For so many years, my siblings and I operated as though we were living under a favorable sign, or a protective veil. We really had never experienced anything truly traumatic.
We had watched others and their families stumble through terrible life circumstances.
I am sure we never failed to say, there but for the grace of God...maybe not truly understanding how close we were to the truth.
What does it mean when the grace of God falters?
I don't know, but that facade started to fail that day in September when my brother did not wake up.
But we didn't know it.
We trudged forward, still protected by our belief in grace and security and safety.
It was a terrible thing, but we would survive.
It can't get worse? Right?
I still catch myself saying or thinking, "it can't get worse," and then I remember that it can.
Seven months later, a mysterious illness took my strong sister down. First landing her in the hospital and then killing her. It was truly the unthinkable.
"This can't be happening!" I repeated over and over to my other sister on the phone when she called to tell me to get on the plane.
Life, or bad luck, or whatever can definitely get worse.
And it did. It just kept getting worse.
Everyone was grieving, some in disastrous ways, and I was trying to trudge forward. I thought I was making progress. I was making plans, doing work, following through on all the commitments.
I wasn't crawled up in a little ball on the floor. I wasn't a puddle that needed to be cleaned up.
But, maybe, I should have been... I should have been processing the grief that was tangled up in my body, looking for a release. I was still living in the world of "it can't get worse."
Seven months later, I talked my parents into coming to see me, in hopes it would lift their spirits, distract them from the intense loss, and bring them comfort. But when my mom stepped off the train, she was clearly not herself. It took me a whole day to talk her into going to the hospital.
She was having little strokes ... and no one had noticed back home.
I think all of that would have been enough to break anyone.
However, I did not break, I bent towards the need. Not my need, but her need. I moved home to try to get my parents healthy. All I could think was I could not take one more loss -- and that's where we were headed if I did not intervene.
But my parents' grief was not the only need I would find at home. Everyone was falling apart - and needing support. I took it all on.
Maybe it was easier than dealing with my own grief. I just kept stuffing it down. And it kept coming out, but it didn't look like grief, it looked like anger. Anger is such an easy emotion, it holds it all.
My brother's daughter, already 16, had never been specifically diagnosed but was languishing in a special education class. She had not learned to read or write.
It didn't seem to matter that my entire professional career was in education. I couldn't get through to my brother before he died, and now I had to get my sister-in-law on board. What would become of any of them?
It was not my fight, but it was. No one else was in a position to notice let alone help.
My brother-in-law and nephew on the other side were making it day to day, but just barely.
Again no one had any bandwidth to help except me.
And, if I am being honest, I didn't either. But if I didn't help, what would happen?
They all made it through. And the grief piled up in me and spilled out as anger.
No one ever asked me, how are you doing?
I had come home, given up my PhD program (because in their infinite wisdom I didn't have to do this, and was abandoning my own program). I had zero job prospects in my hometown. I was eking out a living on remote jobs. And taking care of everyone.
My friends said, you need to leave your parents' home, as though distance would erase the very real need I was filling. But for my own sanity, I decamped.
I was just about to interview for a real job (April 26th), and that very morning, in the wee hours, my friend's only son died in a car crash. The friend, by the way, who had been housing me as I tried desperately to put my life back together.
I had known this child since birth. I was his first baby sitter. I had watched him grow into the young man I called my next governor of California. In a matter of minutes, he was gone. Gone. 24 years old and gone.
His mother was in freefall and all of her friends were at a loss watching her spiral. She was the rock. She was the one that they came to for help. She was not in a position to help herself. And they were not used to be being of service to others.
I dropped everything. Lost my interview. And handled the situation. I made the funeral arrangements. I am not saying others did not step up and help. But I was orchestrating. I was getting what I could from my friend about what she wanted. Negotiating with the ex-husband and his family about their involvement. And keeping it all together.
This is how my life went for years. Though my brother died in September, April was the month of trauma. April was the month when my sister was stricken and killed. April was the month my friend's son died in a solo car accident.
It took me years to not crumble every April. Years.
And this year, April came for me with a vengeance.
I finally truly moved out of my parents' home in search of a life of my own. I had purposely stayed away for several months. But in April, I made the journey home. Hoping to forge the boundaries I needed to keep myself safe while still supporting my parents, I planned a one week visit.
On the fourth day of my visit (April 14), my mom fell down bringing in one of the trash cans.
She ended up with a hematoma that threatened her life. The neurosurgeon told us that 10 minutes more and she would not have made it. We got her to the hospital in time to save her life, just barely.
Nevermind that my father did not even contemplate calling 911, or that my mother was not wearing the life alert button her health insurance had sent her. I could barely make the numbers work on the keypad of the house line or my cell phone.
April is the cruelest month. There is no disputing that.
My mom survived. She is not the same person. She cannot be alone. My father now understands that he cannot protect and save her from everything as he had once imagined he could.
We three remaining siblings are left to figure out how we go forward. These intervening months have not been kind to us even as my mother gains strength.
Let's just hope next April brings us peace and stability. I'll take peace if nothing else.