This is the longest post I've ever written. It may be of very little interest to you. That's OK. I wrote it mainly for my sister.
It has taken three weeks to write, and I made today my personal deadline to finish it. I need to let go and move on. Watching my sister go through this loss, I have felt levels of grief and love that I have never experienced before. Thank you for all the prayers for her and for our family. We have definitely felt them.
Friday, May 30, 2008
When the group of us finally leave the hospital to go to my sister's house, the surrealness keeps switching gears.
It is around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. I walk my sister to my parents' car, the one I have driven to the hospital, and it is still sunny outside. Bright and beautiful, with stunning blue TV-movie sky. Birds are singing, traffic is speeding by. We stop on the sidewalk and look at it. I say "I've always heard how weird it is when you have a tragedy and life keeps on going. But this just seems obscene." She agrees. We get into the car and I put both our purses in the back seat. We talk about how some of those people driving by the hospital are on their way to pick up a pizza for supper, or to get gas, or to see a movie. It doesn't make any sense.
Because of the way the day has unfolded, my sister's car is at her house, in her garage. She had not answered her cell phone when we'd been trying to reach her because for maybe the second time in her cell phone-owning life, she had forgotten to charge it the night before.
Around 1:30 in the afternoon, she'd been talking to Pat when her cell phone started beeping its warning that the battery was going dead. She told him so, and he said "OK, see you at home." And that was the last time they talked.
For awhile, she was moving through an exquisite oblivion. Her husband had been killed, and she was wrapped, briefly, in the priceless freedom of not knowing this. She could still fully smile and have her heart feel safe in her chest. A gold coin locked in a trunk at the bottom of the ocean.
Until she drove home.
She had had a fantastic day: It was her last day of school for the year! The teachers played a kickball game against the kids, and the teachers won. Everybody had special T-shirts for the big game. The weather was perfect, and she left for home sweaty and smiling, relishing the idea of the whole summer laying before her.
When she got home, there were two police cars waiting for her. Her first thought was "Oh no, someone's broken into our house."
She pulled into her driveway and asked the officers what was wrong. They asked her to turn off her car. She said "Can I at least put it in the garage?" She was baffled.
Finally they told her that Pat had been in an accident on his motorcycle, and that they would take her to the hospital. None of her frantic questioning would pull more information from them. They just claimed not to know anything more, but would get her there as fast as they could.
This is the part that gets to me most, or one of them: Thinking of my terrified sister riding in the back of the police car, wondering exactly what unspeakable news was coming around the corner. Even though she knew the two officers, and even though they were gentle, and even though they came to find her and take her safely to where she needed to go, she was alone, and shaking.
You already know how the time at the hospital played out.
When we get back to her house in the evening, and everyone has reluctantly left to go home, exhausted and still floating in the slow syrup of shock, I stay the night. I am terrified. I know that I will see her grief in its full force again. I am terrified for her.
I watch the waves hit her again. She speaks in a sad, calm voice, and then she remembers something else. Some way that Pat had shown her that he loved her. One wave happens when she remembers the pet name he called her, and had called her since they'd first met.
"He always called me that," she sobs. We are sitting on the couch and I watch her body curl over onto itself, crumbling in the grief.
A few minutes later she gets up and runs to the kitchen, saying "I'll bet it's still there." I don't know what she is talking about. I follow her. "It IS!" she says, and another wave hits.
It is a tiny, laminated photo of her, cut from an old I.D. badge. Pat had propped it up on the kitchen windowsill, right next to his place at the table. He'd told her it was so he could have her next to him when she was at work and he was eating lunch. The sight of that very small photo, no bigger than a thumbprint, holds all the power and fury of a hurricane.
Saturday, May 31st
When I get out of bed at 7 in the morning, I try to be very quiet as I walk to the bathroom. I'm afraid of waking my sister. I'm afraid of having her think that Pat is here.
"Candy?" she says, "is that you?"
"I'm not asleep. Come and get in bed with me." She hasn't gone to sleep all night.
I get in, pull the covers over us, and wrap my arms around her.
"So," she says, "I guess this is real. I'm not going to wake up from it, am I?"
There have been many moments of my sister and I holding tightly to one another. This one, this twenty minutes of lying with her in the gray non-light of the morning, weeping and talking about Pat is one I will never forget. I will never forget any of this. The details land on your heart like embers. When we were kids watching the fireworks in our hometown, people would scream and get excited when some of the burning remnants would fall onto the cars that were parked too close to the launch pad. Everybody knew the burn marks could never be buffed out.
