Death in the family

26 Jul
Death in the family

Thursdays are swim meet nights for me and the kids–two kids swimming in events, the other two cheer them on with me. Grandma and Grandpa came tonight, too. Love to visit with them–most wonderful in-laws I could have wanted. And friends, their kids, fiances, news about the few grandkids who have already made their way into this world. Like a holiday, after hours of working on the house, errands, housework. Good to laugh and smile, be thankful to be part of this. See my daughter reconnect with her swim friends from high school, son learning his strokes and hearing us cheer for him. Night falls, we wrap blankets and extra towels around our legs, watch the silhouettes of the fir trees against the sky now orange and pink.

At 10 pm the last relay is done, swimmers wrap up and we walk a block to our house, find last snacks, toothbrushes.

Then my daughter comes in and tells me the missing boy, the one who ran away the other day (word put out on local social media) has committed suicide. No confirmation of this–she got a message from someone. I can’t take it in. He was thirteen years old, she says–I knew him–he was really nice, she says. He talked to me at track.

We just look at each other, shocked, saying nothing else. Oh no, I moan, how awful.

It’s late; they go off to the tent. I drop into a chair at my makeshift desk, and enter into the grief zone. Then my younger daughter comes back in, and tells me she realized that the boy is the brother of a friend she knew at school. Whom I knew, remember her sweet face from the school retreat I went on as chaperone. I think of her, her parents, whose faces I can also recall…Oh, to lose a child in such a way! Please let some of this shock, this grief bring some sort of healing to them! Let’s all bow our heads and pray. We have to watch out for each other so much, I tell my daughter. She’s thirteen too. Intense personality from the beginning, struggles with not feeling she gets enough attention at times, compares herself negatively to others. Will she be, is she, vulnerable in that way? Even relatively consistently adequate parents can have such terrible shocks. But I think, I believe we are navigating these hard days with love, and growing closer, more resilient.

God grieves for those who suffer, grieved and longed for that boy in what he was going through, I am sure. WHay was it so hard for him to hold on? Where were the other people in his life? What does the Master of the Universe require of us? How will he take care of this family now? What a dreadful journey they must make.

My sister died when I was nine, and she was almost thirteen. Suddenly I would never get to see her again. And we might have started to become friends, since she had shown me her diary and let me read some of it. She had a lot of diaries, Hilroy notebooks mostly, with lots of doodles all over the covers. Or maybe those were mine I remember from later years when I doodled when I was bored in class–I think hers were nicely decorated in color.

It was a bad car accident, with me, my mom, and Janice in a VW bug, in a snow storm, driving to school because we had missed the bus, and we slid into an oncoming snowplow. I was trying to soothe my mom after I woke up–she was in shock and in a panic. I heard myself saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay!” She had broken her femur. I had been flung around in the back seat, but was only bruised. Mom’s friend’s house was near, and I think she called the ambulance, and also my father. The ambulance took Mom and Janice away, and Dad drove me home, then went to the hospital. Or maybe someone else drove me to the hospital to get checked–I don’t remember. I know I didn’t ride in an ambulance.

My grandmother was staying at our house, and took care of us. She was nicer than usual to me, and didn’t make me eat my leftovers. I rested on a couch in the living room, and I think there was a fire in the fireplace.I think it was she who broke the news to me that Janice had died. I felt bad, but there was no depth or trouble to it, just strangeness, that I would never see Janice again. I was given comforting food, and heard voices in the rest of the house, but don’t remember any words, or anyone addressing me directly. People from church brought us food. When I went back to school, all my classmates and teachers were extra kind. Perhaps my best friends asked me about it, and I told them–she broke her neck and died right away. She was making gurgling noises, so I didn’t know she was gone.

I was too young to have complex grief. Mom had a visitation after Janice died, she said–as if she was standing just behind her, and she said, “I wouldn’t have wanted to live, anyway.” She told me that when I was a teen, and it upset me, made me feel vulnerable, like one of the walls of my invisible safety zone had fallen away.

I never saw my dad cry, which didn’t seem right. I guess he did, though. He keeps a journal, and I wonder if he wrote about it.

My younger brother was eight, and my sister was two, so death was even simpler and starker for them, easier to recover. I had my bruises to remind me and carry me through some sort of process. I wonder how it was for my two older brothers, who were eleven and fifteen. Did anyone help them with that? I have never discussed it with them, and I don’t know if that is allowed. I only see them every few years for a few days, and somehow that doesn’t seem like a good topic to bring up.


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