This weekend I ventured to Buena Vista for a grief holiday with my bestie. Saturday it was good, but by Sunday I was ready to just be home. I was exhausted. Still am, although I think it is beginning to dissipate a bit. Monday was spent at the computer editing my life away to get caught up for a busy September. James got home from jury duty to find me crying because I pulled out a picture of our wedding that was of grandpa and me smiling in a similar fashion and him looking so very alive. Yesterday was a struggle. Grandma came to the office for the first time since Grandpa passed, which I can’t imagine was easy for her. I was busy with catching up from basically a week and a half of not being here mentally. Went to yoga and got my butt kicked (totally necessary!), and came home to snuggle up to that man of mine.
Today has been better, more energetic. And I have something to celebrate. With everything going on the past few weeks, anniversary presents kind of fell by the wayside. I was trying to remember what we did for each other last year and realized that I had wanted to give James a ring with turquoise because that was what he had really wanted for a wedding ring but we couldn’t find one that was good quality. I had asked my grandfather for his advice on where to go and the next week he brought in a huge bag full of rings and watches and belt buckles for me to pick from for James. He brought in a few pieces that his mother had been fond of as well for me to have. He was so fond of his turquoise collection, and to offer some of his best to James really showed how fond he was of him. I had picked a green turquoise ring that my great grandma loved. I wore that ring to the hospital both days, and again to his memorial service. It is a symbol of protection, friendship, good fortune, and wisdom. All things that I think both my grandfather and great grandmother had given to me over the years. I was in tears, gasping for breath, realizing how special all these pieces of jewelry would be, and noting that even if we gave each other nothing this year, these gifts of love, protection, friendship, and good fortune would probably be enough to last us a lifetime.
I started to reflect on our relationship. I have been lucky enough to find this wonderful person in life who is my best friend and life partner. Today we celebrate a happy two year anniversary. Five years together, two married.
Someone asked me the other day if I love him more today than I did two years ago. My response was that I love him differently today that I did two years ago. I don’t know how you can put an “amount” on love, but as our relationship grows through our life struggles and victories, so does our love for each other. We have both changed quite a bit since we first met. We have had ups and we have had downs. The year we married was one of the most life-changing, best years we had together. We got engaged, bought a house, I found a passion in photography and started working towards making it a profession, and we got married. This year seems to have been one of the hardest of my life. After two years of working myself to death between a full time job and putting tons of time and energy into photography, I’m getting burnt out. So is he. Never having me home has put a strain on our relationship, one that needs to be balanced out. I’m working on that. Trying to keep my priorities straight instead of letting myself get so overworked while going after a dream that I can’t enjoy the happiness of my reality.
The moment that we found out my grandfather was in the hospital, he was there supporting me every step of this dreadful journey. He has wrapped his arms around me when I cry and feel lost, given me space to mourn, he gave me encouragement while I struggled through writing the eulogy. Even when he was exhausted, when we were both exhausted, he was there with me when we went to find friendship and laughter with my family after the memorial service. He has been kind and caring and mindful of the grief I find myself struggling with. I appreciate him and everything we have so much more than I could have thought possible.
I realize so much more now than when we got married that we can make it through anything, if we make it through our struggles and our victories together. I am so glad to be on this adventure with him.
Love you heart of mine.
I’ll write more about my experience with writing this, but for now here is what I wrote and read today. Also a poem by Baxter Black and I had my cousin read.
Red Bretz. My grandfather is gone. We are heartbroken from the loss of this man who meant so much to so many. And although I know he is at peace now, I find that my own steps seem to be faltering a bit without him here. I know we are here to celebrate his life, but I am still mourning his death. I realize, though, that if he were here right now, he would tell me to be true to myself because that is the only way to be truly honest to others.
Red loved people. He loved to connect with people and weave his stories in with their own. Red had stories because he had life, an exuberant amount of life. And for someone who was not unfamiliar with the idea of death being close at hand, I think he really knew how to appreciate what he had, and knew how to value the people he met on his journey.
If you knew Red, perhaps you knew that he had health problems for most of his life and that on some level, this day was expected. But maybe you didn’t know how hard he fought to live his life to the fullest. He was told not to play sports, but he played basketball, softball, and fell in love with handball. He loved to ride horses, and as my uncle Dale said so perfectly, he was not just an equestrian, but a true horseman. He was an active member of the Jefferson County Mounted Posse and volunteered his time to Westernaires, an equestrian group for youth. He started a business which his family still owns and runs today, and he was the best horseshow husband that any wife could ask for. He did all of this even as he was in and out of hospitals for most of his life.
