Today kind of hurts

It’s one of those days.  Tuesdays to be specific. Tuesday is the day I go to my “suicide survivor group”.  I signed a confidentiality agreement regarding the group and I’m trying to take it seriously so will say no more about it except that I tend to leave those groups feeling a little battered.  I think going is productive but it is tough and I feel like I’ve worked when I leave. Inevitably I cry on the way home and am usually a bit more emotional the day after than I am most other days.  I see an Ativan in my very near future so I can go to sleep tonight.  Tonight is a bit extra painful because on the way home I called my dad.

He had written to ask for my social security number.  He is preparing his bank accounts for his death, adding me and my siblings as ‘pay on death’ beneficiaries.  A lawyer has advised it.  I understand and suppose it is the smart way to set things up but it also feels gross to be doing this sort of business with him.  But that wasn’t the painful part of the conversation.  My Dad is ostensibly very healthy and I don’t anticipate his death in the near future.  That part of the conversation just felt like an exercise in preparedness.

The hard part of tonight’s conversation was that I  also told him that when I talk to him I feel sad because he seems to not be sad about Nelson dying.  What does that look like?  Well, when we talk I inevitably ask “how are you?” with meaning hanging heavy in my voice.  I’m not asking how the day is going, I’m asking how he is doing with the grieving.  I have to believe he knows that is what I am asking.  But inevitably his response is “I am doing good, Teresa” said with emphasis on good.  At first I wondered if this was his way of making sure I don’t spend energy worrying about him?  Was he saying this to be protective of me?   Was he being paternal? But in the back of my head has been a growing discomfort because I think I’ve known it was no such thing.  What if he really is doing “good”?   How do I feel about the idea of him feeling “good”?

Let’s back up.  It’s important to know that I come from a long line of criers on my father’s side.  Growing up I thought of my father as the emotionally in touch one of my parents.  I saw my mother as tough, stoic and holding feelings at arm’s length.  I thought of my father as being more affectionate than my mother and more capable of being emotionally vulnerable.  Growing up I had seen my father break down in tears a multitude of times and can vividly remember the one time I saw my mother cry.  A four-year old Nelson had used one of her college papers as a practice sheet for his scissor skills and had shredded it pretty thoroughly the night before it was due.  So I thought of my dad as the feeling parent; the one who was emotionally available.  All of that may actually be true but it’s all relative.  The more time I spend in therapy the more I come to realize that our household didn’t lend itself to emotional honesty.  Like at all.   The fact that I thought of my dad as being emotionally available didn’t mean  he was.  it meant he was more so than my mother who had defense mechanisms on top of her defense mechanisims.  Crying about something isn’t the same as talking about something.  Caring isn’t communication.

When I was in highschool I spent a summer living with a friend’s mother.  It was a pretty big crisis point in my family up until that point.  My parents really struggled with how to parent me and things weren’t going smoothly.  During the events that lead to me leaving to go live with this family friend and also during the months of that summer my parents wrote each other letters discussing what they thought about how to handle the situation.  Let me say that again, they wrote letters.  To each other.  THEY LIVED TOGETHER and slept in the same bed but they left each other letters rather than talk about these emotionally charged concerns.  I’m not sure that they didn’t talk but I certainly know the letters happened and I found them and read them my senior year.  At the time they were a fount of information for me about the thought process my parents were each using to approach the subject of parenting me; the things they wanted to happen, the things that worried them, the strategies that would be employed.    I wish I could read those letters now because I’d be curious to see if they contained any reference to actual feelings about what was happening.  I am going to guess they did not.  I feel so surprised to realize how little we all talked about feelings.  I had such emotional upheaval as a teenager and spent so much time embattled with them and slamming doors and crying and seeing my dad cry that I think I thought of us as being an in touch group.  But we weren’t.  Not really.  Maybe more than some other families of the day and my dad was certainly more comfortable being sad than many of the other dads I knew but we weren’t skilled at talking to each other about how we felt.  We said I love you and at birthdays and other family celebrations we would talk about what we liked about each other and things we were grateful for and I confused that with emotional connection.  It was the tip of the emotional iceberg but it didn’t mean we were comfortable or practiced at speaking truthfully about difficult emotions.  I continue to get my arms around that.  We would read books and cry about the things that happened to the characters and I felt very deeply which made me think I was part of a deeply feeling tribe.  Maybe I was but feeling isn’t expressing.