Late morning, I drive over to Mom and Dad's, 4 blocks away, to get a change of clothes and see how things are there. My sister still has not seen my parents. She is tentative about it, perhaps shielding our mother from seeing her pain. Mom has her hands full taking care of Dad, who is in a terrible state of confusion as to what has happened?
"Who died?" he keeps asking. And then we tell him and he asks how it happened, and we tell him how it happened. Then he asks again.
When I go in and grab what I need, Mom says "When am I going to see my daughter?"
My mother has had enough of our shielding her.
I say "I'll bring her here."
An hour later, I come back with my sister. My parents are sitting out on their front porch, on their glider, waiting. My sister walks up the sidewalk and my mother walks toward her. They hold each other.
"My momma," my sister says, hugging her.
"I wish," Mom says, "that I could take his place."
That afternoon, we go to the funeral home to make the "arrangements." This has always seemed like an odd way to put it. As though we're trying to find the proper boarding house for a small boy. A place to whisk him away to, with no one noticing.
The funeral home owner is very helpful. He is quick and precise in his explanations. Even so, they are still too long with too many details. Around the big oval table is my sister, her 2 kids, their spouses, my great-nephew Cole, and me. Most of us are focusing on my sister's face. We watch her and perhaps have the idea that we can catch her if she starts to fall into herself.
She rests her chin on her hand, and keeps her mouth covered with her fingers while the photos of the choices are shown to her. The law, says the funeral director, is that we have to bury the casket inside a sealed vault. He puts the laminated pages on the table in front of my sister. Her hand crawls across her face like a spider, over her mouth, up to her eyes, back over her mouth. It is as though she is consciously deciding whether or not to scream. In a simple gesture, she taps her fingernail twice on the picture of the vault she chooses. No one says anything. The funeral director pulls the illustration away and moves on to the next part.
When he does a slide show of the caskets we are to choose from, it is too hard to unravel in my mind. Caskets are ugly, ugly things, no matter how polished or elegant or tasteful. The silvery tones are too muted and the woods are too shiny. And there we sit, trapped in the darkest sales pitch, watching them go by like carefully lit photos of time-share vacation villas.
The funeral director tries to be helpful. He says "I myself will be buried in this one." And for a split second I believe he knows exactly which day that will be.
We finish with the arrangements. My brothers and their wives have driven from Cincinnati to be with our sister. They are waiting at my parents' condo. I call and tell them we're leaving and will meet them at my sister's house. When I walk out to the car with her, I feel something unfamiliar hanging from my purse. I look down and see that it is a long leather tassel. It is part of my sister's purse. I have picked them both up without noticing.
My niece writes her dad's obituary. I sit down to type it for her. My fingers move on the keyboard while my mind trips over the oddness of the task.
I'm aching to see Scott, and to have him here for the funeral. This is not only a very large family milestone, but it is also something that I need him to witness with me. Airline tickets are hideously expensive when you need one at the last minute: $1200. There is no such thing as a "bereavement policy" with airlines anymore. My brother, a world traveler for his job, generously offers to get Scott a ticket with his frequent flyer miles. Scott gets to come after all. (My brother also uses his miles to get me a one-way ticket back to Phoenix, so I can stay in town an extra week. Otherwise, US Airways will charge me $600 to make the change.)
My sister, always the jump-in-and-get-things-done sibling, has busied herself with choosing photos for the four big display boards at the funeral home. I'm glad she has a project that she can immerse herself in. She and her daughter Michele are both camera-addicted, and therefore have accumulated hundreds and hundreds of photos of Pat. There is not one photo where he isn't smiling. And his smile is huge. Like someone has put a hanger in his mouth sideways. In every single photo, he is smiling like that or he is kissing my sister on the lips with a smile hiding underneath.
Our family is gathered around one another. My brothers have helped my mom bring my dad over to my sister's house. We need everyone. We have circled the wagons around her. When I hug my brothers, I whisper to them about how much I love her and how much I can't stand seeing her in pain.
When my sister hears that my brother is getting an airline ticket for Scott, and for me, she starts to cry. "Everybody's being so nice to each other, and doing nice things. Patrick would enjoy this so much and he's not here to see it."
Some people say that you find out who your friends are when you need help moving. I think you find out who they are when your heart is broken. At least that has been my experience. Although those same friends who mopped me up during heartbreak also happen to be the ones who helped me move.
My sister is very, very loved. She's one of those people you can't help liking, and really liking, as soon as you meet her. There is something about her. I tell her she is "sparkly."
