Unedited excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral. Thank you for reading this far, for all your encouragement, comments, love! Scroll down to read previous chapters. Catching up today for four weeks of hiatus. XO M
If real estate has the mantra of Location, Location, Location, I am going to theorize that a biography and all the moving parts, have to be placed in context, context, context. As previously stated, when we get to know someone we don’t learn about their life story in tidy chronological order. We never know every minute of anyone’s life, even those closest to us. We can’t possibly remember every minute of our own lives either. I am sharing why this or that particular part of an entire lifetime of his roughly 39 million minutes was chosen to be important enough to write down to be shared with the world.
I wish to state that this is not a story about me. However, so many people I have interviewed have forgotten almost all the details that I have asked about for clarity or to fill in any gaps in my understanding. They are left with the essence of Dave, how they felt spending time with him but not that many story quality details. Many repeated similar adjectives though, “such a great guy,” “what a tough guy,” “so kind,” “Never forget that laugh,” The fine details have fallen to me to shape his life with the context of what I experienced, my perceptions and with the few fragments I pieced together from his friends.
I wrestled with different aspects of the story and spoke with my friend and editor who reminded me that Dave did not live in isolation. That we all live in context with those around us. Dave was not here to dictate what he thought were his best moments, his favorite moments, or the best moments the world should or would want to hear. So it is partially his failed autobiography and partially my unvarnished memories of him which are shaping up to be the clearest blended with the arc of the story of how his Viking funeral unfolded, the people who spoke and why they were important to the story of who he was and his life.
I hadn’t thought about this until forty-something thousand words into this bio. I was repeating a Dave story or thought I was repeating a Dave story (see ALL the stories I have heard over and over above) to my sister Anne over dinner recently. She hadn’t heard the story before. It felt like such an old and well-worn story but still worth repeating and laughing at again. I was surprised and intrigued that she hadn’t heard the story.
The process of writing a biography without the star of the biography available to ask questions is a bit of a conundrum. I think I know about my brother and I assume that everyone in his life, especially his siblings, know all the same stories or at least most of the same stories. The experience at that dinner changed my thought process to consider what I thought I knew or don’t know. Can we even know what we don’t know? and all that sort of other circular enigmas began churning around in my mental front-load washing machine.
I began thinking about who lived at home and when, when Dave was hurt and when he returned home from the hospital.
Linda was 17+ when Dave was hurt. In her words, she “got the hell outta Dodge” not long after graduating early that school year as was her plan all along. She moved out of the house and out of town to start her adult life elsewhere.
Scott was 15+ initially then 18 when Dave came home 18 months later. He was going to school and working and then working full time when Dave returned home. He moved out of the house when he married at age 20. So not that much contact after returning home.
Anne was 12 going on MOM when Dave was hurt. She grew up overnight and became the mother of our house. She took on cooking and cleaning. She was always the tidy one anyway, but in her manner of processing, she went all out keeping the house going while our parents were trying their best not to crumble before our eyes nor Dave’s as they kept long hours vigil at his side in the hospital. She was 14 when Dave returned home. She married the love of her life and moved out her senior year of high school basically, a year before Scott moved out.
I was 7 when Dave was hurt. During that year plus I spent time: 1. tagging along with my mom to the hospital. 2. remaining home being supervised in the loosest terms of how well older teenage siblings (boss around) supervise anyone. 3. Going to pick-up or return Dave to Rancho Los Amigos hospital in Downey, California after he started coming home on the weekend for training runs, getting everyone (my parents and Dave) ready for him to be home. 4. With my darling Aunt Francie, my mom’s sister (weekends mostly). The latter was definitely my preference as her own lovely children had grown and moved out or were almost off to college, in other words, busy chasing their dreams, creating their lives. She enjoyed my company and I enjoyed hers. We were a great fit.
Dave didn’t return home permanently from Rancho Los Amigos until about 18 months later when I was 9. There was not that much crossover time for Scott or Anne living with him as their lives were developing and full on their own as they should have been. Anne was in high school and busy growing her budding relationship with her now-husband of like a hundred years already. Whatever that math is, that long. Scott had graduated high school and was focused on making a career for himself. Linda was already long gone. That left me the youngest at 9 and Dave the oldest, 20, at home basically, full time.
I lived at home another roughly 20 years at least with him. I never thought about how much more contact I had with Dave after his accident than my siblings. I am not bragging, nor am I suggesting that Dave was closest to me because we were in closer physical contact than any of our other siblings after his accident. I cannot suggest that at all. I can’t even theorize if Dave was closer to any one of us because he never for one moment shared a vibe to hint one way or another. When in his presence, he had that ability to make you feel like you were the most important person in the world to him, exactly who he wanted to be hanging out with. And I don’t mean that he turned the charm on or off. I mean he exuded such warmth at all times that he was magnetic and a pleasure to hang out with. I think secretly each of us assumes WE were his closest sibling because at that moment it was true. Dave lived that strongly in the moment of the here and now to be all in with you.
I know without a doubt that I nagged him to write his autobiography more than my siblings. I have felt like I have this particular role in finishing writing what he barely started because of my background, or because I was actually meeting with him regularly to help him in his process, or because I have time to do so. The more I researched, met with his friends and asked family members questions, I kept experiencing giving more information away than receiving anything new. Turns out that I am the keeper of my brother’s stories.
I have sat on this story for some times. Yes, times. Many individual minutes, hours, days, years, in fact. Much times. When it was first apparent that I was going to be writing this story after all, basically on the drive to my mom’s house minutes after I got that call of bad fucking news, after laughing at the irony and how I knew he was laughing at me from somewhere, I sat down and started writing right away. Then I hit a wall.