When my Dad left us – and that is how we describe it – when Dad left us he gave us each a pretty silted phone call.  I think he cried and tried to  say that he just had to do this but it was a month or so later that we got a much more in-depth letter explaining his decisions.  As I write this it occurs to me that Dad is much more comfortable talking about his own feelings than receiving the feelings of others.  I’m not sure what I am trying to say.  Or what significance any of that has on anything.

Anyway.  So I told my Dad I needed him to be honest with me and tell me if he was really okay because I’m not okay and I feel really alone in that.  No one seems to be sad like me and I don’t understand why and THAT makes me sad too.  But he told me he is doing good.  He said he is an old man with an old man’s perspective.  He thinks it’s neither good nor bad that Nelson is gone – it is just is.  It happened.  He kept saying that.  It happened.  Which I guess means he is not struggling to accept it.  I should be relieved for him.  I continue to struggle with accepting it.  I just have this notion in my head that parents who lose their children are devastated.  I think of that as the worst pain a person could face.  No one wants to outlive their children.  Right?  Talking to Dad it sounded like he was talking about the death of a houseplant.  I can’t imagine he meant for me to feel this way about our conversation but it gutted me. I imagine he wanted the things he was saying to comfort me but I felt so distant from him.  People can be at different places, I get that and talking about this stuff can make people uncomfortable and as I have already described raw emotions aren’t our strong suit.  I get that too.  And maybe there is something about being in the twilight of your life where you have a perspective that the rest of us don’t and you can put things into their place and process it without all the tears.  I just don’t know.  I just know I’m not in that place and it hurt me to talk to him and I can’t imagine wanting to talk to him again any time soon.

I feel so lonely with this grief.  Both of my siblings have made statements that this loss is different from losing our mother.  The context is that it is not as earth shattering for them.  For me it is the exact opposite.  My world was rocked when my mother died and I grieved hard and heavy but this hurts in a very different way.  To me this is tragedy.  My mother’s death was so hard but it was not a tragedy.   There were even parts of her life that I felt profound sadness and regret about both on her behalf and on my own.  She had a tough life and a lot of emotional upheaval that she didn’t know how to cope with until the very end of her life.  She died just as she was beginning to live.  And that is tragic but her death was not a tragedy.  Nelson’s death is a tragedy to me.

Talking to Dad I think he also pointed out that he had not seen Nelson in some time and I suppose that makes him more removed?  I don’t know.  I miss Nelson’s presence for sure.  There is a void on Friday evenings.  There is an emptiness in my phone.  It hurts.  It is ongoing hurt.  I feel like I just want (need!) to find someone who is as sad as I am about Nelson but that person can’t be found.  And the looking for that person, that reaching out to others and finding such a disconnection is just too much.

Not every day feels like this.  I readily admit that I am now in the possession of many good days, better days.  But this has not been one of them.

I picked up a pen

There were several days between my brother’s death and his memorial.  We needed the time to assemble the family from far and wide and to let people know and to dislodge the lump which was perpetually stuck in our throats.

