2018 was a banner year for our family. My father in law passed away from pancreatic cancer in May. Exactly one week later my brother-in-law was diagnosed with a rare stage 4 duodenal carcenoma. In between all of this my husband had his own cancer scare which included major surgery and several months of rehabilitation. And I learned that a close family member had been keeping a fairly large secret for a significant amount of time, resulting in some anger, resentment, and a breakdown in trust. It was a lot to process in one year. I am still processing it.
We lost my brother-in-law on January 22, 2019, just eight months after his diagnosis and eight months after we lost my father-in-law. For so long, I have felt like this wasn’t my grief. This grief belongs to other people. My husband, my sister-in-law, my niece and nephews, my children. My role was to support. I would cry quietly, and away from others. And while it is true that it has been incredibly important for me to support my husband during this time, it is also true that my grief is legitimate. I have tried, however, to “dump out” and am fortunate to have some friends who have been willing to listen to the depressing saga that has been my life over the past year. These same friends are now having to listen to me talk nonstop about Virginia basketball. (Did you hear we won a national title?!?! Sorry not sorry.)
Growing up, I looked up to my older cousins and I often wanted an older brother. When I married my husband, I got one. Our personalities were very different. He thought I was too uptight and needed to take more chances. I thought he needed to think things through more before taking big risks. We were both probably right. He was an attorney by training, but like many of us, he was always looking for a way out.
John was a dreamer with big ideas, and he went after his dreams with fervor. A fellow large law firm refugee, he didn’t like being tied to an office job. Some of that was because he loved spending time with his family. Some of it was because he didn’t like being told what to do. That’s pretty prevalent among the McCalls. I think my kids got that gene.
From supplements to geode kiosks in the mall, there was always a fantastic business opportunity awaiting. One year he imported pocket bikes and tried to convince me to do it with him and sell them under my eBay account. He got so mad at me when I refused to buy thousands of pocket bikes from China and resell them on ebay because obviously it was going to be such a big money maker. I am sure I missed a big opportunity to retire from the law there. I still laugh about it.
John loved his kids more than anything. He was constantly singing their praises, going to all of their sporting events, and talking about how he was raising three Olympic athletes. His hands on and loving parenting style was a huge positive influence on my husband. As many fathers in the 1970s, their dad was not a hands on dad. Watching his brother parent with such joy and love paved a path for my husband and gave him the confidence that he too could be a good dad and do things differently than his own father had done. And, indeed, he is a wonderful father too.
My grief is certainly different than my husbands’, than my sister-in-law’s, than my niece’s or nephews’, but it is mine. I feel it when I hear certain songs. When I hang up my visor after a run. When my husband makes smiles in the same way his brother did. And when I see or think of a pocket bike or some other half-baked idea, I am reminded of the fact that life is too short to stay in your comfort zone.