As soon as the news of Pat's death swiftly moved around our hometown (as all news does there, fact or rumor), people started coming out of the woodwork. Her best friends from high school, Anna and Sue, got to her house just moments after we returned from the hospital. (These are the girls I used to idolize as a child. I was 6 and sitting on my bike with training wheels while I watched them, at 17, loading into a white convertible to go drive around town. They had on eye make-up and paisley triangle scarves and I envied them terribly.) Anna and Sue came inside and my sister cried and told them the story of the accident, and pointed to Pat's scraped purple helmet, now sitting on her coffee table. I watched her as she spoke the details, and I saw that she was only going to make them real by repeating them as many times as she had to.
I won't go into all the people who came to see her, or called, but I will mention a few. There were dozens and dozens those first few days, all wanting to do something for her. Anything. Her friends Dena and Sharon came the day after the accident and loaded the refrigerator and freezer with food, brought bags of ice and bottled drinks and filled two coolers.
A friend of our family, Marcia, who has been doing my mom's hair every week for over 40 years, lost her daughter last year in a motorcycle accident. She brings some barbecue over in a crock pot. She stands in the kitchen and just the way she looks into my sister's eyes says that she understands. Fully.
The morning after Pat died, when my sister and I were lying in her bed in the grayness, Pat's cousin Bob was walking by the house over and over, wondering if it was too early to ring the doorbell. When he saw that we had opened the kitchen blinds, he was at the back door.
"I needed to SEE you," he told her. "Not just call and talk to you. I've been walking by for half an hour and I finally saw that someone was up. I had to ring the bell. I couldn't help it."
As people come and go during the day, I move the purple motorcycle helmet. I take it from the coffee table and put it in a back bedroom. I don't want my sister to keep seeing it and feeling worse. Within an hour, I see that she has moved it back.
In the evening, she and her kids start gathering up things to put into the casket with Pat. Little things he would like. His favorite tie-dyed T-shirt, a prayer card with Mary on it, his fuzzy dice from his car's rear-view mirror. The grandkids brush Petie for a long time, then take the fur from the brush and put it in a ziploc bag to add to the collection. Here is the story of how Petie became a member of the family: Pat was a car mechanic for 40 years. His shop was on a busy corner in town. One day ten years ago, a woman stopped there with Petie in her car. She wanted the directions to the Humane Shelter so she could go drop of this dog. Pat gave her directions, having already fallen in love with Petie's sweet mutt face. When the woman left, he closed up shop, hurried down the road in his car, and got to the shelter just in time to get Petie and keep her.
My sister gets out the clothes she wants Pat to be buried in. His favorite stuff. Jeans and a shirt and his black leather motorcycle vest. She holds out a stack of his underwear and says "Which underwear, Candy?" I pick out the gray and black striped pair. Another odd moment, but one we agree Pat would get a kick out of.
I spend the night with my sister again. We stay up very late.
Sunday, June 1st
Two days after the accident. A group of people come to see her. They have OK'd it with her on Saturday. 28 teachers from the elementary school where she works arrive in a caravan, and bring MORE food. Her living room is filled with people, not a speck of sofa or chair or floor space left. Another circling of the wagons.
They don't stay long because they know she needs to get things done. She is smiling and laughing and gracious and I just stand watching in amazement. How is she getting through this? Where is she getting the strength?
When two-thirds of them are already out the door and on the way to their cars, I am hit by the urge to have them come back and say a prayer with us. I run outside and yell, and in a couple of minutes there are 30 of us out on my sister's patio, holding hands, waiting for the prayer to come out of my mouth. This is not exactly my element. I am frantic in my head after caling all these people back, thinking "What am I doing?" But I say the prayer, one of thanks and asking for mercy, because I want every possible Divine comfort to wrap around my sister's shoulders.
After the teachers leave, I go back to Mom and Dad's for awhile. My sister goes to the nearby park with her kids and grandkids. She needs to get out. Petie goes with them. We have been worried that Petie will not make it without Pat. Some dogs die from grieving. But so far all the people around have distracted her well enough from the absence of her "daddy."
My parents live right on the park, and I walk over to find my sister. She has gone off by herself with Petie, and sees me coming from a long way away. We look at each other, both of us solemn and tired and seeing that look mirrored in the face that is coming near. Then she starts to cry, and I do, too. I go to her and we hold each other again, and she says she has just run into a friend of her son's who had been at the scene of the accident, and had seen Pat lying in the road on his back.
The embers are still falling.
People start arriving from around the country. Pat's sister, Nancy, a nun, flies in from Washington D.C. Another of his sisters, Catherine, also a nun, is in Minnesota, and too sick with cancer to make the trip. His third sister, Rosie, who is not a "sister" takes a bus from St. Louis.
Scott flies into Indianapolis at 11 p.m. When he gets off the plane, I am overwhelmed when I see him.
Monday, June 2nd
Tonight is the visitation. The official hours are 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. The family is to arrive at 3:30 to have time alone with the body.
