Monday, August 27, 2012

My Cousin, My Friend

The event that really made me determined to get my blog back on track, was the recent death of my cousin Buddy. Most of you that know me know that on June 21st, my 37 year old cousin Buddy Hopkins was hit and killed while he was out jogging in his neighborhood. Many of you also know that the driver was a 40 year old man, many miles from his own home, who was high or in some sort of altered state at the time. After he hit Buddy, he left the scene, dropped his car off at a body shop, and stated that he had hit a dog. Luckily the body shop was suspicious and called the police. The police began investigating the owner, and less than a week after killing Buddy, the man killed himself. Two families are now living with devastating loss.

My Uncle Gary (Buddy's father) and his family lived in Huntsville, AL when Buddy was born, and we lived in Tuscaloosa. My mom's family is very spread out, and all of her sisters and brother have lived their adult lives in different parts of the country (at some points the world). Uncle Gary and his family (and later Buddy himself) moved around some, and after I was married, I did too. Somehow, Buddy and I ended up in the same location (or close) 3 different times in our lives. The first time was when we were both very young, and they lived in Huntsville. Buddy and his sisters were born in Huntsville and we would drive up from Tuscaloosa to visit. The second time we lived near each other was when they moved to Tuscaloosa from Saudi Arabia. Uncle Gary had been teaching Electrical Engineering at a University in Saudi Arabia (I think in Riyadh) and when they moved back to the states, he taught at the University of Alabama. Buddy and his sisters were in grade school and I was in high school, so I was their baby sitter. The third, the last, and the most memorable time was when Buddy and his family moved to Omaha for 2 years in 2006. Buddy worked for Omaha based Kiewit, and they transferred him here temporarily.

Buddy was a great guy. He was married with 4 young children, and was a loving father and husband. Buddy was my cousin, but he was also my friend. He was 7 years younger than me so I remember when he was a baby. However, most of my memories of Buddy are from the time we spent together as adults with our families in Nebraska. These are the times that I will cherish the most.

I could write all day about Buddy. Buddy was loyal, and loving, and he had a way with each of his kids. He was quiet, but had a very distinct sense of humor, and it popped up when you least expected it. He could be a real smart alec, but he was never rude or inconsiderate. He always made me laugh. My husband Al and Buddy got along especially well. They could sit together for hours and watch Alabama (or any team) play football, or watch some other type of sporting event or race, and be perfectly content. After Buddy moved away, he and Al would text each other during Alabama games. The phone lines were especially busy during the last 2 National Championships in which Alabama played...and won!

I think one thing that clicked so well with Al and Buddy was their idea of having a good time. Fun always included their families. A good time was not a night out at the bar with the guys; it was hanging out playing Wii, or going out to dinner (as a very large group). We spent most of our time together in restaurants, basements, living rooms, and dining rooms, at tables, or on couches, while kids ran around and played on trampolines, or computers, or tortured the Chihuahua. Our life and our fun was simple, and that is the way everyone liked it.

Many things went through my life, my head, and my heart when Buddy was killed. First, was sheer pain. It physically hurt when my mom told me he had been killed. Unfortunately I was also at work, so it was hard to even get through the rest of the day. I was in tears throughout the day, and could barely function. My very understanding manager was amazing, but I still don't know how I got through those 9 hours.

After the shock, I prepared for the trip to Ft. Worth to attend Buddy's funeral. I felt an overwhelming sense of grief, and I felt as though I needed to gather all 3 of my children and my grandson near me. This was somewhat difficult because Christian was in summer school, and he could not leave Lincoln. Logan was at his other Grandmother's house in Kansas City. Al, Alyssa, Nicholas, and I traveled to KC to pick up Logan and then we continued to Ft. Worth together. I almost couldn't bear the pain of leaving Christian behind. I was irrationally fearfu, and I almost pulled him out of his summer class. In the end I realized that this would cause irreparable harm to his college schedule. Still, leaving him behind was difficult because I wanted him near me, and I knew that he wanted to be able to attend Buddy's funeral.

In Ft. Worth, we were met with my mom's entire family. Everyone was grieving and still in shock that Buddy was gone. I was very sad and concerned for Buddy's wife Heather, and her 4 children, but as a mother, I just wanted to get to my Aunt Rosemary. I couldn't imagine the pain she was going through, and I needed to let her know how much I loved her. At the funeral home, however, the first person I met was my Uncle Gary. In the end it was his face, and his pain that hit me the hardest. I don't know how to explain it. Maybe it is because a woman's pain is understandable. Everyone knows a mom and a wife are going to be sad beyond belief, and that it will be visible. However, a man's pain, a Father's sadness, it just hits you so hard and cuts you so deep. The look in my Uncle Gary's eyes is one that I'll never forget. The sadness of losing his only son, his youngest child, his little boy whom he named after himself but called "Buddy" because he was his little buddy! I almost couldn't stand. I felt as if my knees would collapse as I hugged him, and all I could say was "I'm sorry". What words can be said that will ever ease that pain?

Seeing Heather, my cousins Melissa, and Cassie, and finally my Aunt Rosemary was so very difficult. What can you say or do that will ever erase or even relieve the suffering that has been brought upon them? When someone dies, no one has a monopoly on sorrow. Our whole family was in pain. Each member feelt the loss in a very different way, and there was now a hole so unique that no one could ever fill it. That was the testament to the man Buddy was: special, unique, and irreplaceable.

