Stories: Who We Have Lost

The Hat

Story aboutJody Settle

A recent, rainy Saturday afternoon convinced me that it was time to tackle the closet that Jody and I mockingly called the Hotel California – stuff checked in, but it never left. I opened the door and wanted to scream, overwhelmed by the piles that needed sorting. I stepped back, took a deep breath, and dove in.

There were boxes of clothes – laundered and folded – waiting to be worn again. Sadly, they no longer fit; so, they went into the clothing bin in our building’s recycling room. Somebody will be able to wear them.

Buried in the back was a set of golf clubs that hadn’t seen the lush grass of a rolling course in nearly forty years. Out it went. I also found an electric keyboard that I didn’t remember. It must have been important to Jody. I gently unzipped its tattered case only to find a tangle of wires. There was no way I could repair it. That went out as well.
I fought my way through the long-forgotten souvenirs of a life together. Suddenly, at the bottom of the pile, there it was – a flattened pancake of brown fabric. I recognized it immediately and laughed at the memories it still held.

It had started out life as a brown fedora. Jody loved that hat and used to wear it all the time, even inside the apartment. I thought he looked quite dapper. Eventually, the hat started to wear and Jody found another hat. Even so, the fedora maintained its honored place on the shelf of his nightstand.

In April 2016, we adopted a beagle we named Sugar. She had been rescued from a puppy mill where she had been locked in a cage for over four years and bred for the puppies that medical researchers so craved. We soon discovered that Sugar had never learned to play. When we brought her home, we tried to coax her to chase a ball or participate in a tug of war with a length of rope. Sugar was content to sit back and sneer at our attempts.

One day, I heard Sugar scuttling down the hallway into the living room where Jody and I were watching television. In her mouth, she clutched that brown fedora. She nestled on the floor, her paws on the brim and her chin resting on top. Jody caught sight of his hat and the battle was on.

He reached down and grabbed at the hat catching it at the brim. However, Sugar was too fast. Her mouth clamped down on the hat and, at long last, a real game of tug of war was on. Jody won that battle and returned the hat to its sanctuary on the nightstand. Sugar bided her time. Jody would go out and Sugar would grab the hat and carry it back to her resting place. She learned to sit on it so that Jody wouldn’t see it right away. Once he did, a new tug of war ensued. The hat started to show the scars of their battles – creases and tears and the stains of dog drool – marring its shape and fabric.

Sugar had her triumph when Jody ceded his ownership of the hat. She carried it everywhere with her. At night, she clutched it close as if it were one of the puppies she never had the chance to rear. From time to time, she would carry the hat to Jody hoping to entice him into another round of snatching and pulling which Jody gladly joined. The hat continued to take a beating.

After Jody passed, Sugar was as lost as I was. She would carry the hat around searching for him. She would look at me and I would ask her if she wanted me to play with her. Nothing doing. I wasn’t Jody. She would trot off to hide the hat in her bed burying it under the cushions. At some point, she understood that Jody’s absence was permanent. She started to bring the hat to me so we could play. I don’t think it was the same for her.

Sugar passed in late 2022. I didn’t have the heart to dispose of the hat so it went into the closet. Now that I’ve found it again, I’m ready to let it go. The memories of Jody and Sugar and the hat are safely stored in my memory and continue to fill my heart with joy.

An answered prayer

Story aboutKeith Wisecup

Thank you, Craig …

I have visited my son’s gravesite once a week for over 2 years. I’ve only recently missed a week which I’ve learned to give myself grace.

I felt a bit wound up after work and really needed to recenter so I stopped at the cemetery right after work. The wind was crisp and cold. It felt like I just couldn’t get warm enough. I did my usual surveying of the area before I started singing “You are my Sunshine.”

I sang that to him when he was a little boy and also on the day he passed away so it’s become a ritual of sorts and my connection to him. I sat there on his bench talking to him. It was one of those talks where I poured my heart out. I started to cry as I listed all the things I really missed about him. I told him there’s no way you can just be “gone gone.”

I told him I’d like to think he’s in heaven, healed and happy. He needed that healing both physically and emotionally. Shouldn’t I be happy if he’s happy? Is it selfish of me to just want to sit next to him, hug him, hear him again. I miss the random middle of the night calls where we’d stay up for hours talking, I miss how he would jump a little bit when got excited about something, I miss that infectious laugh. I even miss his tremendously stubborn head strong ways.

I sat there feeling a deep connection to Keith in that moment.I said out loud that at times like this I feel like I need guidance from my spirit guides.

I heard a voice saying “excuse me, I’m so sorry to bother you but I’ve seen you here often.” There stood an older gentlemen with a cane, his Bible, and his sweet little dog. I explained how I was here visiting my son’s grave and I come here at least once a week.

He said, “I know I’ve seen you here so many times.”
I told him of Keith’s struggles and how he passed from covid.
I think the most beautiful thing he did was ask me ABOUT my boy. He asked me what Keith went to college for, how old he was, ETC. ETC!! Such a precious gift to also talk about his LIFE. I’m telling you, if you know someone who lost a loved one … ASK them about their lives.

He asked if it was okay if we prayed.
Through my tears I said yes.
He told me that he really felt like today was the day to finally approach me. He felt drawn to do it. I told him he quite possibly was an answer to my prayer.
He told me his name was Craig. I told him my name and he said the most beautiful prayer I’ve ever heard.
He asked me a question, “Where do you think your son is now?”
I said “I would like to think he’s in heaven, so happy and so healed.” I don’t want to think he’s just gone.

He told me that he admired the love and dedication I have for my son
He shared a little about his life and family and away he went.
As he walked away, I knew that my prayers were answered.
Thank you, Craig.