In hindsight I feel good about the memorial we put together.  I may have written about it before.  Intense grief seems to produce amnesia about things for me.  Anyway.  The memorial was held at the funeral home in Nelson’s home town.  It was the quintesential small southern town funeral home.  In other words, men in suits and southern accents who probably expected things to be done a ‘certain’ way.  We were most definitely not the ‘certain way’.  We brought in a projector and a macbook and a huge screen and John Moreland music.   We brought in a 10 gallon bucket and straw hats and guitars.  We created a busking spot a-la Nelson style at the front of our designated room.  The memorial service itself was comprised of three slideshows set to music – good music; intersperced by addresses from each of Nelson’s siblings and an open mic portion for anyone who wanted to speak.  It was moving and it felt like Nelson and I wish he could have known that the place was packed, every overflow room utilized and that he was greatly missed and mourned.

I suppose I took the lead with the planning of the memorial.  The highschool version of me that had perfected procrastination has long ago been banished and the replacement version of me overplans and works voraciously to meet deadlines and exceed expectations.  The memorial was no exception.  I slept very little that first week as I culled together hundreds of images of Nelson and arranged and rearranged slideshows so that they held a theme or complimented the music.  I rehearsed their execution and left absolute nothing to chance.  I wrote my remarks for the memorial after thinking for days about what I wanted to say and throwing away several drafts that proved inadequate.  I made a photobook for my son that included hundred of pictures of Nelson with his uncle Nelson and had it printed in hardback book format and delivered prior to the memorial.   I was exhausted but I was determined to treat the occasion with the respect it deserved.  I wanted very much, to do right by Nelson.  In so many ways he didn’t treat himself well and I wanted to offer the counter balance to that by honoring his memory with care and attention to all the details. Many people commented about the amount of work I had done in those few short days.  They remarked about it as if it was somehow unusual or implausible that I would be able to do such a thing in the midst of the tragedy.  I must admit I was somewhat bewildered that others weren’t attacking the planning with the same gusto.  It was such a comfort to me to be so immersed in the music my brother loved while pouring over images of him.  It was good for me to journey through my memories looking at the pictures and organizing and chronicling them.  I felt like it was keeping my brain moving and my thoughts revolving around Nelson in a way that, while sad, also gave me great comfort.  I felt compelled to work on the memorial.  It gave me somewhere to place my grief.

And then it was over.  And there was a strong sensation of now what?  We almost immediately went to Portland and then we were back and off to the beach for a few days with friends but then we were home and it was too quiet and I didn’t have a memorial to plan and I didn’t know what to do with myself.  It was such a dark time.  I felt like I cried so much and the future seemed so bleak.  At some point during this time my friend Chris remarked that I didn’t seem to have any defense mechanisms to help me deal with the grief.  He pointed out that I seemed to stay in a perpetually raw state.  I remember thinking at the time ‘why would I want any defense mechanisms?’   I needed, wanted to feel the sadness.  My brother was so important to me.  I didn’t want to defend myself against the loss.  I wanted to sit with it and hope that maybe it would swallow me up and that would just be the end of it all.  But it didn’t work that way.  I was just adrift with my pain.  And it wasn’t good.  I worried that I might really lose myself.  I was having dark thoughts.  Very dark thoughts.  I didn’t know if it was normal but I was very overwhelmed.  And that dark, overwhelming sensation was also static.  Day after day I would wake up and burst into tears.  I would cry off and on all day long and ended each day sobbing into my pillow.  I wasn’t able to articulate it then but I needed a place to put the energy of my grief.  Planning the memorial had given me that but it was temporary.

While we were in Portland Judd found a painted rock at the Japanese Gardens.  It had a positive message painted on it.  When we got home I found two more rocks at Target of all places.  It got me thinking.  I took a trip to Michaels to buy paints and brushes and I started gathering rocks.   I had actually had the idea of painting rocks germinate in Portland and I picked up a couple rocks from Portland and brought them home.  I decided I would make my brother a rock garden in my backyard.  The first rock I painted was big and I painted small dots all over it.  It wasn’t very creative or artistic but it was tedious and it took hours of concentration.  It was the sort of concentration that requires you to focus on what you’re doing but with room for thoughts to move about which was the magical combination I apparently needed.  What happened next has felt like a miracle to me.  I started painting rocks – badly and with little vision but while I was doing it I wasn’t crying; usually.  I started to look at rocks other people had painted to give me inspiration (direction) and I discovered Mandala stones which I thought were extremly beautiful.  I tried in vain to create one myself.  Mine were so sloppy and horrible I often painted over them and started over.  It wasn’t rocket science but I was making something and I was using my brain.  I was practicing being focused again.  It felt medatative in some strange way.

