With the narration of this piece, I’m not sure where to start. I realize it is my attempt to “landmark” and solidify an ending to my period of pain. An effort to say one more time to my cousin Greg, “I love you. I haven’t let you go. But I need to move on without ever forgetting you. To say, “Gregory, I need to stop hurting. I need to quit hurting.”
“Spiritually” I am angry still at God for the lives he has taken from me, but I know God is big enough to survive my anger. He has proven it out during the loss of my Dad, Step-Dad, Grandparents, and a VERY close Boys Town brother. God was still standing in his “Almighty-ness” while Gregory stood at the head of the river that leads to eternal life, choosing the direction that was right for him. God ignores our pleas, our hopes for anyones life. As we implored for Gregs return, God had other plans.
In hindsight perhaps God has been on my side. October 15th 1977 one week before my paternal fathers death, we met in Louisville and had an entire day together as I delivered a load of cocoa powder to Mothers Cookies. Dad was gone October 22nd. February 1st, 1999 I made a Louisville run to the nursing home where Grandma Bowman resided. We shared part of an afternoon together where she stated, “Dennis. I’m tired. I’m just tired.” Grandma passed away on February 8th that year. In January, 2000 my Step-Dad and I spent two days together planning a November antelope hunting trip to Montana. Tony Buckman died of an aneurysm February 7th, 2000. In February of 2002, my Boys Town brother Ron called to tell me that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. STILL operating as an independent in the trucking industry, I made arrangements with a broker for loads that passed through Elyria Ohio weekly. Ron and I shared meals, memories and plans for the future. I parked the truck and trailer at a church near Rons house, where he’d meet me regardless of his energy level. My heart sunk the day Ron told me proudly that he was now receiving a “service” called hospice care. Ron didn’t know the implications, nor did I feel he was told. The week Ron died I was offered a load to California for money I couldn’t turn down. June 22nd, on the return trip as I passed through Salt Lake City, I received a call from Rons son that he was gone. That very moment, a flock of doves seemed to follow me as I traveled the Interstate out of Utah to the East.
Two weeks before Greg collapsed at the Ford plant, I made the journey to Louisville. We shared every meal, teased each other over the Nebraska football team and Kentucky basketball. I expressed my disappointment of his decision to do away with the asparagus patch in their garden. Yet he proudly displayed the numerous quantities of “produce” that Fran had stored away for future use. At Gregs insistence, Fran sent me home a few days later with several quarts of her home-grown green beans. We changed the headlights in Frans car. One was burned out, and I told Greg if he was buying these newfangled bulbs, we needed to change both. While he watched, I loosened the inner fender on both sides of Frans car while Greg fed me unlimited beers and encouragement. “I don’t know why you didn’t take that job at Ford…” he said, as I screwed in new bulbs. “You KNOW I can’t do that factory thing like you do… I have always been an independent” I replied. “And you have paid a price for that freedom…” Greg responded. He knew my pain. He was well pleased with the end result of our efforts on Frans car because his priority has always been his wife, her comfort and her safety. I’ve always admired him for that commitment, We ended the weekend at one of Gregs favorite restaurants sharing an order of the “Bloomin’ Onion” and watching basketball. “I’ll be back between Thanksgiving and Christmas” I promised.
Two weeks later I received the call from Fran that Gregory had collapsed at the Ford plant…
Privately at Gregs bedside as I stroked his hair and held his hand, I whispered to him what he meant to me. The lessons he passed along to me. I teased him that the NEXT lottery ticket would be a joint effort. I told him that I didn’t know what I was going to do without his sarcasm. I felt even though he never regained consciousness, he wondered if anyone else “got it”. That he was “tired”. That the fight was over. They say that hearing is the last sense to leave the room… It seemed Greg hung on until we each were allowed to tell him how much he was loved. To say goodbye. His wife, his parents, his brother and sisters all expressed things that had gone unsaid. “Say what’s in your heart” is what the minister said… And we did. I don’t know that anything was left unsaid, as we begged for Greg to fight hard enough to come back to us. For God to change his mind,
Fran, Gregs wife, stroked his arms and shoulders, kissed his forehead, smiled at shared memories, and gazed at Gregs limp body with compassion, love, and gratitude for a shared lifetime. And we all cried at the thought of life without Greg. Aunt Geri stated, “We should not outlive our children…” I KNOW that observation was going through everyones mind. I know everything we prayed sounded lame. That we were all trying to cut a deal with God on Gregs behalf, but without words we all seemed to know, our presence and our touch were the most eloquent, regret-free ways of saying good-bye. A desperate wish that Gregory somehow knew as he chose to leave…. Yet we wished he would come back to us. We begged. God doesn’t make deals with anyone. Neither did Greg.
At that moment, when the decision was made, I thought, “Please take good care of my cousin. Please keep him safe for us. Let him go without pain. Let him lead us. Let him teach us. Comfort his wife.” I left the room when ”death” was pronounced by the nurse and I walked down the hallway to a glass-enclosed overlook “It is done,” I thought. “Why Gregory? He is so much more the man than I…. He had so much more to appreciate.”
This bridge, “Saying Goodbye” is a metaphor to Gregs honor. On my return to Omaha I viewed a bridge near St. Louis that “spoke to me” and at that moment I immediately began a piece for the scene. It was as if God was redeeming himself to me. Providing a reminder of Gregs life. Reminding me of the memories from the relationship Greg and I shared since 1958. It has taken this long and a struggle to realize that Greg hasn’t really left this world. I don’t say to myself that Gregory’s life was my bridge to understanding. It has been a culmination of loss. I desperately seek my “reason” for being left behind. BUT Gregs passing has prepared me… No… Reminded me, that our life here is limited. I cherish what he and I shared. Gregory accepted me into the family when I didn’t belong. Gregory accepted me as family when there was no shared blood.
Now I laugh when the lottery gets out of hand because I know Gregory would be making his weekly trip to the tobacco shop and scolding me for not getting involved. He would be swearing at the recruits the Nebraska Football team had chosen. Greg would be swearing at the Kentucky Basketball team loss to Kansas. And he would be encouraging me to follow my heart in my own search for contentment and happiness.
Greg: I don’t say goodbye because it is my belief and desire that we will get together again someday. “Until we meet again,” is the phrase that I adopted from the Native American beliefs I was taught… We will. I swear. Until then, this bridge I have done for you, isn’t really saying goodbye… We will meet again on the other side… You simply beat me to the end of the crossing,…