Georgie, the Renaissance Man

Story aboutGeorge Gregorian

I lost my cousin Georgie to Covid 2 years ago, Feb 16th.

He was like my brother, a confidant, and one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. He and I became very close when we both ended up in prep school together and we were only a year apart.

We were famous for our high school parties, the “George & Alexis” parties. My aunt and uncle, his parents, had moved away to Florida, so he was essentially living on his own in their home. When I think back on this now, I can’t believe they allowed this, but he was really responsible and such a good guy. We would have 30 to 40 people over and it was just an absolute blast with food and lots of dancing. He was an amazing DJ. We shared our love of R&B and funk music.

He knew that if he ever played the opening horns for “Funkin’ for Jamaica” by Tom Browne, no matter where we were, I would get up and dance. He would go on to do this throughout our adult life … on the radio, at weddings, parties, etc. because he KNEW I would get up and dance and he would join me. Anytime, I hear that song to this day I can’t help but smile and think of him.

As children, we were best friends, best buddies through our teens and young adult years.
We grew into adults with careers and enjoyed great successes in our lives. Even though I moved away from my home state, we were always in touch!

I moved to Florida to be with my now husband and George would often come visit us on his way down to see his mom. One weekend, he came to see my husband Kirk & I in our new home and was surprised to see that my husband didn’t have the correct tools to finish a project. The two of them left for Home Depot, came home after a few hours, and then worked in the garage for the rest of the day. I made a delicious steak and pilaf dinner for him and marveled about what they built in my garage and in just a few hours!! There was shelving, a workbench, and Kirk now had every tool he could possibly need to do tasks around the house.

Georgie was just the guy who could do just about anything. I called him often just to check in but also to ask silly questions. When I became a mother to my girls, I would always see him at Christmas, and he always had the most thoughtful gifts for my two little girls.

We come from a very close knit Armenian family so I expected to carry on this loving relationship until we were both sitting in rocking chairs, reminiscing about how much fun we had. Sadly, that ended two years ago in February and to this day, I still can’t believe he’s gone. I was texting with him while he was in the hospital & very sick and made him promise me to please get better and when he did, he would maybe work a little less and enjoy the fruits of his labor. He agreed to that as well.

Trust me when I say, I was determined to keep him honest about this and make sure he went somewhere fabulous to recuperate. Maybe even Jamaica. Unfortunately for me and our entire huge close knit Armenian family, that did not happen.

He never made it out of the hospital. I will miss him for the rest of my days on this Earth.

Pandemic Revisionism and Social Forgetting: Reflections and Intersections, January 26, 2024

Blind Willie Johnson’s lyrics, in quotes, to ‘Jesus is Coming Soon’, a 1920’s blues piece he wrote about the 1918 flu pandemic: (Thank you Dr. Nancy Bristow for inspiring me to look this up)

“Well, we done told you, God’s done warned you
Jesus coming soon
We done told you, God’s done warned you
Jesus coming soon”

“In the year of 19 and 18, God sent a mighty disease
It killed many a-thousand, on land and on the seas.”

“Great disease was mighty and the people were sick everywhere
It was an epidemic, it floated through the air”

Why wasn’t the 1918 pandemic part of my education?

“The doctors they got troubled and they didn’t know what to do
They gathered themselves together, they called it the Spanish flu…”

“Soldiers died on the battlefield, died in the camps too
Well, the captain said to the lieutenant, “I don’t know what to do.”

My grandfather was a decorated veteran of WWI. My grandmother was a pharmacist and physical therapist during the same era. Her suffragist activism and his war heroism represent the focus of American attention in the history books, not the hundreds of thousands of American pandemic flu losses, including the large numbers of soldiers whose flu deaths were not recorded with this as the primary cause.

Just over a hundred years later, their son, my father, died of Covid-19.

My first loss happened while the Covid-19 death count was still in the tens of thousands, early, not yet to the hundreds of thousands and continuing to well beyond a million American loved ones dead, each and every one precious the way my father was precious. How can we forget this many people? Yet, look at 1918.

Did anyone in my family suffer this flu? No one talked about it and I never knew to ask.

“Well, God is warning the nation, He’s a’warning them every way
To turn away from the evil and seek the Lord and pray”

Well, the nobles said to the people, “You better close your public schools.”
“Until the events of death has ended, you better close your churches too.”

“Read the Book of Zachariah, Bible plainly say
Thousands of people, they did die, on account of their wicked ways”

This new era of Covid-19 social forgetting is now personal, given my own losses to the viciousness of the virus and subsequent political responses to it, also vicious. Thanks to attitudes of American individualism, many of us suffer disenfranchised and complicated grief around loss without good-bye, missed stories not told at funerals that couldn’t happen, and new discernment about what is safe space to grieve.

Is the lack of historical education and awareness of 1918 doomed to repeat itself with the Covid pandemic? When I hear about projects like Rituals in the Making and WhoWeLost, which provide opportunities to tell our stories or otherwise express ourselves artistically, I am hopeful. I am thankful for the dedicated work of those who keep us informed on the public health issues and historical perspectives, through blogs like Dr. Katelyn Jetelina’s Your Local Epidemiologist, and Dr. Nancy Bristow’s historical research into the 1918 pandemic. With new perspective, I find a certain irony in the Covid myth, “Covid-19 really was like the flu”. Yep, in so many ways not meant by those who make this statement today. Big change begins with awareness, opportunity, and baby steps.

Shelley Chambers

Year Four

Story aboutMichael Mantell

Four years ago today I had never heard of Covid. We started to hear of the Corona virus someplace else but not in the United States. It was a joke, a virus named after a beer.

In two months from today you would be entering the hospital with Covid 19 and you never came home. How naive I was then.

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