I am a technology training project manager primarily working on assignments for government agencies. There are a number of reasons I like my job, not the least of which is the constantly changing nature of technology. There is always something new to learn; something new to discover; something new to consider as my team designs, develops and delivers training to the end users of these new systems. It’s all about change.
But, until 2001, I liked keeping that change factor in the office. While the whirl of technology kept things interesting during the day, I loved returning home to the same ole, same ole. Joe coming in the door; emptying his pockets of coins into the jars he kept on his dresser; a quick change into casual clothes followed by a bee line to his jug wine. Yes, my dear husband was a lover of the cheapest red wine found in most local liquor stores. It’s called Paisano and made by the fine folks at Carlo Rossi. I still have the bottle he never had the chance to finish stored down in our basement. One of my favorite memories involving Paisano involves Joe and his brother, Stephen. Joe and Stephen loved hanging out on their parents’ porch sipping their Paisano out of little jelly jars that their mother had saved for such occasions. I think everyone has seen these glasses – often decorated with cartoons, especially Flintstones (why was that anyway?). It was quite a sight. Two very large men of Slovak/Polish heritage, planted in rocking chairs, laughing at God-only-knows-what, enjoying that cheap jug wine well into the night.
Those were great times. Stephen and his wife were raising their two daughters. Joe and I had our daughter. We would go on vacations together. The girls jumping in and out of hotel pools. The adults catching up and just enjoying each others’ company. We were all doing well. Or so I thought. Like the rest of the world, our first indication that change was happening came on 9/11/01. The day everything changed. As the reports of the attacks in NYC, DC, and PA were coming in, Joe and I left our offices and raced to get our daughter, get home, and make sure the rest of our family and friends were ok. We stared in silence at the tv as the coverage lasted for hours and hours. We stared in silence as the networks showed the photos of the towers falling, over and over. We stared until our daughter begged us to turn off the tv. We were incredulous. We were in shock. We were traumatized. We knew our world would never be the same – but we had no idea that the universal change brought about by terrorists was about to be followed by personal change brought about by age and disease.
It was only three months later that the next change came our way. Joe’s dad passed away. As if September of 2011 had not been traumatic enough, Christmas of 2011 was spent grieving the loss of the only grandfather our daughter had ever known. She was only seven years old but she wanted to go to the funeral to be with her “Babci.” We let her come with us. She cried and cried. Joe did not.
It was barely a month later that we had another late night call. This one was worse. It wasn’t about an old man who had suffered a final stroke. It was about Joe’s beloved brother, Stephen. Months before, Stephen had been diagnosed with skin cancer. But it was more than skin cancer. It seemed like each news update included some other “spot” the doctors had located in his body. He looked horrible at his father’s wake but his wife had asked us not to say anything about it so as not to upset him. So we didn’t say a word even though the change in his appearance, and his attitude, was shocking. However after Christmas we had all been lead to believe he was on the mend and about to start a new regimen at a hospital in NYC. Everything sounded like it was going to be ok. We were all wrong. He was only fifty years old. His wife was only 40. He had two young daughters. And he died before Joe could make it to the hospital. It was all so terrible.
We did not let our daughter come to this funeral. Stephen was her godfather. She adored him. We could not let her see what we (correctly) thought would happen at this funeral. Her Babci was inconsolable. First her husband and now her baby boy. Joe’s entire family was devastated but it was Joe that I was most worried about. He was never the same after Stephen died. He still laughed. He still enjoyed his Paisano. But it was never with the same gusto that he once shared with his baby brother. And he still didn’t cry.
And just when we thought we had lost all we could lose, our dog, Sophie, died. It was August of 2002. About eight months after Stephen passed. Sophie was a fantastic German Shepherd that my dad had given us when we bought our house. Dad said he was getting us a security system. Sophie was that system. We all loved her so much but she was really Joe’s dog. If we were just fooling around and I smacked Joe on the arm to make a point, Sophie would come flying around the corner to throw herself in front of Joe to protect him (from me or any other person that had the audacity to even consider harming “her” Joe). It was so funny to watch. On a good day, I am about 5’2″ and Joe was almost 6’4″. That Sophie thought she had to protect him (especially from me) was hysterical. But she did and he loved her even more for her loyalty.
So when we found Sophie laid out on the bathroom rug, having died in her sleep, Joe was inconsolable. He had buried his father. He had buried his baby brother. But it was that dog that finally pushed him over the edge. As Joe and I carried her out to the back of our property, our own little pet cemetery, the pain in that man’s face was heart breaking. There was nothing I could say or do to help him deal with this third death. It all came crashing down. The stoicism Joe had shown through the deaths of his blood relatives was broken by the death of Sophie. Stoicism be damned. It was time to grieve – really, truly, deeply grieve for so much loss. It was time to cry from the pain inflicted by the departure of so much life. Finally, it was time to realize that so much had changed and it was time to realize our new normal. But first, Joe cried. It might have been the saddest thing I ever saw (or heard).
It took some time but slowly, and surely, we started building that new normal. We did what we had to do. We had a child to raise and our own lives to live. And we went on for almost another decade until the next storm of change descended upon us.
[I was going to keep writing but this little diatribe has wiped me out. I’ll come back and write Part Two … soon]