If I had to name a theme, I’d characterize the last 14 months as heartbreak and loss. I sure hope it ends soon.

Last weekend we memorialized my friend Mia, who died way too young unexpectedly–at age 42–from mistakes made during surgery. While I cried for all of us, I cried especially hard for my cousin Becky. She and Mia were next-door neighbors and best friends since childhood. Becky wept for an entire week. How she, or anyone, found the strength to eulogize Mia last weekend, I will never know. Again, it’s something I can never do because I totally lose it. But, I wanted to share some thoughts about Mia here.

Becky & Mia, BFFs.

Becky & Mia, BFFs.

Mia and her brother Chris (my cousin Jeff’s best childhood friend) were both adopted at a young age. Since I spent so much time at the family farm, they became my extended cousins. I remember as a child being so excited to meet Mia and Chris, because I was the only adopted child I knew. Although I never said it aloud, I always felt a special kinship with Mia and Chris. Adoptees carry the albatross of an inner monologue for which the rest of the world is simply unaware. We are always asking ourselves “Why?”

The lasting impression we all have of Mia is that of her smile. It would bathe the coldest, darkest room in the brightest of light. I loved her wit and sarcasm, and the way she and Becky–like true sisters–were always busting each other’s balls. It was always so much fun being with them.

Mia and Becky - smiles like sunbeams.

Mia and Becky – smiles like sunbeams.

In the photos Mia’s family shared of her during the service, there was only one where she wasn’t smiling. We learned that it was her photo from the orphanage in Korea. Later, at Mott’s Lounge, Becky told me how Mia always had problems with her one wrist. Finally, as an adult, Mia saw a doctor about it, who asked her, “Were you ever in an orphanage?” She confirmed it, surprised the doctor would know that. He told her it was common to see this wrist malfunction in children who stood hanging onto their cribs for hours on end in an orphanage. It’s no wonder that was the only photo where Mia wasn’t smiling. Becky wishes the doctor had never told Mia that, adding one more dark thread to her life’s tapestry.

Since Mia passed and was buried in Colorado, a tree was planted at the cemetery just down the road from my uncle’s farm. This is the same cemetery where my uncle, my adoptive dad, and my other relatives are buried.

The gravestone that took 10 months to get finished, all because I demanded there be a lower case "C" in McDonald and it fouled up their stonecutting logistics.

My dad’s gravestone that took 10 months to get finished, all because I demanded there be a lower case “c” in McDonald and it fouled up their stonecutting logistics. I’m still unhappy with the size of the “c.”

My cousin Jeff, his wife Janell and I made the mistake of standing together at the tree planting portion of the service. In retrospect, we should have realized this error in judgement. An elderly gentleman standing in front of us punctuated everything the pastor said with a resounding fart. I started giggling with my hand over my mouth, muffling the sound. My shoulders were shaking, and I hoped it would be mistaken for weeping. It was not. Knowing me all too well, Jeff glanced over at me, saw my shoulders shaking, and it was GAME OVER, MAN!

Jeff, Janell, and I briskly walked far away from within hearing distance, to find my father’s grave and not have our cackles overheard. We didn’t want to convey any irreverence to Mia, but truth be told, I could feel her standing with us, doubled over, laughing. Soon Becky and her husband Sean weren’t far behind us, in the same state. Whenever we all get together, we are groupthink reduced to the mindset of a 13-year-old boy. It feels good to return to that happy place, where we are all still untouched and not yet pummeled by life and heartbreaking loss. It just feels good.



Losing That First Parent

One day I will hug you again for real, Dad.

One day I will hug you again for real, Dad.

Today is a day I would dare myself to imagine from time to time, in the darkest recesses of my mind, but never quite opening that door. The pain was too great. I would well up with tears even toying with the idea. But today, it really happened. I officially became a grown-up. I lost my first parent. I held his cold hand as he took his final breaths and his heart beat for the very last time. It was far worse than I dared imagine.

I’ve held it together to comfort my son and my mom. I’ve arranged everything, with the help of my Aunt Karen and my cousins and my sister-in-law Danine. I’ve even arranged the stuff one doesn’t usually think of, like having someone protecting the house while we’re off at the funeral. I was always “Daddy’s Girl,” and today I stubbornly refused to let him down.

And tonight, when the house is quiet and I am sure everyone’s needs have been attended to, I will totally lose my shit and have that good cry. I’ve earned it.

Luckily for me, the softer moments of my crazy family just being my crazy family always seep in to alleviate some of the stress. Take this email exchange between my cousins just now. To honor my dad, we decided to host a sundae bar at the post-funeral luncheon. Dad was a fanatic for ice cream. (It feels so weird to be speaking of him in the past tense.) Dad could never remember the punchline to a joke (which fell to me), but he could recite the location of every Dairy Queen and Tastee Freeze in Northern Illinois…and parts of Southern Wisconsin. He also adored my Aunt Karen’s homemade hot fudge sauce–a family favorite at every get-together–which my hyper-competitive cousins are happily replicating for the funeral:

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone.
 Original Message  
From: Greg 
Sent: Wednesday, February 4, 2015 7:58 PM
To: Karen
Cc: Denise Dorman; Jeff & Janell; Becky
Subject: Re: Funeral arrangements

Are we going to have a ‘Mom’s hot fudge sauce cook off’? See if the 4 of us can take 3 cups of sugar, a can of evaporated milk, a stick of butter, 8 squares of Baker’s chocolate and a teaspoon or so of vanilla and taste a difference between the 4 sauces?

From: Jeff & Janell 
Sent: Wednesday, February 4, 2015 8:20 PM
To: Greg 
Cc: Karen, Denise Dorman, Becky
Subject: Re: Funeral arrangements
Game on!
Sent from my iPad
From: Becky
Sent: Wednesday, February 4, 2015 8:20 PM
To: Karen
Cc: Denise Dorman; Jeff & Janell; Greg
Subject: Re: Funeral arrangements
I’m sure we can find plenty of willing judges for this!
Send from my iPhone