Monday, March 16, 2009

Leaving the nest

One of the most obvious issues we all knew this little bird would face in leaving Judy Branch for the wilds of the Pacific Northwest is homesickness. Perhaps even more obvious, but preferably left unspoken, is that I'd be leaving my nest - the intricately woven network of family and friends that, for more than thirty years has encompassed me in an approximately 300 mile radius.

When I was a child I would, every so often, find myself lying in bed both terrified and engulfed with a mixture of panic and grief as it hit me that one day I may have to face losing my grandma, my grandpa, my mom, my dad, my brother... The grief was like a two ton stone in the middle of my chest. It was agonizing.

I spent my sixth birthday at the funeral of my favorite person in the whole wide world - Nanie. She was my great grandmother. The day before we made the drive down to Lyon, Mississippi, my Kindergarten class threw a birthday celebration for me and gave me a goodie bag to take on the road. It had Wrigley's Juicy Fruit gum sticks and Nerds and peanut MnM's. They also gave me a yellow balloon. I remember being picked up from school early and getting in the back seat of the station wagon, which was already packed for the big road trip. The balloon bounced around in the back of the car. My present from my parents was a stuffed Corduroy Bear, complete with his signature green overalls and a Corduroy Bear book. This was the first time I remember feeling numb while other people were trying to make me feel festive.

This week, I was reminded of those feelings. The terrifying realization of how fragile life is, especially the lives of the people you love dearest. My dad was hospitalized for a heart condition that took him - and us all - for surprise. After nearly a week in the hospital, a lot of observation and tests and a procedure that "re-set" his heart, it looks like he's going to be just fine. But I'll tell you, I don't think there's any amount of re-setting or testing or treatment that anyone could do that would make me just fine if I lost my dad.

I know that people lose their parents every second of everyday. My best friend lost both her parents before she was 25. I know about mortality, and I know about loss. I can't even keep count of the number of dead friends and family. Each loss shuck me to the core. But there are some people that are such an immense presence in your life, it's as if they are actually part of you.

I'm getting overwhelmed in the process of even trying to write about this. It's not something I ever want to think about. But last week I was smacked in the face with it, and the effect is lingering. To say the least.