrible experiences of their own, and it has really felt like the universe was giving us all the finger.
And it made me realize something about "growing up" that I probably should have understood years ago. As much as I have (and want to maintain) a carefree attitude about life, and as much as I want to keep hoping for that "someday" in which I'll have a decent stretch of time that isn't punctuated by pain and loss, it isn't realistic. Part of living a life connected to friends and family and animals I care deeply about means that there will always be a source of pain or loss not too far around the corner. If I'm not hurting, someone I love probably is and should know that they can come to me. If I haven't lost someone (or had a bad scare), someone I know has and needs comfort. I also can't just blithely expect everyone I care about to live forever just because I can't imagine life without them. And the fact is that the longer I live, the more this will be true.
Childhood and childishness are, if nothing else, marked by an assumption that the skies will always clear and everything will get better. And that's not wrong. Growing up just means recognizing the hurts that were going on this whole time, acknowledging them, and doing our best to alleviate them if and when we can. I think I have officially reached the "acceptance" stage in realizing what kinds of pain I should expect for the rest of my life. I'll take and cherish all the good times that come my way, but I can no longer treat the bad/sad times as tremendous aberrations that need to be avoided and waited out. I think this may officially make me the Grownup I never thought I'd be, and that's ok.
As an aside - one consolation this past week came in a rather roundabout way. While PopPop was sleeping one day, the minister who was visiting asked me what my favorite story about PopPop was, and I drew a total blank. At the time, I felt terrible that I couldn't think of anything. But sitting there, angst-ing over this deficiency, I realized: I don't have stories about PopPop - I have memories of him. I got to spend so much time with him and MomMom growing up that when I think of them, that's what comes to mind. I know I've heard stories, but I can't recall them. I would like to learn some stories, of course, so I can have them as well and share them with family in the future, but I feel so much better having a lifetime of lovely memories than I would be if I just had a few "good stories".
I remember walks in the woods, where he pointed out wild-growing things as well as plants he had cultivated. I remember those walks ending at the stream, and wading in the ice-cold water there, hoping to see fish but being just as happy to settle for glimpses of water-strider bugs. I remember climbing in his fruit trees, and catching birds that had invaded the blueberry patch and releasing them. I remember picking berries and veggies (especially the silver queen corn) from their gardens. I remember watching The Sound of Music for the first time with him and MomMom. I remember riding with him in his pickup truck. I remember eating my first bagels at their house, and thinking how cool it was that my grandparents drank milk with their meals, just like us kids. I remember annual Memorial Day picnics and Christmas dinners. I remember the beautiful pictures he took of plants and butterflies. I remember that he made wine when I was a little girl; and I remember what a special day it was when Chris and my brother bottled the last two carboys of wine he had put up in the 80's (it was pretty much hard liquor when they bottled it) in bottles with a label made from a picture of him back when he was a pilot in World War II, and how happy he was that they were bottling that wine and carrying on the brewing/wine-making tradition in our family.
I could fill pages with these memories. And maybe I should, for the children who are small now and those presumably coming in the future. Because another part of being a grownup is sharing how things used to be, and who the people who are no longer with us were.