Buddy's death was also a testament to both the good and bad in humanity. Something that started out with someone doing something irresponsible and incomprehensible turned into something very loving and beautiful. A lot has happened in 2 months. Buddy's company Kiewit, and Heather's friends and neighbors, have rallied together to support her and the kids through this terrible time. There have been fundraisers and volunteers who have done amazing things. Events nothing short of miracles have occurred, and a community has come together in a way which may change everyone in it. For me, Buddy has been on my mind every day.

 I don't mean to minimize or bypass Heather or Uncle Gary and Aunt Rosemary's stories in all of this. I only feel that their stories are just that; theirs. They belong to them and should be told by them. This is mine, and this is my way of expressing what Buddy meant to me. This is my way of saying how much I'll miss that "Roll Tide" text this month, or how much I missed having dinner with him this summer when he should have been in Omaha for the Kiewit meeting. This is me knowing that he and his family will never get transferred back to Omaha, and that we will never have another birthday, Thanksgiving, or family reunion with him.

I think of Buddy's wife and children a lot. I think of Heather learning how to be a single mother. I think of Rachel acting as a role model for her brother and sisters. I think of Kimbo trying to keep everything in order. I think of Natalie and her free spirit, and I think of Garrison who lost his compass. I mourn for them and their heavy loss. I mourn for my Aunt Rosemary who is heartbroken beyond repair, and I mourn for Uncle Gary who is devastated. However, Uncle Gary remains the epicenter for everyone in his family. He is a true patriarch, and is a fine example which I believe Buddy was emulating.

Through it all, I wake up every morning and go to bed every night with the certainty of 2 things. First, I miss my cousin, and I wish that we had had more time to spend together. Since I can't change that, I am trying to cherish each and every moment I have with my own family. You never know how much time you have with anyone, so I don't want to waste it. Second, there is no certainty in life, and bad things happen when you least expect it. I have lived my whole life in fear, but it has never done me any good. For all of the things that I try to protect against, the least expected always seems to pop up out of nowhere and slap me in the face.

Because I have so much fear, I have a lot of self imposed restrictions. The day Buddy died, I decided to try and live my life the way he did; responsibly, but not fearfully. He loved life, and he did things he never should have been able to do (like jogging). He traveled a lot for work, and I remember talking to him one day about how afraid I was of flying and he told me that if it was our time to go, we had no control over it. I loved that about him. He wasn't simple minded (he was very smart) but unlike most intelligent people, he looked at life with a simplicity and clarity that most of us take a lifetime to achieve. Maybe that is why he went home so early. Maybe he had life figured out. I just wish he'd have been around longer to educate the rest of us.

I miss you Buddy!


MeeMaw said...

You expressed that so well. I know where you are coming from

Melissa said...

Absolutely beautiful. I have been working on writing something to share too. I m so glad that you shared this. I am almost jealous that you have such recent great memories of time with Buddy. But I am equally glad that you were able to have those fantastic family moments too. I am so thankfully that we have been blessed to have strong family ties in-spite of the distances. When the family came together, it was an amazing feeling. Even with the handful that couldn't be there, you could still feel the love. Oh and a rousing ROLL TIDE to y'all.

Christin Anderson said...

Beautifully said. I am so very sorry for the pain and loss you feel but Buddy would be proud of the wonderful memories, thought and feelings you have shared. Thank you and you will be in our prayers tonight.

Cassie Schupp said...

Thank you Mitzi for writing this. Very well said. I need to take the time to do this for myself, but not sure yet if I can get through it. For whatever reason, this week has been really tough ... not sure what the exact reason is, but reading this was something I needed today.

papiolisa said...

Dearest Mitzi....after losing my parents' and being there through it all....I am CERTAIN that death is not for the dying, but for the living.....take a look at all that happened after the unfortunate death of Buddy. God is here, working through all of us. Buddy was graced by God to be taken home...we all are touched by your words and through Buddy we will learn and love with more intent. God Bless You.

Erica Morton said...

Thank you Mitzi, for your beautiful words and heartfelt feelings. <3

Rosemary Hopkins said...

I did not remember you had a blog. You are such a dear member of our family and I am proud to call you my niece. Buddy has left a huge hole in my heart. My joy will never be at the level it was previously. I have to find new joys in my life. The Lord gives you respites from the grief, but the void is excruciating at times and for me, I know the grief and sorrow will lessen, but will always be there. It is the little things that derail you. I was cleaning out a drawer today as we have some remodeling taking place and there is an inch of dust in every nook and cranny. I came across the tapes he made when he was on his mission. I knew we had them, but I had not remembered they were in that drawer, although if someone had asked me about them, I would have looked there first. So I spent some moments in tears again. Some days they are just close to the surface and some innocuous thing sets them off. When we were on the cruise we heard the song, from Les Miserables, "Bring Him Home." I couldn't think of anything but he is home, but I did not want him home like this. I celebrate his life on so many levels. I will share one thing. I had been to the temple in Las Vegas where he and Heather were married. The next morning just before I awoke, I saw him in a dream. He was dressed in white and he said to me, "Mom, live YOUR life." I woke up right after that and knew that it was him speaking to me and I have been grieving for Heather and putting myself in that sorrow, and for myself, and for my girls, and my grands who are suffering and for my husband. It was interfering with living my life. He is taking care of his family and he is never far away. Wish we could see him now but I know we will someday. For me it will be sooner than Cassie and Melissa. I pray I go before your Uncle Gary. I cannot bear to lose another person whom I love so intensely that I feel gut punched most of my day. I am told you get better as time goes by, and I need to focus my attention on seeing the joys in my life right now. So I find something to be happy about each day. Take care of yourself. You are kind, smart, and important to us. Rosemary