All this painting necessitated the buying of more supplies.  And on one of the trips to buy more paint or some such thing I wandered the aisles of the store and found something called ‘artist tiles’.  It was nothing more than a small pad of black paper squares.  On the cover was an illustration of a doodle done in white ink.  Hey, that’s neat, I thought to myself.  I should try that.  And so I bought a pad of artist tiles and a pen with white ink.  I felt pretty unencumbered to sit down with a piece of paper and pen when I had become adjusted to paint bottles and brushes and cups of water and rocks and paper towels and lots of prep and even more clean up.  I don’t know what I was hoping to do.  I just wanted to try to draw something with white ink on black paper.  I simultaneously bought new colored brush pens and a couple books on hand lettering.  I was on some creative high.  The hand lettering, while very appealing to me, didn’t catch fire.  Not yet.  I tried it and realized my mind wasn’t able to take on the task of learning this skill.  I put the books and pens in my closet.  But I put the artist tiles and the pen on my kitchen table.  And I went back to mostly crying all day.  One day, while crying I picked up the pen and drew a flower on one of the black paper tiles.  It didn’t look half bad.  I think most of the credit goes to the fact that it’s white ink on a black background but I liked it and I drew another flower next to it and then another and then another.  Before I knew it, I had made a drawing.  I had made a drawing!  I made another.  I kind of liked them.  I surprised myself.  I was drawing flowers and thinking about Nelson and it was focused and it was comforting.  And then I drew more.  And then I drew so many that I bought a box to put them all in.  I began to realize that at some point I might look in this box and think about where my life and heart were when I was doing these drawings.  I tried not to care if they were good or not.  They were quite definitely medicinal for me.  But Judd told me they were good.  He made me feel so good about them.  He made me feel artistic.  Never would I have identified myself as artistic.  Can trauma make turn you into an artistic person?  I tried painting Mandala stones again and finally they started to look better; not great perhaps but better.  It was a new experience for me to create something and feel that it looked good.  How emotionally rewarding.  I own a lot of supplies now and I worry a bit that all this desire to create may come to a screetching halt particularily when the rigors of the real world, paying job and school work  come pressing in.  But for now, I am drawing and painting and grieving for my very precious brother.

dimes, nickels, quarters, oh my

The dead have no privacy.  All the secrets will be brought to light.  Idiocincracies will be examined by people you never meant to show them to in ways you never imagined.  Bad habits will be illuminated.  Everything is up for examination, discussion and assumption.  Its a very difficult thing for me as we move through Nelson’s life leftovers and try to make sense of it all.  He was a private man and he no longer has any privacy at all.

I have washed every piece of clothes in Nelson’s house over these last weeks.  I have handled his socks, his underwear, his stained tshirts.  I have stuck my hands in pants pockets to ensure they were empty.  I’ve folded dress shirts and wondered if he ever wore them.  Going through all his clothes I was able to identify the clothes that were his favorites – or at least the most often worn.  I now know he kept socks that had lost their elacticty but didn’t have holes in his pants.  I have come to realize most of his clothes weren’t orginally owned by him.  I recognized so many of them as things we had given him.

Collectively, Nelson’s siblings have moved through every inch of his home lifting piles of trash looking for answers.  We have poured over rants written on scratch papers hoping to make sense of things.  I have been staggered at the notion that we let him live in these conditions; that his house could be so dirty yet he was always neatly groomed.

