I vowed not to do this in The Pour Fool…use this platform for personal reminiscences but…having already written about my Mom’s passing, deciding to write about my younger brother’s death and the Aftermath of that wasn’t hard.
These are all from Facebook, that place where I go to vent and work out my karma. I was urged by quite a few folks to “publish” these somewhere. They probably didn’t mean here but here I’ll have no problem sliding these by a publisher, me being the publisher an’ all.
Instead of taking some blood oath not to abuse the original intent of The Pour Fool, let me claim that I will TRY not to stray too far from beverage reviews, profiles, and essays. But you see how well I’m doing at that, so…not making any serious bets.
March 22nd, 2022, just back from Roanoke and Southwest Virginia. From Facebook:
“Thinking back on a month of various stages of grief from the passing of my younger brother and the loss of daily focus of being bombarded with non-stop memories…then the somewhat frantic scramble to get this house, in effect, remade for Judye to function without me…the last minute rush to make my plane to Virginia on time…the stress of flying, compounded WILDLY by what has to be THE single worst connecting flight cluster-fuck I have ever been part of, in the absolute worst possible place to have a tight connection – Atlanta’s gargantuan Hartsfield-Jackson Airport…going to my least favorite city in the US, arriving VERY late after eating one sushi roll all day…then the memorial service and reception…an hour drive and carrying my brother’s urn up onto a mountain and scattering his mortal remains…sleeping BADLY the entire time…a 6 a.m. departure and Atlanta connection again today…AND, smack in the middle of all this, waking up at 4 a.m., Saturday morning and stupidly glancing at my phone and discovering that John Clayton died unexpectedly…WHY am I shocked and appalled that, in most photos of the trip, I look like I’m about 100 years old?
I am totally depleted…but HOME, HOME, where I’m in bed and with Judye and the Boyz and counting blessings, as the song says, instead of sheep.”
March 23, 2022
“Just waking up this morning, I posted about how difficult the last six days had been, what an emotional tsunami it was and how exhausted I became…but that was only a part of it and not even close to the most important part.
I also spent time, really for the first time, with my three grandsons, ages 20, 13, and 9. Riley Freccero, Cohen Blount, and Levin Blount, respectively. The sheer, well, it’s properly called “Joy” but having rarely ever experienced that, I’m not qualified to speak on it. Let’s just say, I know it when I feel it and I did that every time I looked at their faces or heard their voices…and the experience of sitting in a car with my 20 year old grandson, finding out that he loves jazz, as Grandpa does, will stay with me forever. Sitting talking jazz and guitars with him was an alteration of the paradigm and it filled me with a whole new form of pride.
I had a shocking three hour lunch with one of my oldest friends, Greg Vaughn, whom I knew back when both of us were very nearly feral and, uh, “inclined to excess” would be the polite way to put it. Nobody who saw us together back then would ever have used the term “deep” to describe us but here I sit with my oldest friend…and he’s thoughtful and intelligent, and humane and WISE – genuinely wise in that way you only become by enduring the worst that life can fling at you and continuing to Get Back Up…I got to know my WONDERFUL son-in-law, Cameron Blount, and really didn’t know much about him at all before. Having had a few days at close quarters, I am very nearly prostrate with gratitude that my daughter and grandsons live with a man like him. No, he is not perfect; he, too, falls but he Gets Back Up. He is steady and hard-working and loves the boys with all his soul and is absolutely making the effort, putting genuine work and focus into his wife and family and for that I love and admire him and am eternally grateful.
And Olivia Paige Body…Jesus, how can I ever put into words how in awe I am of the woman she’s become? She has risen above an absent, immature, dumb-ass father and, blessed with a wonderful mother, become a GREAT mom who dotes on the boys in a way that lets them KNOW, every moment of every day, that they are loved and cared for. She’s fiercely intelligent and energetic. She DOES things, in a manner and with an energy that I lost thirty years ago. We talked, in total, probably more than we ever have in our lives, and she shared my grief about her uncle, my brother Dave, whom she loved dearly. It was just her and me making that final trip to my boyhood hometown to scatter my brother’s ashes up on the mountain that we gazed at all our childhoods, Angel’s Rest. My gratitude to her can’t even be measured. She had a million legit reasons to hate and resent me but she, too, found a way to rise above all that and somehow loves her stupid Dad. Go figure.
And, contrary to all my plans and impulses, I just walked around to all my extended family, at the reception after the memorial service, and hugged them and said “I love you” and did some catchin’ up. I met my brother’s oldest friend, children of my own cousins, many of whom I had never met, and saw my niece, my strong, resilient, long-suffering niece, Lindsay Harlow, who bore the burden of my brother’s long decline and somehow survived his death and came out of that tattered but intact. I hope, one day, to be that strong. I also sat with my sister-in-law, Jaye Farmer Body, who now is alone but also not alone because she is worth whatever effort all of us put into helping her face life without Dave and with MS. She, too, Gets Back Up and we WILL be her allies in that, for as long as she lives.
