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Unvarnished excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral…
I threw the covers back on our bed and got out. I grabbed a random pair of jeans from my closet, stepped into them, forcibly, awkwardly hopped, pulled them up and on as I made my way to the end of the hallway at the top of the back stairs. I leaned over the railing to tell my darling husband this very unexpected news. I knew he would be down there watching the Sunday morning cartoons a.k.a. political (bad) news shows in our family room at the bottom of the stairs. As much as I didn’t want them to, the words fell out of my mouth. “Babe! My mom just called, Dave died this morning!”
My husband adored my brother, well everyone did so we will start with that. He hopped out of his chair and into view at the bottom of the stairs. He was looking up at me waiting for more information.
My teenage son Steven’s, (Sven from here on out because I am too lazy to type a couple extra letters or pronounce a whole extra syllable, even in my head) bedroom door was directly behind me. My words woke him. No pun intended, but that kid sleeps like the dead, I did not expect to see or break this news to him until many, many hours later. He heard me through the door which he quickly threw open, startling me. He poked his head around its edge. He was wrapped in his bedding, shirtless with a mess of waist length curly brown hair and a look of sad shock on his bed-wrinkle-imprinted face. His eyes conveyed everything wordlessly, shock and sadness.
Shifting my gaze between Sven in his doorway up here beside me and my darling husband at the bottom of the stairs, witnessing these words strike them, feeling them take in this news face-to-face was harder than listening to my mom’s voice on the phone. I had been buffered by the blind distance of a phone call and my focus on Dave being cut loose from that shitty body. At this moment I was not buffered by any protective barrier, real or imagined. I stood a bit frozen in discomfort trying to figure out who to go to first. I had been miles down the road in my thoughts already, feeling elated for Dave. I had not anticipated being reeled another direction by feeling their thoughts or what I thought they might be thinking play out in my head. I was prepared for none of this. I didn’t know what to expect. My calm was gone, my mind was racing every direction and nowhere helpful or productive, fast.
My darling husband felt connected to Dave as he did his own younger brother who lived in failing health until a few years prior, he too surprisingly departed one morning without much warning other than general poor health. I knew instantly that this psychological nuclear bombshell I just dropped compiled with the worry he was already carrying for his ailing mom, that all of this was just more shrapnel slashing through many already tender and bleeding places in his heart.
Sven had just lost another uncle, his dad’s brother, the weekend before on the fourth of July as a result of cancer (more seeing of dead people). He was a kind, fairly young man whom Sven was frequently compared to in his dad’s family because they looked alike and had very similarly sweet, humorous personalities.
Sven and I lived with my parents and Dave at their home the first five years of Sven’s life. Besides being a lovely human, brother, son, cousin, friend, Uncle Dave was an amazing and loving uncle to Sven, seven other cousins and ‘bonus’ nieces and nephews in the children of family friends. He looked out for them, taught them how to look out for themselves in crossing the street and other life circumstances. He shared cookies with them, he coached them through baking cookies, took them on rides on his electric wheelchair, made them better people for growing up with the aware heart that comes from having and helping care for a family member with a severe disability. Most importantly, he introduced them to Pink Floyd and other critically important classic rock music he loved that was not part of the genre of music they would have typically heard in their age ranges.
I thought maybe one or both of them might join me to go to my mom’s house to be with her. This is the instinctive thing to do, go be with the people left behind. We all process grief very differently. I know and accept this complicated aspect of life that you simply can’t know until you find yourself in the middle of it.
As I looked from my son’s face on my right to my husband’s face looking up at me from downstairs on my left, I realized neither of these sweet, tender-hearted people could do this with me right now, and neither was volunteering to do so either. I could not address or stop their silent emotional bloodshed right this minute. They had their own processes and would need a moment or more moments at a minimum.
I was living in the exact opposite of whatever the worst opposite of ‘my favorite’ could possibly be described as, in fact, they were my very least favorite moments living on this planet ever, from waking up to all of 10 minutes in, this day is the worst day ever, so far. I hated being connected to delivering these words. Nope, worse, loathed, I LOATHED this moment.
It was clearly obvious that I would be making the trip to my mom’s house alone that morning. I headed back down the hall to our bedroom. I said I would be there. Damn it, why did I say that? I didn’t see any way out of it, so it was settled. Fuck this fucking day and damn it to hell.
Most humans have a need to know everything in a situation like this as part of the general perspective of understanding, maybe coping? I can’t say for sure. Everyone and I mean everyone asks, “What happened?” My husband broke the silence with this expected question. I told my two people all I knew, “He apparently woke up dead. That is all I know–I don’t really know.”
I have a clear sense of memory which leaves me with just about any recollection as if it just happened yesterday, forever. It’s similar to photographic but hard to explain. For this reason, I do not like, want, or need to know the minute details of bad news, because it never leaves me. I didn’t ask my mom what happened. “I’ll be right over,” I cut her off, didn’t really give her any room to tell me. When people feel the need to vomit out every gory detail of the And THEN….AND THEN…infinity, as they process earth-shattering experiences, I evade listening altogether by selectively ignoring, usually by finding a reason to leave the vicinity.
I made it through most of my education through grad school by half-listening in class. Stuff just stayed with me. People, for the most part, don’t understand how that works. I don’t either. They also cannot fathom how unpleasant information could get trapped in there too. Or repeated complaining. I have to remove myself from either of these, bad news and repeat complaining. My self-preservation behavior is often completely misinterpreted as uncaring or disinterested. I stopped trying to explain how my memory works long ago nor can I expend energy worrying about what anyone thinks they know or understand about me. Regardless of all the above, I was pretty sure I was going to have to hear everything no matter what today. This was too close to me to completely avoid and walking away from my mom was not a choice I had the luxury of making either.
I had witnessed Dave’s challenging path for what felt like forever. He was hurt when he was 18, and I was seven. I was now in my forties. That was 84% of my life, almost MY forever. MY Forever until now that Dave had been paralyzed. I grew up under the same roof with him until I moved out in my early-20s, then back and forth a couple times through my mid-30s, restructuring a new life plan each time. The only people who spent more up-close time living life with him as he struggled with grace, dignity, and humor with that paralyzed body of his were our parents and maybe his best friend, Brian.
As I brushed my teeth, I felt myself becoming more and more relieved and dare I say ecstatic that his life-sentence being shackled to that stupid wheelchair, bed or his body was finally completed, time officially served. I finished getting ready, basically, just the brushing of teeth. I felt bad that I was incapable of consoling my two favorite people properly other than a hug before I rushed out the door by myself less than 15 minutes after my mom had called.
If you enjoyed this excerpt please LIKE it below. Love to hear your impressions, comments. If you are not already following me please join me. Lastly, I would love it if you shared this experience with your friends. The whole point of writing this book is to allow others to know my brother who lived an amazing life. XO M