On the night of June 14th my world was upended with the news that my brother, Nelson, had been found deceased in his backyard. That was the word everyone was using: deceased. I don’t even understand that word. The prefix ‘de’ means negative or remove and cease means to stop or bring to an end. Either part of the word seems descriptive enough but together it is unbearable.
Today’s kick to the teeth is sponsored by the medical examiner’s office which estimates it will take a month to complete their final report. Why does it matter? Because until that report is complete the detective assigned to the case can’t release anything collected from the scene and that my friends, includes Nelson’s suicide note; which by the way was addressed to his family not the detective. How is that for some insult on injury? When I think about the fact that Nelson took time to address us before he took his life and yet we will be the last to see it…. well. It is a painful, breath catching thing. Is his note pinched under the clasp of some clipboard? Is it in a file? Is it languishing in the middle of some pile of paper? And just as I am losing myself in the sorrow of these questions the real question comes barging in; knocking the others out of the way. And of course that question is “What does it matter?” What will be changed when we know what the note says? Will he be sitting with me again? Will his voice be back in my home? Will his text messages light up my phone? Will I find him washing Christmas dishes at the sink? Or will I be more sad than I am right this very minute because either the note will say too little or maybe too much?
I am afraid of who I will be if after all of this we don’t end up with the note in our hands. But in some ways I’m even more scared of who I will be if we do end up with it. Will the thin scab provided by time be ripped away, forcing me to start over? What if it says something that shatters my heart the rest of the way?
I had similar feelings when my brother Bart and I were at the funeral home and were told we had to identify the body. I was so full of dread and the pull of avoidance so strong. Had we not been told just two nights before not to go to the backyard because we would never be able to un-see? Why were we suddenly equipped for the task now? I was caught off guard not realizing this would be required of us. In taunt television crime dramas no one ever identified bodies at a funeral home!!!
My initial response is so self protective but almost as quickly I realize that if I refuse then Bart will have to do it alone. (There is no version of things that involves us saying no thank you to this step of the process. ) So if I leave it to Bart alone he will have to suffer something the rest of us will not. It will be his to carry with no one to look to in order to say ‘you know what I saw. You relate. ‘ And that -that realization solidified things for me. We would have to do this together. I could not abandon him to the task. And so we did it together. Sort of. In the end, my body was shaking so much that Bart looked first while I held his hand and braced for him to collapse. Somehow he did not. He gave me some words about what to expect and then I looked too – slowly.
The actual identification was done with a picture. It was covered by another piece of paper and left for us on the funeral home meeting room’s table. I ended up sliding the cover sheet down slowly, incrementally. I don’t know what I thought that would accomplish but it seemed more tolerable than seeing the entire image all in one gut wrenching moment. First I could see just his hair, then his forehead and then his beautiful eyes; closed as if sleeping. I moved the paper down to his chin.
There he was. My brother I love so very much. While the image itself did not end up traumatizing me, having to face the image did. I was one person before I got the call from Bart that Nelson was dead I was another afterwards. I changed again when I had to call and tell my father. Telling my sister was another version of me. Further and further I move from the woman I was. I can’t even see her anymore. Looking at his face in that photograph left an indelible mark. And I know with certainty that while the waiting for access to the suicide note is some of the most agonizing waiting I’ve ever done the reading of the note will not bring me peace. It will just be more change crawling all over the person I used to be. Robbing me of the unknowing. I wish I was strong enough not to want the note. Strong enough to leave it unread. But I am not. Knowing Nelson meant to communicate some final thing to us compels me. My changing incomplete.