I’ve looked at his taxes for the last umpteen years.  I know how much (how little) money he made.  I know that he itemized his car travel and he reported his busking income. I know that he didn’t value paper money and it laid all over his house – all over his floors.  I know he collected change in jars and pots.  I also know he never used it because when the jar would be filled it would then glaze over with an inch of dust.

We know that Nelson was planning for some sort of economic collapse.  He had purchased gold and silver; physical gold and silver.   Some of it he treated carefully and secured with deliberation and some of it was handled very casually and was found under heaps of trash or at the bottom of used styrophoam cups.  He had stockpiled grains in the crawl space of his house.  He had purchased Johnny Walker Red mini bottles by the case presumbably to be used as currency should the need ever arise.

He bought toilet paper and paper towels online and had them delievered to his house.  He slept on a bed without sheets.  He spent his days cleaning for a living but did not clean his own home in any way.

He had plans.  He had purchased recording equipment.  He had long term investments, he saved money in the bank.

I look at all of these details and I become more and more certain that Nelson did not feel he had a choice when he decided to die.  If he felt he had time and ability he would have taken steps to protect his privacy more.  On the afternoon he died he was observed by a neighbor throwing away a computer.  It struck the neighbor as odd so he remembered it and told Bart.  Bart got the computer out of the trash.  We haven’t looked at it yet and it makes me uneasy because I realize that discrarding that machine was Nelson’s one act of hiding the proverbial bones. I can’t imagine he fully appreciated the degree that we would be going through all he left behind but in regards to that computer he knew he didn’t want anyone to see it.  We will look at it though.  That’s the thing about this abrupt departure.  For me it has fed the need to know more than we should be allowed; to be privy to the private.  It has taken from Nelson the dignity of keeping one’s own secrets.   I suppose that is true for all of us.  Nothing is truly private.  At any moment we could be gone and our details will be left bare for another person who has no way of really translating what it all means.

And that’s the other thing.  I think about my own life, and the conclusions someone might reach if they looked at my things without context provided by me.  There are the things people wouldn’t understand and I realize this is also probably true about Nelson.  And maybe that is the place where his privacy gets to live.  No matter how many times we sift through his things and walk his frequented paths we can’t experience them in the way he did.  We can never know for sure.


This man.

The acts of kindness began simultaneously to the tragedy.  Think about that for a moment.  Something terrible happened to me and my family and instantly there were people who mobilized to support us.  Instantly.  I started this post thinking I would write about that but this may turn into something different.  You’ll have to bear with me.

My brother, Bart called me somewhere around 8:30 or 9pm on Wednesday night June 14th.  I was just sitting down to watch This is Us on television.  I had been binge watching the family drama.  I haven’t been able to turn it on since.  Judd had just walked in from going grocery shopping.  He was telling me how expensive the shopping trip had been; marveling at the amount of salmon he had purchased.   My son, Nelson had gone to bed easily and I was feeling relaxed and happy.  I had texted my friend Kim to confirm that I would be at the gym at 6 the next morning and would in fact pick her up for the class.  Everything was feeling good.  I was taking it all for granted.

That’s the beauty of life before tragedy.  You can take it for granted.  But tragedy is a haymaker punch that lands square when your head is turned, laughing in a bar.   Bart’s call was the sucker punch.  I almost hung up when I answered and he didn’t start speaking right away.  I thought he had dialed me accidentally.  I had even remarked to Judd “Hey, I think Bart butt dialed me!” and laughed.  But then Bart was on the line but with a weird sing song voice saying “Something has happened.  There is a large police presence at 408.”  I’m standing and moving and saying “I’m coming” before I have really processed what he is saying.  The need to GET THERE was so strong.  I just began to move.  I had my keys and my purse and was standing in the kitchen when he sort of lilted “There is a deceased body in the back yard.”  My knees buckled.  I know I wailed.  Before that night I didn’t realize those things were actually involuntary.   And then I was in the car telling Judd to stay; I didn’t need him to drive me.  Stay with our son.

