Jayson — “The universe seemed malevolent; how could it do this to us?”
Author Jayson Greene never got a chance to buy his 2-year-old daughter Greta the family dog she wanted. After a tragic and extremely public event cut her life incredibly short, Jayson wrote extensively about his pain and is now working hard to make sure Greta’s brother grows up with her memory.
Find Jayson on Twitter at @Jayson_Greene and on Instagram at @greenejayson.
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Greta, loved all dogs. And it didn’t matter whether they were tiny or enormous. It didn’t matter whether the dog seemed friendly, or perhaps bloodthirsty like it was going to devour her. She had no fear of any animals and we lived around the corner from this slobbering, like, snarling barking dog that we never even actually saw. It was just behind a fence. And it would slam into the fence and scare the crap out of you when you walk past the house. And I remember walking with Greta and I was talking to her or something or you know, was distracted and slammed into the fence really hard and started barking and snarling. And I jumped up and granted didn’t even flinch. She just looked at me and said dog, he needs a treat.
Greta was born in 2013. And pretty much from the beginning. She had very knowing look in her eyes, and my mother-in-law would say she looks like she gets the joke. And she had a goofy laugh. Kind of like a snuffly little like, throaty, like laugh that was impossible not to laugh along with and she liked goofy stuff. She has a slapstick sense of humor. And you know, she only lived to be 2-years old. So everything that I know about her as a person is in this tiny little window of time. But you can get to know a lot about a person in a very short period of time. You really can. Stacy and I, my wife and I were at a bit of an impasse with a combination of overwork and too much childcare. And we needed a date night, essentially Stacy and I wanted to go out to dinner. And her mother, Stacy’s mother, Susan, then lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Greta had, at that point, gone to her a couple of times already for sleepovers, and they’d went fantastic.
Jayson Greene 02:13
We’d get these messages from them up in the middle of the night. They had just be laughing. And I could tell that it was Susan’s favorite thing to do was to have Greta over they had their own little routines. They had things that the two of them did that Greta didn’t even ask us to do. They were just things she did with her grandma. And so it was just wonderful night. We got home and went to bed; we woke up and we checked in with them to see what they were doing. And they’ve been up for a while. Greta like to have what she called coffee with grandma Sus, which was just warm milk, and she would put two drops of coffee in it. And they were going to go for a walk around the block. And Susan said, why don’t you take your time we’re having the best time you really don’t have to hurry up here. And so we basically, we looked at each other and said, okay, actually, you know, we were going to go see a movie and Stacy and I got ready to go. We were waiting by the elevator and then I got I checked pull my phone out to check the time and I saw that I missed a phone call from Susan.
Susan didn’t normally call, she texted and she hadn’t left a voicemail. And I thought that was weird. And Stacy pulled out her phone and saw that she’d missed a phone call from Susan as well. And there was no voicemail. And we both had a moment of thinking that that was unusual. So I mean, wanting to know what was going on. While we were in the elevator. I immediately pulled out my phone and called back Susan. And I think it was on the second ring that Susan answered. And she’s all she said was oh, Jason, it’s so horrible. And I just remember feeling the bottle drop out before I even knew anything about what she was about to tell me. And I could see in Stacy’s eyes who was watching me because she wasn’t on the phone. And she could just see in my face. And Susan was in shock. And trying to tell me what had happened. And all she could tell me was that something had fallen. And it had struck Greta. And it had hit her too. I asked her where? Where was Greta hit?
Jayson Greene 04:14
She told me in the head. And that’s when I knew that our lives were never going to ever be the same. So we drove up. The FDR. Stacy was crying, she kept holding my hand and all she kept repeating what she has to be okay. She has to be there’s no other option. I get to the hospital. And we go into the emergency room. And we can just feel it down the hallway. We see EMTs and they have haunted looks on their faces. And someone asks us if we’re the parents, and we realize how grim that sounds. Or we go in and we see Greta and I don’t remember what her head looked like I think my mind erased it but she’d been struggling a fairly large brick that fallen eight stories, we learned from a window sill. And the doctor says the unthinkable has happened to Greta. That her injuries are so severe that she’ll never wake up. And her prognosis is fatal.
And that’s how we learned that our daughter was never coming back again. And during that time, our story became national news because it had happened on a city block people were witnesses, there were news trucks on the scene of the accident. We had to be let out a side door, because there was worry that we’d be besieged by these trucks. And as we were walking past the cafe, in the lobby of the hospital, something caught the corner of my eye and I looked over and it was my daughter. And she was waving to me from the cover of The Daily News. That was a picture from my wife’s Facebook wall that had been taken and made the front page.
