An odd testament to love
My stepdad, Joe, passed away last Thursday.
It was a shock.
I visited him with Audrey and Fiala the night previous, as we’d gotten word that he had taken a turn for the worse. He was mostly out of it, on pain meds, but we had some now-memorable exchanges… One was me asking him if he wanted music in his room — he LOVED music — and he did. I made a mental plan to follow up on that the next day. A sick man should have music. He taught my children all sorts of silly songs over the years — he and my mom started dating when my 16 year-old was an infant; they were married days after he turned one — and I asked him if he might have a silly song for my girls. He replied, “Not at the moment.” When the girls and I were about to leave, I told him I needed to go back home to nurse baby Jean. “Do you remember baby Jean?” I asked, not sure how connected he was with what I was saying. “Oh, yes!” he said, and his face lit up. The girls and I prayed for him, I told him that I loved him, and he said he loved me, too, and we left.
We got back home, and I told my husband, “He looks bad, but he doesn’t look like he’s on death’s door.”
I was wrong.
He died early the next morning.
Perhaps this seems odd, but I think his passing might be a testament to how much he loved my mother, and that makes me feel a little bit better.
It had been a hard, hard year with Joe. Well, hard ten months. My mother passed on October 18, 2012, and for the month or so following, things were good with Joe, although he was terribly — understandably — heartbroken.
And then things deteriorated.
Much of the deterioration revolved around my mom’s will and the way estate law works in Arizona.
The short version is that he didn’t think that myself or my three siblings should inherit anything from my mother. He genuinely felt entitled to everything she owned and saved, and felt that we weren’t taking care of him by signing our inheritances over to him.
My sibs and I couldn’t agree to his desires. My mom appropriated some things to her children… The bulk of the estate went to Joe. There was much that estate law would allow us to keep, or claim — property which wasn’t exactly specified in the will — which we didn’t. We siblings were trying our best to err on the side of generosity, to keep all fighting to an absolute minimum, to find common ground… We simply were not successful, and Joe remained upset at us. Angry, really. He was angry with us.
It had been a very, very hard time, a difficult year.
I had long said that Joe was the most involved grandparent that my children had.
And, it was true for 15 years.
And then, not true for 10 months.
There were a few, encouraging steps forward… and those would invariably be followed by some giant sliding backward.
I’m not angry at Joe. The issue of inheritance was a very difficult thing that was only resolved about a month ago. But, even when estate matters were resolved, things were still not good, relationship-wise, with Joe. While he was in the hospital, my brother-in-law suggested to Joe, “Can we call a truce? And then, when you’re feeling better, you can be angry again.” Joe thought that was hilarious — my brother-in-law is quite witty, and I think it was the perfect thing to say. And, Joe agreed, at least in spirit…
While my family was on vacation earlier this month, Joe — who had for months been complaining of an ‘upset stomach’ — was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And, less than two weeks after his diagnosis, he was gone.
I wrote to some friends:
Everyone handles grief so differently. As I’m typing this, I’m thinking, “He just could NOT move on,” and that fits with something else I was going to say: he has always tended towards bitterness and suspicion and hoarding… and we didn’t realize how much my mom kept that in check. In so many ways, she must have compelled him to move on, to get past “it”, whatever “it” was. And with her gone, there was no one who could speak that into him, and he just spiraled out of control. I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but it seems like a testament to how much he loved my mom, how much influence she had in his life, what a difference she made in his outlook and approach to life… it makes me feel better. And even with his cancer diagnosis. I think he just might have given up. I think if she had been alive, he would have fought.
When my mom was hospitalized, my siblings and I frequently discussed how much my mom loved Joe, but how foreign to us were his ways of expressing love to her. I found myself rather desperately hoping that my mom was loved as deeply as she… well, I hate the word “deserve”… Needed? Should have had? I’m not sure of the right word there. I just wanted her to be loved by her husband. That was really, really, really important to me. And there were times when I found myself wondering.
Yet, this last week, I have been, indeed, struck with just how much he much have loved her… She made his life worth living. She compelled him to go on. She called out in him the things that were noble, and helped the ignoble to be manageable, far less noticeable.
I’m a mishmash of thoughts and emotions.
Such regret that relationship wasn’t restored by the time of Joe’s passing.
So sad… Sad for my children. Sad for Joe. Sad for myself.
But, strangely comforted about my mother, whose absence is a deepening hole in my life.
I’m comforted that he loved her.