I drove the thirty minutes in the rain to my brother’s house.  I called a couple of people on the way.  One was my workout buddy.  I won’t be there tomorrow.  I think my brother is dead.  One was my work friend.  Something has happened. I think my brother killed himself.  I won’t be there tomorrow.  One was my friend Chris.  I don’t actually remember what I said to him. Probably I said he killed himself Chris.  My fears have come true.  And then I called  Bart again.  Are you alone?  No, there are lots of police here.  Where is Kerry?  Is Kerry there?  No, she isn’t.  I left her a message.  I’m coming Bart.  I’m coming.

By the time I arrived the street was crowded with cars.  Police cars.  All running as if they were preparing to leave at any second.  I’m met by a police officer who asks why I am there.  Why am I there?  Because my world just ended.  But out loud I say I am here because that is my brother’s house.  He shows me where to park.  I can’t figure out how to put my car in reverse.  I’m sure he wonders how I got myself there.  I am wondering too.  He is at my car door as I get out explaining he is the police chaplain.  I think his name was Mike?  I ask him Did someone hurt my brother?  He says he doesn’t think so.  He sounds sad. Did he hurt himself?  We are investigating now ma’am.  So yes.  He did.  But how??  We aren’t gun owners!  None of us.  Our mother wouldn’t even let us own water guns for God’s sake.  He says nothing.  He tells me that he advises me not to go into the backyard.  Don’t look he says.  I am suggesting you not look.    And the suggestion, while kind and probably prudent also opens the door of my imagination.  How horrible is it back there that you think I will not be able to recover from the sight?  I numbly walk down the street to be in front of the house.  It is dark.  It is misting and everywhere is wet from rain.  There are two officers standing in front of the front door which is wide open.  There are lights on in the living room.  I sense there are police inside the house too.  Periodically the flash from the police camera is visible both inside the house and from behind the house too. The front yard is big.  The front door feels a million miles away from where we stand on the street.  And it’s so quiet.  No one is saying anything.  I find Bart.  He is pacing and distraught.  He wants to be in that backyard badly.  He has a real need to see, to validate, to ensure that we are really facing the death of our brother.  How do we know it’s him?  HOW indeed.  I tell him we shouldn’t go look even when they allow us to go.  We should not.  We won’t be able to unsee it.  That was something else the chaplain had said.  You won’t be able to unsee it.  At some point I ask Bart to not go look- for me.  Do it for me, I say.  And to that he agrees.  And I cry so hard because this is a decision he doesn’t want to make and he is doing it for me.  (Reference acts of kindness mentioned above.  This was the first of so many.)

As the rain melts my clothes in to a damp weight on my body and the quiet becomes too much I begin to notice how many people are standing on the street.  There are Nelson’s neighbors but there are also lots of people I don’t recognize.  I learn later they were friends from my brother’s job.  Someone told me the Director of the library stood there quietly in front of the house for a very long time.  There were friends of Bart there.  Suddenly, Judd was there.  Chris had hung up with me and gone to my house.  He was sitting in my living room while my son slept so that Judd could be there to hold me up.  And then Kerry was there with her friend Ella and together they both held me up.  I saw people not adequately dressed; barefoot just there.  Not leaving.  Holding us up with invisible hands.   The fragility of proxemics.

At some point there are murmurings that there was a note left.  Someone has seen it.  Someone who is not a police officer; because the police officers won’t confirm anything.  The investigation is on going ma’am.  We hear that the note was addressed to all of the family; including our mother.  We are told it says “I am sorry”.  Beyond that we are not told.  We can not be allowed to see it or read it.  In a moment of pure pitiful grief I begged the young officer who was our point person to just read it to me.  Please.  Just read it to me.  He does not.

I call my father.  I call my sister.  I deliver unthinkable news.  I will never forget the sound my father made.