I apologize for airing all of this here. Used to be, we wrote our remembrances out and stuck ’em in a drawer or maybe sent ’em in to the local newspaper for an obituary. Now, Facebook is the venue for our expressions of anger and outrage, gratitude and praise, grief and joy, operating off the theory that grief is diminished when shared and joy is amplified when spread around to others. Today, that is social media, so here this is, for better or for worse, spread among my small but very carefully selected number of friends and if you did make it to the end of this, THANK YOU. And if you didn’t, well, you won’t read this but…I love ya anyway.
I live inside a tangible, ongoing, 360-degree Miracle, every day of my undeserving life. I wake up beside someone, every morning, (except the past six) who makes me feel as though somebody drugged me the previous night and put me in the bed with Rita Hayworth. I have the lovely shock of seeing her open her eyes and smile, instead of running away, screaming. I get pounced on and rough-housed by two little dogs whom I love more than I ever thought I would, and that pouncing and lovin’ up is now what I firmly believe is your entrance greeting when you arrive in Heaven. I have a large piece of me that lives in Roanoke, Virginia, and lives in my daughter’s house and makes vibrations that I can hear all the way out on the other corner of the continent. I have actual friends, people whom I have known and admired for literal decades and they still speak to me! Go figure that, too.
And there’s Judye Allman…there is nothing I can possibly say that would sum up what she means to me. This will just have to do…
“I Bless the day I found you,
I want to stay around you,
Now and for Always,
Let it be me…”
So…BLESSED. I did NOT earn it. I do NOT deserve it. But I will take it and I will be grateful for it every moment of my life. Does this mean I won’t be cantankerous, anymore? Probably not. But I awoke this morning with a clear Thought, front of mind, as though somebody said it aloud: “More laughing, less bitching.” I will not succeed in this every time I’m faced with challenges or irritations. I will fail, probably a LOT.
But I also know another thing I will do…
I will Get Back Up.”
March 24, 2022
“I know I’ve strained our Facebook friendships and run this trip back to Virginia straight into the dirt but there are two final things I HAVE TO acknowledge.
Judye and I work as a literal team in continuing to function, just as billion other couples do but ours is complicated, as a million others are, by her life in a wheelchair and what that means about her not having my bony ass around. Scrambling to accommodate my absence for that six days was a process of adaptation: how can she do this task that I normally do? Making sure she can reach stuff in the kitchen. Can she get her braces on and get safely out of bed? How does she handle two dogs and their needs? LOTS of changes and compensations.
I cannot even explain how much I love Shannon Tilley and Naomi Allman. They stepped up in such a gracious and loving way, staying with their Mom every night that I was gone and most of the days. And even beyond the tangible help that they gave her was the IMMENSE spiritual benefit Judye derived from having her girls(!) with her. Judye loves her kids – ALL her kids, very much including two step-sons – in a way that melts my heart and the fact that Shannon, Naomi, #ChrisAllman, Darren Leonardo, and Chris Leonardo all reciprocate that love says everything you need to know about how she raised them. It is, in fact, one of the main things that made me love her, to begin with, waaay back there in 2001. And the certain knowledge that, had Shannon and Naomi not been able to rearrange BUSY lives to come and stay with Judye, the others WOULD have stepped up (I have NO doubt that Chris would have flown here from Dallas, if she needed him) warms my heart in ways I can’t even describe.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, Naomi and Shannie, for allowing Judye that daughter time and letting me visit with my daughter and her Boys and not be constantly consumed with worry. I could not love you two more if you were my own blood.”
“The One Last Thing: somehow, through the mystery of genetics, my daughter, Olivia Paige Body, has become, as she gets older, an eerie almost-double for my Mom. Everybody who sees Mom’s photos comments on it and, a couple of times this past week, I imagined I saw Mom in Olivia’s profile and mannerisms. Olivia loves this and wears it proudly. Which is both another blessing and a relief.”
March 25, 2022
“As his Mom and I were leaving to scatter my brother’s ashes, Olivia peeked into my grandson’s room and said, “Okay, Lev, we’re leaving to scatter Uncle Dave’s ashes now.” Levin, deep into an online video game, barely glanced at her and said brightly, “Okay, have fun!”
I know he didn’t realize it but it made the long drive a lot more tolerable as we laughed about it for the whole trip.
When we got back, I was sitting on the sofa with him and said, “Levin, your Mom and I had SO much fun today!” The look on his sweet little face was priceless.”
March 26, 2022
“Just this ONE week, I’ve approached overload more times than I normally do in an average year:
(in no particular order)
– My brothers memorial, drive back to our childhood hometown and scattering his ashes.
