Mad, Mere, and Papa, Christmas 2012
I've had a lump in my throat for over a week and it's showing no sign of abating.
It started last Friday night, the 20th, with a text from Mad: “Daddy's been in a really bad car accident with Mere and Papa, please call this (random) number.”
And she's just a kid; she doesn't understand about FIRST saying, “Daddy's ok, I talked to him.” I would have done the same thing at her age. But for a couple of hours there, I thought her Daddy and her grandparents were all dead. And I did the Alias-pilot-Sydney-Bristow-silent-open-mouthed ugly cry in a restaurant parking lot for a while before springing into action and calling that paramedic's number, during which conversation I screamed such gems as, “JUST TELL ME IF HE IS DEAD! WHO IS DEAD? I WANT TO KNOW THE AMOUNT OF DEADNESS THAT THERE IS OMIGOD MAN JUST TELL ME WHAT THE SOUTHERN-FRIED HELL IS GOING ON!” And so forth, until he needed to hang up and call a mental institution.
I am clearly great in a crisis.
Vince called me an hour or so later and told me about the accident: they were on a highway, stopped in traffic, their car was rear-ended at great speed, Vince was driving, etc, etc, oh God do the details even matter right now? We determined together that he was, in fact, all right. We joked about how well people could gauge his hotness even all bandaged up, in a hospital gown. His mom, he reported, was all right, too. And then: “My dad didn't make it.”
Insert tandem ugly cry here. Insert panic, helplessness, and immediate booking of a flight.
So that's where I was last week. First in Texas, where the accident happened, then in Monroe, tending to my Chaos, who are all still and will always be my family. Vince's and his mom's injuries were relatively minor, and they are physically on the mend, but the family's grief is profound and colossal.
This story isn't really about me, of course: I lost a father-in-law, a man I adored, who was funny and generous and who never failed to make me and everyone around him feel loved. But the Chaos lost a husband and a dad, and my little girl lost her grandfather. I know what that feels like, to lose someone so suddenly and violently, and I know how it takes you right out of your body and into some surreal state of shock, interspersed with great crashing waves of grief. I am so grateful that I was able to be there to help however I could when that family, who have done so many things for my own family over the years, needed it. That we were all able to be together, to laugh, cry, tell inside jokes, change bandages, clean up all of the things, eat ham, worry about logistics, and regale each other with stories about Joe Chao's always-hilarious antics (the one about his 71-year-old self high on a ladder with a chainsaw and a Heineken – at 10:30 a.m. – is one of our favorites).
Meanwhile, back in DC, my partner was admitted to the hospital on that Monday and spent the entire week there, alone. Just some fun insult piled onto injury. She is ok, too, and following the services on Thursday, I returned to her and to DC to teach a Saturday design camp to some of the sweetest, most gracious people who ever gathered in a room. They endured my scattered, sometimes teary-eyed lessons about paint and lighting and choosing furniture, even acting like they'd learned something, and it was so helpful to return to some normalcy, if even for a day. DC campers, you are the best, and thank you so much. Lastly, a huge thank you to the friends and family who buoyed us all this week: Al, Chris, George, Cher, Eliza, Matt, Nixie, Erik, Jesse, Bef, my parents, and so many others who reached out with support. You showed us this week what real love looks like, and you will never know how much it meant to us.
It doesn't feel right just yet to start talking about my favorite Etsy shops or the boots I want for fall, or anything else for that matter. But I feel like it might be just the thing to start the healing process, so please don't think I'm insensitive should you see a roundup this week about fabulous products. I would also like to ask that you gather up whatever good thoughts, vibes, prayers, etc. you can muster, and send them the Chaos' way.
Here is Joe's obituary, which I wrote with help from all the Chao boys, along with the laughter and mayhem that goes with the territory of hanging with those three nutty brothers. If you read it you will be able to see what a remarkable, accomplished, interesting man Joe was, and how many funny stories there are to tell about his crazy habits. He will be missed like no other, and although I know that time will ease this lump in my throat, and the Chao family's grief, it can't come soon enough.