We were out there for hours waiting for someone to come to do something I am not even sure what.  Confirm the death?  It is not the medical examiner but it is someone affiliated?  I never really understood.  And he’s delayed and we remain standing in the rain on the street.  And all the quiet friends stay.  Finally we are led up the sidewalk to talk to the coroner or whoever it is we have been waiting on.  And I am confused and rattled because I recognize the man.  I had just met him at a few months before at a bar in Petersburg.  Bart had introduced us because who doesn’t Bart know? He was a retired police detective or something from Prince George?  Dinwiddie?  I know you!  I say before I can stop myself.  Yes he says.  I say I met you at Thanksgiving.  Yes, he confirms.  And then I don’t know why but I hug him.  He confirms that Nelson is dead.  He tells us that he hung himself in the high tower in the backyard.  He says to Bart, You know he was sick for a long time.  Bart says well I don’t know about a long time.  Mr. King says  again, a long time.  He tells us that now the waiting is for the funeral home.  Have we picked one?  I think there is only one in Colonial Heights and I feel confused at the idea of choice.

Finally they arrive.  A man too young for the job and a woman even younger.  He hands me a card and asks if we have any thoughts about a service or the handling of the remains.  No.  No, we don’t.  Please call us in a few years.  We’ll have all the answers by then.  We are moved back to the street.  Bart again agrees not to go to the backyard.  I lean against him.  I thank him profusely.  It takes a long time to do whatever business is involved in the removing of a person from their place of death.  It felt unbearable.  I was starting to rant against the police.  I told them they had to see that I was a human being and I was trying with all my heart to not disintegrate and they had to tell me something.  They had to have humanity.  I could see the younger officers struggling for what to do but staying on script and sticking to protocol in the end.  By the end of the night one of the officers asked if there was anything else we needed and I told him I was tired of being mad at him so I had nothing more to ask or request.  No more.  I couldn’t bear to have him tell me he couldn’t tell me one more thing. He just nodded his head.

And then my brother’s body was brought down the long front yard to the waiting hearse.  It was wrapped in black and strapped to a gurney.  By now it was very late and very dark and the yard was uneven terrain and I could feel the anxiety of the funeral directors as they tried to navigate the situation.  And then I had tunnel vision.  And I was staring at this shape on this gurney and trying to reconcile that it was Nelson.  His body shape seemed too short somehow and yet too long at the same time.  I kept whispering wait.  Wait.   They waited.  They both stepped back from him.  Did Bart come over?  I don’t know.  I couldn’t see or hear anything.  I had such an overwhelming sadness.  It hasn’t left.  I put my head down to where his chest was.  I rested there and whispered to him.  I struggled with the enormity of the situation.  I am sorry and I forgive you.  I am sorry and I forgive you.  I am sorry and I forgive you.  I will miss you the rest of my life.

How long did I stand like that?  Bent over with my head on my brother’s still chest?  I think it was probably minutes.  It was terribly quiet.  Finally I became aware that everyone was standing around us; silently.  The police, our friends, the funeral people, the neighbors.  They were waiting for me to step away and let him go.  And then I was aware that once I did step back they would all go back to the business of their lives.  This was potentially going to be just a thing that happened on their shift or the reason they called in late for work the next day or the gossip they would be mongering out over a beer at some point. And to me suddenly that was a big part of the tragedy.  They didn’t understand the void that had been created in the universe.  They didn’t recognize the magnitude of the loss of this one life; this very special life.   The idea that for even just one person standing there that night that they could be thinking ‘it was just some guy who killed himself’ was more than I could stand.  I didn’t care how many times they had been to scenes like this.  This one was different.  This was Nelson.  I had to make sure they knew that.  And so I made them all wait and I straightened up but I kept my hand on his body so they couldn’t go about the business of taking him from me.  And I said to the dark sky “this man is precious to me.”  I have never said anything so true in all my life.  This man is precious to me.  He is not a statistic.  He is not an anecdote.  He is precious to me.  I named my 8 year old son after this man.  I told everyone there that they needed to go home and say I love you to the people who matter.  They needed to take nothing for granted.

