This is a blog I wish I never had to write, my words are inadequate and my emotions still quite chaotic, because this is a blog about rediscovering my extended family while burying the nephew who connected us.
I am winding up a trip to my older sister’s home in Seattle, actually in Silverdale/mailing address Bremerton. I fly out on Wednesday, 14 days after arriving.
I was picked up at the airport by my neice Janai and taken straight to the funeral home where my nephew Ben and his wife Marilyn lay so very still in matching coffins, pieced back together after ending their lives with a handgun.
Janai is the oldest child. When I think of her I think of strength, courage, and outspoken bravery. I gave her a book, when she was a girl, called “The Paper Bag Princess” because I knew even then she needed to know it was OK and wonderful to be your own hero. One of my first memories of her is at 3.5 years old I brought her a present with her name spelled wrong which she clearly noticed and quickly corrected. She was strong and bright and already competing for attention and nurture with her adorable baby brother, her parent’s demons, and a one-size-fits-all cultural model of womanhood that, naturally, didn’t fit.
One of the pronounced injustices in the midst of all the unfairness that surrounds any death, but especially suicide, is the burying of her amazing achievement of becoming a home owner. She had just finished buying her first home and the grand move-in on Saturday Sept 17 occurred not with balloons and food and all her family, but once again, like so many of her amazing achievements, in a rainy day of tears under the shadow of another family members crisis.
The thing is Janai would never say this, because she has that innate ability to not personalize life’s mean tricks, but I saw it, and wanted so badly to have the right words to tell her how proud I was of her. I didn’t have them and instead I bought Taco Time, and discussed my sister and how she was doing, and went to the Funeral home.
I am not good at this, I don’t want to get good at it, but every day I have been here, I wish my gift of words extended to grief and my gift of empathy came with instructions on how to tell someone what I see. But Janai (with an I), if you are reading this, you are my hero. Please know that I do see you, and I think you are wonderful, and no matter how you choose to express yourself, I will still listen and love you. You have slain more than one dragon in your day and here you are again, sword in hand, leading the charge.
Next of those left behind to be hugged was Seth, three years younger than Janai, I remember him best as the impossibly certain child. With a fairly eidectic memory and an imagination to make up the yet to be encountered information, he was “born knowing everything, honest” or so he told me as a young boy full of his own importance. Since I remembered him thusly, I was unprepared for the anguished, hollow man I hugged outside the viewing. His comportment was a man handsome and sure of himself sans all juvenile bravado, but the pain in his eyes was puppy like and palpable, and I could tell that the only glue holding his world together right now was his own need to be there for his family and the love he held for his own wife and child.
That was his brother in there, lying still in a coffin by his own choice, the one he fought with, played with and most recently spent way too much money playing Heroclix with; the one he beat at video games and sometimes even lost to, the one he geeked out with, the one he protected, his baby brother. There were no answers, not even right questions, just pain. I looked in his eyes and knew how I would feel if Diane ever succumbed to her own demons.
And JJ. Brother of another mother, he got my next hug. His was the loss of his other self, the arm he hugged with, the mouth he laughed with, the completion of his thoughts.
Ann, wife of Seth, looking put together on the outside, with her heart bleeding quietly behind her eyes was helping Soren, their eleven year old son, manage this incomprehenssible event while also managing “Mom” and all the friends from the 19th Hole and the Comic shop and high school and, and, and….she was the eye in the storm of crying people.
That was the thing, the goodbye was spread out over a few days and a few venues and those who loved them and wanted to be able to find that one string they could pull in the warp or the weft that would make this all disappear numbered in the hundreds.
All of them asking aloud or in their heads, “How could they have done this? Why did this happen? What if I had…….?”
And the universe only answering with more things to take care of and days to face as we wake to the reality of their death, because these are the questions we ask in any death, in every tragedy and the answer of the universe is always the same.
“This is what happened, now what will you do with your pain?”
But it is too early for any of us to even hear that question yet, let alone try and make an answer, we are still in shock and our ears and hearts are blind, deaf and dumb with the pain.
I had hugged so many people but my feet slowed down as I approached th next part, the hardest part. Watching me some might have thought my hesitation was about seeing the bodies, facing the physical end of denial that any of this was real in the peacefully posed bodies of Marilyn and Ben, but it really was to brace for facing Ben’s parents, my sister and Scott.
We are not meant to outlive our children, no matter how that occurs it is devastating, a hurricane in our lives. To lose both a son and a daughter to the demon of drugs and depression, for Marilyn was a daughter to them, was an earthquake of epic porportions and the tsunami was yet to arrive.
Diane and Scott looked broken that evening, I had no words, but tried to pull off a little of the pain with my hugs. I haven’t done much these two weeks except be her arm and her driver to go places. My sister is a bit of a miracle having survived brain surgery for a bleeding hemangioma with some memory issues, seizures and headaches as her only long term cost, and like everyone she needs a little help now and then, in her case its just a little more externally present, and with this added pain I think just being here helps keep her a littel safer.
So I have cooked a few meals, done a few batches of dishes, colored a bit with her in coloring books, helped her run errands and visit the graves. Pretty much given the only answer I currently have for the question we must answer in these kind of circumnstances, maybe the only answer there ever is to grief.
I am present. I love you. This sucks.
I may be going home this Wednesday but my love is still here.
I love you, please don’t leave.