The Poppy in the above image is symbolic as much for my family and me but especially for my life-long girlfriend who has been my friend since she was in the second grade and I, the third grade. A lifetime. We grew up together as next-door neighbors living on a cul-de-sac and through thick and thin, our families meshed together as the years passed along. She and I have experienced happy times where we laughed so hard we cried, spoken frankly about important and sometimes not so pleasant of issues, and cried again over tremendous losses.
This month and particularly this week past week marked the anniversary of the loss of her family’s father, who had been affectionally called Poppy. While I lost my father a lifetime ago, the loss of Poppy brought back a surge of memories of my own father’s death. My two eldest children were young when he passed, and only my son who was nearly four at the time still remembers him. They were best buds who were so often inseparable. My youngest daughter never knew her grandfather and missed out on the love and compassion only a grandparents’ love can provide. My youngest was also born with Cerebral Palsy and Asperger’s Syndrome. In her eyes she only knew one ‘Poppy’, and he was my best friend’s father. It seems like only yesterday when she was up at Poppy’s house following him around and having their talks like they always had. And now he is gone. To this day, she refuses to talk about ‘her’ Poppy. They are her memories of him, ones she holds close and deep inside her heart. As for me, I too have many fond memories of Poppy, but they also come with great sadness. Not only a result of Poppy’s passing but due to a darkness of when my father passed away unexpectedly one August night. That is a wound, which will never heal no matter how much time passes. I never had the time to process my father was even ill, let alone he would die. And for my best friend, I am sure the passing of her father will never wane either.
Time is inconsequential for those of us who have experienced the death of a loved one. The loss ingrained in us forever. For me, such loss is like a black hole or a bottomless pit. The void never refilled, nor the pain lessened with time. And just when we feel we have finally reached peace, there is always a trigger that propels us back to where it all happened. A place we dread to think about but our minds take us there anyway. When I think of my friend’s loss, and that of her family, all of the memories of losing my father tears at my heart.
In fact, my heart continues to sense the deep pain when anyone close leaves this world for the next. Just as my father’s life drained from his body and his hands became rigid and cold. My body followed suit. A part of myself died with him that day. I grew cold, and my insides ached as if my heart had been, ripped from my chest and pressed through a shredder. The remnants molded then shoved back inside a cavernous hole in my chest that never healed or returned whole. This empty feeling and angst must have been how my mother felt, or worse. My father passed away four days shy of their 30th wedding anniversary, the day he was lowered six feet under to his final resting place was on the exact day of their would-be wedding anniversary.
The loss and the grief were most certainly how my friend and her family felt when Poppy died. I saw it in them the last time we were together and it continues to reflect unimaginable pain and sorrow for them. For my family, the sense of loss remains unchanged as well. My youngest daughter’s senses are heightened and this loss brings with it abandonment. She doesn’t understand.
She adopted Poppy as her grandfather, a kind of replacement for my father. Since she never knew the love of a grandfather or a father figure she desperately wanted one. So, she took matters into her own hands and adopted Poppy. Whenever she would see him outside tinkering around in his yard, she would race her bike up the cul-de-sac, and they would have their ‘special’ talks. She would help him rake the pine needles and pick up the pinecones if it meant she could spend more time with him. She would even brave the cold, which she hates, to help him shovel the snow, even though he was fully capable and owned a snow blower. To her, he was everything and meant the world to her. He was her Poppy. To watch the two interact was priceless. He never once seemed to mind the company, and if he did, he never indicated otherwise.
When he became ill, my daughter would ask my mom or me if he was okay. It was a simple question with an ambiguous answer. And when he was seen less and less outside she had to find out for herself what was wrong. And when she saw him lying in his hospice bed, set up in a spare room of his house she realized something was not right.
After that, her visits became shorter. But she made the most of them and found amusement in the fact she would sneak in chocolates, a cookie, a valentine, or some other small token to let him know the love she felt for him.
When Poppy’s condition became grave, it was difficult for my daughter to comprehend. She had no understanding of life and death. My daughter, forever the mind of an adolescent had to see for herself if Poppy was truly sick. When she finally had her wish, she tentatively approached him where he lay in his hospice bed, frail, his eyes were open. She was tentative at first then bravely held his hand and told him he would be better soon, and she loved him.
Never a tear shed until we left the room. As I walked her down the cul-de-sac to her Grammies, the tears began to fall. She had waited. While she wasn’t sure what would happen to her Poppy next, she was well aware how sick he was and did not want him to hurt anymore. Those moments they shared would be their last. She refuses to talk about that night or her Poppy because it makes her sad. She is rather bright for someone who lives in the mind of an adolescent. And a girl who lost ‘her’ Poppy that night.
The twinkle in my best friend’s eyes, those of her siblings, and her mom dimmed the night Poppy passed away. I knew all too well how they felt. I felt it too. Loss hurts in a way no one can possibly understand until it happens to them. And while we pray their pain diminishes as they pass from this world to the next, no one really knows. Whoever said ‘time heals all wounds’ clearly never lost someone they loved.
Regardless of who we lose, they leave behind a great void from their absence and all the amazing memories, the laughter, happiness, and great times we were lucky enough to have shared both, good and bad. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my father or Poppy, or another member of my family or a friend who has died. I think of all the things they have missed and then remember all the great things we were lucky to have shared. And while we all hurt from loss, we carry them inside our hearts next to that void they left.
Those memories and pain of their passing are what makes us human. I feel lucky to have known Poppy for all long as I did. My father passed away far too soon. I am forever grateful that I have had my best friend and her family as a second family. And am grateful my daughter had Poppy in her life. He made her world a better place. So to my best friend and her family I thank you for your kindness, love, and the most wonderful memories for me and my children. And for the relationship that developed between our moms as a result of Poppy.
For Poppy and my Dad you are missed but never forgotten.