I didn’t really cry all that much initially when he left the building. I have revealed everything I felt early in the book, so I am not going to repeat any of that. Pretty sure I was in shock for quite some time. But as I thought about, wrote and viscerally relived each story through the process of forcibly hacking them out on my laptop, I would get sniffly. I thought about silly things like how he always said ‘Yo-GURT’ like he was barfing. He detested yogurt. It is a stupid thing, but it grossed me out and made me laugh every time he said it. There isn’t really a story that revolves around him saying ‘Yo-GURT’ per se, he just said it to be silly. I can hear him barfing it out every time I open a container of “Yo-GURT,” and it still makes me smile.
The more I wrote, the more I began to experience something new, unfamiliar, and very unpleasant. Oh, THIS is grief. By grief, wait, to be more accurate, I should say I cried. I probably really should say I wept, typing away through my blinding tears rolling down, WAIT, a deluge is moving more in the right direction describing the uncontrollable tears that fell as I unzipped these memories and everything just poured the fuck out. I was always happy to have finished one essay, not just for the fact of completing something but for living the beauty of whatever moment I thought was worthwhile enough to take the time to write down. But it was exhausting at the same time. So I stopped. I needed a fucking breather. Whew.
Then time passed, and I thought I might forget this or that story. The challenge of writing from memory is you may not remember what you are leaving out even if you think you remember everything, and I began to worry. The worry led me to freeze into that no man’s land of writer’s block. In a way, this biography should write itself. It’s not like it takes any real creativity to document what you witness. I am not making this shit up. It all happened. I thought maybe I should wait for ALL the memories to be remembered. That sounds pretty stupid in retrospect to me too. I am going to retroactively blame it again on shock, retroactive shock. It’s not like we arrive on the planet knowing how to write a biography that we never intended to write in the first place. That works, doesn’t it?
My grieving process could only be handled in small doses. One story was enough to wring me out with both laughter and more flash floods of tears likely to the point of extreme dehydration. Then I would feel physically horrible after crying so much, which made me avoid thinking about or doing anything to move things forward. So everything came to a halt again.
I have no idea what stage of the five stages of grief I would be adjudicated to at this point, of the grief process, but it’s all really bullshit anyway right? The idea being that if there is a finite number assigned to grief that we will someday reach the end of it and be done. In truth, there is no end to grief, I am happy to say that it can change, or at least my grief has, a little. Of course, every situation surrounding every experience of grief is unique and follows no predictable path or timetable. I am going to go ahead and just knock this shit out, try to maintain my hydration, a stash of kleenex, eyedrops, Advil and be done with it. And then I’ll be done grieving for sure. LOL… out loud.
There are plenty of people who in death become memorialized in a saintly manner that is so much more flattering than the reality they lived. In between outlining the stories of each person who spoke at our Viking Funeral and their beautiful connections to Dave, I am going to share short story character insights that will each in nuance help paint the portrait of Dave as best as I can. The details will hopefully provide clarity of his hilarious humor; general bravery; grace; sense of honor; adventurous game for anything spirit; generosity; zest for life; calm nature; love for spicy and sweet food-or FOOD; Music; Movies; and sage listening and advice he gave. Everything that I can think of which will no doubt still be incomplete, but may help you draw your own conclusions of who Dave was.
I reviewed my entire life and never had an encounter with Dave that could be defined as an argument, he never raised his voice to me. He was never a pill or grouchy in my presence. I mentioned that I was trying to make sure that I painted a clear image of Dave and honestly, I could bitch about anything if I let myself, but I couldn’t think of any actual character flaws.
I called Anne and explained, “I am trying to be very honest and not ridiculous in my comments about what a lovely human Dave was. The only thing I came up with that wasn’t perfect is that he was terrible with money.” He hadn’t matured in that aspect of adulthood because he really didn’t have to. My parents were the custodian of his finances. When he started working, he spent his money freely on the latest cool unnecessary gadget like most children. She laughed and agreed and added, “He WAS terrible with money! But he was just…such a good person.” Ok, so It’s not me, and I am not exaggerating. In ongoing conversations, while writing this book, Anne and I have both realized how we NEVER spoke of that time in our family back then or of Dave in depth before this time. It has been an interesting examination of our family dynamic and of life and grieving for certain.
After writing for several years, like everyone handling the grief of others with kid gloves, I finally told my mom that I was working on this book. For the first time in my life, I asked her questions about everything I thought I needed to know, unpleasant questions about her experience at that time.
Her first response was that after she got everyone out of the house for the day, to school or to work, she cried all the hours she was alone in between spending time with Dave, taking him his breakfast, lunch, and dinner of course. She said she cried every day he was in the hospital.
She described praying for a miracle for Dave for years before she realized that she had her miracle all along, having such an amazing person in her life, witnessing his life in tandem with her own and all the kindness of humanity, his friends, her friends and family surrounding her. Her prayers were answered all along, and she was so grateful. I could only nod in agreement with her between my validly breaking heart for her experience and joy at her recognition of what grew to be an amazing life experience for both her and my brother. She was by far his closest friend on this planet. She saw and knew all. I had felt bad for my mom and dad all those years but felt something different finally, relief, retroactive relief that she recognized the beauty in the most difficult days of her life. I was so happy I was brave enough to ask her questions. The answers were so much better than expected!
From feeling a proud connectedness to him when the announcements at football games said our shared name out loud when I was a toddler, maybe the real purpose and believe me I have questioned why on earth I was ‘stuck’ with this ridiculous extreme memory feature is to compile every snippet of every memory of him. He was such an unbelievable role model, this really lovely soul whom I was lucky enough to have watched, walked beside, learned from, laughed with, now documented. We need more stories like his to inspire us mere mortals!