Red was a lover and collector of art, often sponsoring artists who were just starting out. And I will always think of him when I see turquoise stones. His collection of turquoise was vast and unique. The stone is representative of wisdom, support, learning to speak your truth, and confidence. These are all things that come to mind when I think of what made up the core of his personality.
My grandfather was someone to look up to, someone to listen to when he spoke. He was someone to laugh with, and someone that you could lean on for support. Red was the kind of person who would look you in the eye and tell you that you were wrong, but boy did he love you anyway. I never saw him angry. He loved openly, without hesitation, and didn’t condemn people for their mistakes.
I found myself trying to capture what he meant to us all, as if I was trying to crack the code of his life story. What a daunting task I had before me. How I could do his story justice? How do you capture a man like Red in such a short amount of time? But I really think that underneath it all, there is simplicity. These are the lessons he left behind for us: responsibility, respect, honesty, bravery, laughter, and compassion. His love of life was his greatest gift.
After my family shared their own memories, I realized that he meant something different to every one of us. We all have a different story of who he was in our lives: a son, a brother, a father, a grandfather, a husband, an advisor, a smile, a laugh, a shoulder to lean on, a companion and partner…a friend. He left a piece of himself with every person he met. I think he knew that one day we would need those pieces to help guide our feet back to stable ground when he left this earth to be with his Heavenly Father.
And because he left a piece of himself within us all, I ask you all to join me in this eulogy by sharing a piece of who he was to you in your life. Share a memory, share a laugh, share a tear.
“My grandfather is the rock of our family. Pretty much the one thing that has tied us together for a long time. His health has been horrible for basically his entire life. He has to have blood transfusions often and he was 5 weeks late getting this last one (due to the doctor) and landed in the ER because of it. Today I asked him how he was and he said not good. That if my grandma hadn’t told him it wasn’t an option, he would just go out to pasture (death) right now.
I have been struggling for years with the thought of him dying. The thought of the world without him. I still can’t imagine, but I know now that even in my heartache, my absolutely heartache, that he is prepared. It is my grandma who isn’t. It is us. We are keeping him here. Especially her. I’ve never thought of her… without him. I’ve never thought about how she was going to handle it. I’ve only seen her cry once in all these years. She has been a strong woman to look up to. A strong person. I guess I just never thought that she may be a bigger mess than us all when he is gone. That all these years she has spent by his side, taking care of him.. and all the scares and the thoughts of “Is this the last time?”… How big that hole in her heart, in her life, will be. And today I look at my grandmother in a new light. She is no longer just my grandma, but a woman, who loves a man, and has stood by him in every time of need, and has been HIS rock, just as he has been ours. And I am grateful to her that she has been there through it all. Grateful to know such a woman. Grateful that I have so many strong female voices in my life.
Thank you, Grandma.”
I wrote that almost a year ago. And he continued on, of course, and actually looked better the past few months than he had in years. Color, energy, etc. But he had been falling a lot. His body was just.. tired.
Yesterday I watched as he took his last breath in this world. As his heart slowed and eventually stopped. As his body fought for over an hour after they pulled the tubes from him and turned off his pace maker. I kept thinking that his death was a testament to his life. He fought hard, and was surrounded by people who loved him.
His death was a surprise. Even after all these years of knowing it was coming, it was a surprise. We thought for sure it would be his heart, an infection, his body finally giving in to all the meds he has been on all these years. Not the way that it actually happened though. I don’t think any of us were ready for head trauma. For the possibility that even if he lives he may not ever again be… him.
After all the times he has landed in the hospital, this one felt so very different. It felt final, even from the beginning. The smallest amount of hope we had been so faint that we knew it was false.
His miraculous recoveries had all been used, and now it was time for us to grieve.
James came to the hospital with me. We were there all day Wednesday. We left for a bit to get my grandmother an overnight bag. When we finally got in to see him the faintest hope was gone. I knew, standing there holding his hand, watching his legs shake randomly and his chest go up and down, that this was the end of the road. We had to soak up what was left, and find a way to carry on and share his spirit even without him here to help us with that.