Jayson Greene 06:11
In the immediate aftermath of Greta’s accident, her death, I was in pure simple shock. When I was feeling was universal emotion, yes, we had lost a young child, which was against the laws of nature. And yes, it had happened in this freakish accident that no one could have predicted and that had become, it was so unbelievable that the world knew about it. So it’s hard not to feel horribly unlucky in this sort of cosmic sense. But I think that the loss, the feeling of losing someone, a child, I felt like everything inside of me had been sucked out in some sort of gruesome operation, like my bone marrow had been removed. And I remember walking around just repeating to myself, why didn’t I die? Why can’t I just die, and it wasn’t as simple as wanting to kill myself. It was a wish for the cessation of all thought and experience, because this world seems too gruesome and absurd to be real.
There’s a lot of self-pity and narcissism in the immediate blast radius of grief. It’s part of the process, I think. And for me, it was very heightened because of, I couldn’t help shake this feeling that we’d been specifically chosen by the universe, right, the universe seem malevolent. How could it do this? And I struggled a lot with that. How could the universe send things out of the sky to kill my children, because what is most forcibly severed when someone you know, and love dies violently, is your understanding of the relationship between cause and effect in the universe. You want to be especially for your child responsible, because that’s your job. Your job as a parent is to watch out for the health and well-being of your child and to keep them safe. And I think that the world of grief for me was supremely heightened.
Jayson Greene 08:13
I felt every one of my senses being hyper activated. I remember the way every single leaf looked on every single tree on what I remember still as this serenely beautiful spring, perfect, beautiful bluebird sky, New York spring. You know, and then when this gentle breeze blow and like it would ripple every single leaf on every single tree, and I remember thinking that I could see every single one so clearly in my senses felt like they were misfiring in all directions. Time. I don’t recall noticing the passing of time in any way. I felt like, as I think I wrote in my journal, that I was opening and closing my eyes on the single hellish day that never ended. And I think it was when I felt time, click back into place that I realized that I couldn’t, we could not remain frozen in that moment forever.
Stacy got pregnant with Harrison, six months after the accident, right? So we were both grieving in a very primal sort of still fresh way, and also preparing to become new parents again, and all those energies got mixed up. And we were very conscious, right, as we looked forward, that gave us sort of date. At this date, we’re going to be parents again. And who do we want to be? How are we going to be ready for that person? And what do we want that person to see, when they look up at us? I think that that’s a question that’s inherent to parenthood. I think it took on grisly or darker tone for us when we were contending with a violent death of our first child. And so we began In the process, when Harrison was born, I think in the very beginning, there was some strange deja vu happening with us where we only had one child. But we’ve done this before, right we’d given, Stacy had given birth, I’d stood beside her while she pushed, we’d brought home a new infant, we had the same play mat, you know, that Greta had been on and off, you know, all these things were these strange reminders that were haunted, in some ways, echoes.
Jayson Greene 10:25
And so I it reinforced for us at every step of the way that raising him, we were going to have to contend with those echoes in some way, and they were going to be an ever-present part of his life. But we didn’t want him to feel her presence hovering in any real way. We wanted him to be able to contend with it on his own. And in the beginning, we would experiment little things all your sister, you know, your sister used to love bananas, too. And, you know, and we tried to tell him things that were annoying about her too. So she was real, not just like this sort of saintly creature that lived before him. You know? You know, she was such a pain in the butt about sleep. She never went to sleep. Oh, my God, we were oh, you know, that’s the thing that you say about someone’s sister who’s still there. So we tried to say it to Harrison about his sister who wasn’t, I think over the past year, as Harrison has grown older, he’s nearly five. He’s going to be five in August.
He has, you know, taken in the knowledge that he had a sister, he seen pictures and videos of her. And he knows how she died. Because he asked, and I think I remember when I told him I had imagined that moment, hundreds of 1000s of times. And what was beautiful and remarkable about the act of telling him was that it was completely unremarkable. It was completely remarkable. It was like any other conversation you have with your child. He asked a question, I answered it, he thought about it. And he changed the subject. And then a few days later, maybe a week later, maybe a month later. Okay, another question. I answered it, and then I went back to whatever it is I was doing preparing them dinner, you know, whatever, washing dishes, setting up the TV for him, it was just, it was part of the flow of life. And what was remarkable for us to observe is that as things enter the flow of life, they lose, their they lose their power to frighten you.
Jayson Greene 12:07
This year, when Greta would have been eight years old, April 27 2021. Harrison and I baked her cake and frosted it and wrote her name on it. And he blow candles and he got presents. And for him it was you know; he couldn’t have had a better day. And I think that was a beautiful moment because we heard him sing happy birthday to her. And it was very evident that now she was living inside of him somewhere. But it wasn’t a dark thing you know, and it was just natural. And what did you ask for more than the family you have feels natural to you. I’m Jason Greene, and thanks for listening to GOOD GRIEF. This episode of Good Grief is dedicated to the memory of Greta.
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