– Find out at 4:45 a.m. Saturday that John Clayton died. No sleep after that.
– A weekend with my three divine grandsons!
– A weekend with my AMAZING daughter and my SiL!
– That creepy feeling of being in Roanoke, Va.
– Absolute JOY at talking jazz and guitars with my grandson.
– Missing Judye and my dog pals.
– Kraken take out Coyotes!
– HEINOUS frustration in Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson Aiport
– 3 hour lunch with my oldest friend!
– Near-complete exhaustion, the entire time. Not quite recovered even yet. BAD sleep in Virginia.
– 5 1/2 hours of bouncy castle on two airplanes.
– Seeing Judye and the Boys again!!
– Chili and a dog at The Texas Tavern!
– Taylor Hawkins died at FIFTY?!?
– UNC beats UCLA to reach the Elite 8!
The term “roller coaster” doesn’t cover all this. I feel like I went from the lowest emotional point I’m capable of to maybe the highest and did it repeatedly, like a yoyo. Which I am.
April 1, 2022
“When I was shaking out the last of the ashes from my brother’s urn, onto the forest floor, just up the hill from our childhood home, there in Giles County, Virginia, I pulled out the plastic liner from the heavy steel jar and found about an ounce and a half left in it. I reflexively started to pour that out but then paused…I closed the liner, rolled it up and put it in my jacket pocket. “You’re coming home with me, too.” I murmured.
Back here in Washington, I went out to buy a small urn but then thought about it. Pulled the car over and sat for a few minutes. I walked into a local pottery shop and looked around a bit and then saw this: a ceramic vase with a separate bottom and top. I picked it up and thought, “Maybe a candle in it?” Bought two and went home.
When I showed it to Judye, she said, “A bonsai would be nice in that pot.” I knew instantly she was right. Put the candles away. I went to the nearby nursery where we got our trees and asked about bonsai. Got an earful. Bonsai is a process, not a plant, and the tree itself can be anything. I looked at what they had, that rack of miniature trees, and then googled “Conifers native to Southwest Virginia” and found that Norway Spruce grows wild there. I looked down at their rack and there it was, “Jana Norway Spruce”. Native to my home region, we’re part Norwegian. Done.
I wanted something alive because Dave is more than ashes in a fuggen jar. I will tend this tiny tree for as long as I am able, as long as I live. When it outgrows this pot, I’ll replace it, keep that spark of life alive.
My grief at Dave’s absence comes at me in waves, small, sharp Moments that stop the world for a few seconds and that is a blessing, as getting it all at once would incapacitate me. I’ve come to think of it as what Dave used to do to me when we were very young, something I watched my grandson Levin do to my older grandson, Cohen…that frequent poke in the ribs, touch on the head, foot in the back that says, “I’m here, notice me!” It drives Cohen crazy, just like it drove me crazy. How’s that for Will the Circle Be Unbroken?
Dave pokes at me, these days. He’s in my head and in my heart and in my ribs and forgetting him is something I never have to worry about. Dave was sorta larger than life when he was in life…now, he’s even larger.”
April 5, 2022
“It may well be some sort of denial but I really do not, despite the aches and pains and obvious physical changes, feel old. Mentally, I feel almost exactly the same as I did at 25. But I think the psychological stresses of carrying Dave’s ashes up to the mountain looming over our original home town, being absolutely inundated with memories, not only of Dave and me but of my whole family, were enough subconsciously that I *became* old as we went to scatter the ashes.
I stumbled up the trail, had to plan and watch every step, felt like I weighed about 500 pounds, even my thinking was labored. I felt like gravity was acting upon me more than normally. Once we left, I started to recover but I became aware that I was exhausted by that whole trip. When I got off the plane in SeaTac, Judye saw me walking toward the car and thought, “God, he looks awful.” (She told me that later and I said, “Well, thanks, baby. A guy can’t hear that enough.”) In the photos from the night before I left, I look like I’m about 90.
I’m pretty good at walling off and compartmentalizing. I had a lifetime of practice. I’ve largely held my grief at bay and really worked at it in Virginia because I didn’t want my grandsons or my family watching a morose wreck, half-present and on auto-pilot. But that takes a toll and I am still not back to whatever my “normal” is.
Just whining. I’m sorta hoping you nobody has read this far.”
THIS is as far as I’m going. There may be other Facebook posts about this experience but they’ll stay on FB. In a way, the impulse and the emotions that fueled these posts may well never end. My wish for you, reading this, is that you never have to find out what it’s like to let go of your younger sibling or cousin or even a friend. Do we all, then, embrace Going First? No, not what I mean. But I get it if that’s how you take it. Dylan Thomas had it right: “Rage, rage...” We should all rage. Every day. And along that way, we’ll all fall down, from time to time. But there is one thing you should embrace…
Get Back Up.