So this isn’t about kindness after all.  I will write about that.  Soon.  But, clearly what I needed at this moment was to recount the enormity of that moment.  That moment where I had to step back and let my brother be taken in the back of a hearse.  I thought of that moment as the thing that started the clocks moving again, the beginning of people rejoining their lives already in progress.  The waiting was over and while the waiting was hard this was even more unbearable.  It meant that the transition was done.  The loss of Nelson official.  The grieving was begun.

One Month

I am still here.  One month later and I am still here; devastated.  Is this going to get easier?  Last night I cried myself to sleep and I woke up in tears again.  I feel sick to my stomach.  I don’t want to be around anyone and I can’t seem to concentrate on anything but being sad.  I’m getting to be very efficient at being sad.

I have moments where I say to myself “He is never coming back.” and then all the air goes sweeping out of my chest and I feel dizzy at the thought of it.  How can this be?!  My every worst fear in life has come true with the loss of Nelson.  I feel like I may never be okay again.  I know rationally that today is extra hard because we’ve reached the one month milestone….  but really each day is a milestone worth saying out loud.  Each day without him is one more I wish I didn’t have to face.  The idea of doing this forever is so overwhelming.

It’s been a rough week.  As I write this, it is Friday.  NelsonCooper is with Ava for the weekend.  I took him to our halfway meeting point yesterday.  It has been really hard being apart from him.  He called last night and left me a message because he was sad.  We facetimed at 11pm.  He told me that he had been texting Nelson’s phone number.  He has been crying a lot this week.  He goes to his room and just weeps.  I have also heard him through his closed-door talking to Nelson Oscar.  It is the sort of raw hurt you never want to see your child experiencing.  I can’t fix this.  Nelson will no longer be the sweet boy who was untouched by deep hurt ever again.  I suspect I will be angry about this at some point.  It is not fair.   Judd and I had a conversation earlier this week about it and we acknowledge that we need to bring our best parenting to the table right now because the way we help him through this will make all the difference.  We have the potential to lose Nelson right now – to put him on the road of a sad, glum adolescent without the emotional tools to deal with all that has happened.  I don’t want that.  I hate it is a possibility.

Nelson has begun his therapy sessions.  It has been quite a kick in the teeth for me.  His therapist makes me feel judged.  She asked me if I was second guessing the decision to tell Nelson that Uncle Nelson had hung himself because in her words “Eight year olds have hung themselves”.   I fell apart.  My friend, Chris reminded me that I have no experience dealing with these things and I am doing the best I can.  I can’t second guess myself.  What’s done is done.  Nelson is angry about going to counseling.  He says he thinks his sadness is private and only for the family.  He also got very angry that this woman told him he didn’t have to take care of me.  She’s not the God BOSS OF ME he said.  #truth.

I keep ruminating about change.  The fact that this has changed me.  I am changed.  I am in the process of changing.  I know the desirable thing is to try to harness the changing process and find myself somewhere healthy when the changing is done but the fact remains this has been a trauma and trauma has a way of yanking the best changing plans out of your hands and flinging them to a place outside of your reach or control.  And that is where I find myself now; feeling out of control.   I went to work today to update my computer.  I am due to go back to work next Thursday.  I don’t want to go back.  I am not ready.  When I pulled into the parking lot I felt like I might vomit in my car.  I was in tears most of the hour and a half I was there.  All I could talk about with my colleagues is Nelson.  I know that won’t always be the case and I know the prevalent logic is to get back to your normal routines as quickly as you can to ‘distract’ yourself.  But why is that the way to heal?  Why is that the way to move through the darkest days of my life?

This writing is a mess.  It is as unfocused as I am.  Enough for now.  I miss you Nelson.  Very, very much.



The more things change

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.