I was exhausted but the second I got in bed I lay there wide awake. Thinking about my grandma. Wishing there was something we could do to help her through this. Some easy answer to wave away her guilt for not making him go to the hospital sooner. A way to get rid of all the “what ifs” that hung in the air, and let her know that she gave him a gift. He was able to be in his own bed, with the woman he loved, and have moments of peace before he was gone. I wanted to let her know how thankful we are that what could have been a burden to his children, taking care of him with all of his medical issues etc, was just an act of partnership between the two of them. What a gift she has given to his children. They were able to fully appreciate him as he grew older because of her selflessness. And he stayed active because she was. He was with us as long as he was because of her, and no one else could have given him, or us, that gift. I wish she could know all this, and not feel her guilt. But I know she will, and I know it will take a toll on her. Her heart is broken and weeping for the loss of her best friend.
Thursday morning it was hard to wake up. I was scared I had missed the call, but my phone had nothing on it. I called my mom and she hadn’t heard anything, but was on her way to the hospital. I went to work and we got the call. His brain was not active, and there was no hope that he would ever recover from this. If he ever did wake up, he wouldn’t be himself. In some ways, the decision was so easy, and in others, it was so hard. His kids and his wife made the decision to let him go. He fought everything his body had ever thrown at him, but this time it was his brain. Something they couldn’t just, do away with and replace or alter. His brain. His memories, his thoughts, his speech, his functioning. Everything. He was gone and everyone knew it.
I had decided I wouldn’t go down. No one else was the office. I had to run the place. James was going to meet my mom and give her comfort. I thought I had said my goodbyes the night before. I didn’t need to do it again. I didn’t want to watch it. I was avoiding it. James told me I was being silly. Aunt Karen questioned me once more before they left. And I decided I would regret it if I didn’t go. My sister and I cried to each other as we both drove down.
I got to the hospital and hurried up to the room. We said a prayer with his pastor, and gave my grandma some time to be with him. When we went back in they started to remove all of the tubes and explained what to expect. He mostly sounded like he was snoring. Like he was in a deep sleep and I kept waiting for him to wake up, startled at the noise of his own snores. But he didn’t. They came in and turned off his pace maker. We expected that he would be gone in a matter of minutes after the pacemaker was off, but he held on. His heart would stop, he would take a deep breath and then that would stop. Then after a minute his body would gasp and his heart would beat again. An hour of thinking this was the last when it wasn’t. An hour for everyone to watch the life drain from his body, the color drain from his face. An hour to hear his struggling breaths.
An hour to watch my grandmother with him.
An hour to witness grief that cannot be contained.
An hour to cry.
An hour to ask why.
An hour to know that I would never see that big goofy grin anymore. To know that I would never hear his voice again. To know that I would never get to hug him, or hold his hand, or hear his stories. To know that there was so much more that I needed. To know that if I ever have a child, that child wont have the honor of ever meeting him.
An hour to regret every moment that will never happen.
An hour to miss every moment that did.
An hour to realize just how lucky we were to have him all these years.
And an hour to witness the greatest display of agonizing, heart wrenching, pure and simple love that I had ever seen. My grandmother reaching for his hand as if it was the only thing that would steady her own shaking hand, holding her head on his chest, stroking his cheek ever so lightly, as if she was holding on to the most fragile paper ever made. And when it was over, the dazed look on her face. The grief in her eyes. The exhaustion finally setting in and taking over.
The nurse came in and said “I’m so sorry”. And Judy said “Not as sorry as I am.”
And I knew that this was going to be such a long and trying path for her. He wouldn’t be there to reassure her anymore. To ease her anxiety. To tell her he was okay, and that this wasn’t her fault.
We told her we were leaving, that we wanted to give them room to discuss what needed to be discussed. She acted as if she wouldn’t see me again unless she was coming to the office, and like she wasn’t sure she was welcome there anymore without Red. I told her no, that we needed her, and even more than that, we wanted her around. We loved her. She is a part of our family no matter what.
She cried, and hugged me. I cried and hugged her back.
This wonderful soul passed on, and we are heartbroken. The loss is great. I am so, so thankful for the big heart this man had, and hope that everyone who has been touched by him can pay it forward to others. His death was a testament to his life. He fought hard while surrounded by love. He is at peace now. My grandfather is gone. And I guess the earth somehow thinks it is okay to continue spinning, so we must continue as well.
Rest in peace Roy “Red” Bretz. You will be missed, but even more so, you will be loved.