The Joy Vacuum

Every photo picks at the wound. Every memory aches. Every time I think of you, gone, I stop breathing. But then I smile. And then I cry. And then I go back to Facebook to find your community—your ministry of fun and kindness—to pick at the scab some more. This is where we are today, Joe. Scab picking.

You’d want me to write about it. That I know. You told me some of your best writing flowed through tears. Where you are now is beyond the effects of flattery and clever words conceding your awesomeness. But here on our little island home, we still need them. I want to fill this huge hole, this joy vacuum, with thousands of words that say, “Me, too! I loved him, too! He was the best, most human of humans.”

You were one of Dad’s best friends. The two of you, so different except for the irreverent joy you brought to every room. The two of you, so smart and loyal and hilarious. The two of you, holding court, poking fun, quick to hug, slow to end the party. Booming voices, huge laughter, enormous personalities… the Heroes of my Youth.

It’s so quiet, Joe. Jay and Heather told us about your perfect day. The best haircut, the promise of Spring, and the choice to walk home. (You’re Home now.) That helps us. So does your manifesto from July, presciently outlining this exact moment. There was no “glide path” for you. Neither fear nor anger at Nature’s timetable, you planned the ultimate road trip. I’m happy I was on one of the stops. Reading one of your essays feels like a visit with you, but actually pressing Burke flesh is food.

We’re a little bit more like you today. We’re making plans to be with each other and do the things we say we want to do… or at least figure out if we really want to do those things. We’re reaching out to everyone in your joy orbit to grieve together and marvel at the girth of your Spirit, the enormity of your Love. I think you’d like that.

Before I was born, you promised Dad to help paint my nursery. There was so much discussion about the wall paint, Chris thought that was my name. I’ve been WallPaint since birth. Except when I was Mewhinney. Or Blondie. Or whatever popped into that clever, fun-loving noggin of yours… and usually stuck. We could fill pages with the silly monikers you gave us. We’ll probably do that. We’ll do lots of things to make you feel closer. Anything to make the joy vacuum suck less.

I miss you viscerally, Joe. Though you had made peace with moving on, I wasn’t ready. But we’ll get there. Just a few more scabs, Joe. And then we promise to get to the hugs and giggles and some sort of serenity. Benny is going to help. Look at this kid so obviously infused with Joe-ness.

Benny

Me too! I loved him, too! He was the best, most human of humans!

I love you in that forever kind of way… your admirer, your friend, your Mewhinney, your WallPaint.

 

 

Grief, the sixth sense.

The Goddess

She stretched her long legs on the towel and coated them with Johnson’s Baby Oil. Her sun-streaked hair went past her freckled shoulders and when she wasn’t wearing her glasses, Patty was the sexiest girl at the Elk’s Club pool. She let my big sister and me tag along. Paige was thirteen, but I hardly remember a time when her figure and demeanor weren’t an all access pass to the older kids. But at age 11, I was little. I hung on every word Patty spoke—to Paige, and to Patty’s friends who were also exotically adult with their bikinis and bits to fill them. I wanted desperately to understand what they thought was so funny, learn the words to their favorite songs, and smoke those menthol cigarettes that filled them with a cool worldliness. I wanted to be both giggly and blasé about Boys. But I was still so little.

I was 11. Patty was… a Goddess.

I was twenty–home from college with one of the boys I encouraged for probably too long– when Patty and John drove up to show Mom and Dad the new baby. Chelsea was still at the put-her-on-a mat-and-stare-at-her stage. And over a few bottles of celebratory wine, I got a glimpse into newly married life. Patty and John made it look ambitiously easy and fun somehow, with their combined smarts and steadfast love. The baby seemed like a drag, but even that they did well: Chelsea was plump and adorable and mostly happy on her little mat. Sitting on my parent’s breezy screened porch behind their plenty big house, Patty said she and John wanted all the same things. I stared at my older, wiser cousin and her handsome husband and perfect child and I knew Patty would have it—all of the good stuff.

It was close to seven years later when Paige called. John was gone. John– Patty’s forever boyfriend who became her forever husband– gone. One hundred thousand no’s. THEY HAVE THREE SMALL DAUGHTERS. Because everything felt sad and helpless and impossible, we got on planes. And when we got there, Patty made all of us feel better. To date I’ve never witnessed a eulogy so full of love and promise and hope and forgiveness. Patty who had every right to be a keening, catatonic widow instead hosted us in the plenty big home we always knew they’d have. John died happy, exploring every passion, achieving every goal; this is a life to celebrate, she taught us. Patty lost her best friend, partner, and husband and she instructed us to honor a life well lived over mourning a life too short. It was Chelsea who broke our hearts, toddling around saying how this uncle or that cousin was “just like her dad” and then growing up to be an aerospace engineer… very much like her dad.

Always the overachiever, Patty found true love twice. Over the years, I have used My Cousin Patty as an example of how Love surrounds us, how Love is always possible, how there are Second Chances for Love. But that isn’t fair. Were any of us very surprised that Patty would find true love twice? No. Not really.

Patty is a Goddess.

I’m 44 now. Once so young I could never dent her rarefied sphere, now we’re essentially the same age. Seventeen or seventy Patty will always be that gorgeous girl with the oiled legs who graduated early and married young and had it all and lost it all and then found and curated something beautiful all over again. Along the way she has brought two loving, awesome men into our family fold and created five incredible goddess spawn who mirror her intelligence, determination, stubbornness, luckiness, and beauty. Today, on Patty’s 50th birthday, I offer this outsider view of her charmed and cursed and blessed and difficult and gorgeous life. Patty has inspired, impressed, and encouraged me in ways she cannot know. Happy Birthday to the sexiest girl at the Elk’s Club… our Goddess… our Patty.

Patty, on her second wedding day.

Patty, on her second wedding day.

Goddess Spawn

The Goddess Spawn… all five of them.