It is late morning and I stand and watch my sister bending over and giving Petie a bath in the bathtub. She uses the shower attachment to wet down the fur, and it takes a long time, because Petie has thick, thick fur, and lots of it. She also has big tufts of fur between her toes, and this has always made us laugh.
"Petie gotta get her bath," my sister says in baby/puppy talk. "SHE's going to the funeral home, too." She scrubs and scrubs, using Pat's dandruff shampoo on Petie. I watch her, standing there in her underwear, shampooing this dog, and there is her strength again.
At 4:00 p.m., the line of people is going out the door of the funeral home, and stretches around the block. It stays like this for 5 hours.
My sister looks beautiful. She insists that she will save her crying for the funeral tomorrow, but tonight is to celebrate Pat's life. There is Elvis music playing all evening, Pat's favorite. She is dressed in a bright orange flowered skirt and orange top. She and Michele and sometimes Michele's husband and sometimes Robbie stand in front of the casket and greet the long line of people. My sister smiles and laughs and hugs and is hugged back. I watch her smiling and talking and there is Pat, lying behind her, and as always I think "What a very odd ritual this is."
Adding to the oddity earlier, was Petie's presence. My sister had her son Robbie bring Petie to the visitation. The grandkids took turns holding her on her leash, but of course grew bored with it and poor dutiful Cole got stuck doing it for quite a while. (When the family had time alone with Pat, before the crowd was let in, Robbie held Petie up at the casket so she could see Pat. But of course nothing registered with her, and if it had, it would have killed us all.)
There are so many people coming in, and I know about 10% of them. In reality I know about 25% of them, but have been living away from town too long to recognize that other 15%. The teachers who came to see my sister on Sunday afternoon are there, though not in a group this time. Some have brought their husbands. The waitresses from the little family restaurant where Pat hung out with his coffee-drinking buddies are there, though not at the same time. Classmates my sister hasn't seen since she graduated high school in 1966 are there. Marcia is there. There is going to be a memorial motorcycle ride for her daughter next weekend. She says she wishes it were over with. The wounds are reopening for her.
My brothers and their wives and Scott and I, and my mom, watch the procession. Mom has had someone come to stay with Dad, because this would only confuse and upset him more. I watch my mother smile and talk to people, and I see that this is sort of a mental break for her. To be in public seeing many of her friends from way, way back. I know it will do her good, even though the circumstance is grim.
I introduce Scott to people whose significance from my past is hard to explain. For instance, a guy named Steve, who used to work as my dad's hired hand on the farm, is there. He helped my dad in the fields from sixth grade through graduation from high school. I was especially fascinated with him because of his culinary preferences. I was very young and had never before heard of anyone eating frog legs. And Steve would bring frog legs for lunch every day, and I would sit with him in the grass and watch him eat them like they were good. They were terrible and fascinating, those frog legs.
When my brother re-introduces me to Steve, I blurt it out. "You used to eat FROG LEGS!" I said.
"I still do!" he says. "And they are delicious."
People from my parents' church come through the line. Dozens of Pat's customers from his mechanic shop come through, many who became close friends with him after he worked on their cars. The mailman comes through, still in his uniform.
Cole, freed from dog duty, (Petie has been taken home) is busy taking hundreds of photos with his mother's digital camera. She has assigned him this task to help him pass the time, and Scott and I watch him transform, at 11, into another camera addict. He takes 600 photos, and documents all the people who came to celebrate Pat. Some of the photos are unbelievably well done, and when we tell him so, he blushes and rolls his eyes.
It is an exhausting evening, and my sister never takes a break. She sits on a tall chair for awhile, but keeps greeting and talking and smiling.
At 9:45 p.m., it is time for us to leave. My sister and I stand and look at Pat and hold each other and we get weepy again. She looks at me and says "Do you feel another prayer coming on?" At first we are just going to grab Michele and Robbie and pray privately. But then the whole family gathers and I start the prayer. Others join in, and my brother finishes it. It is wonderful, but heart wrenching.
The funeral director tells us that we will have the service tomorrow, but that the graveyard is so badly flooded from the rain from the last two days that we will not be able to bury Pat until Thursday morning.
Tuesday, June 3rd
The funeral service. The slide show of the best photos of Pat. I cannot help shuddering when I see the one of him on his motorcycle.
My sister is no longer celebrating. She is openly broken.
But when the service ends, she stands up and turns to the crowd behind her and says "I just found out this morning that because Pat was an organ donor, his corneas were used, and two people have regained sight."
Wednesday, June 4th
A big storm is coming. Again. But I need to make a Walmart run. I hurry through the store, and I have my shopping cart full and am trying to find one more thing: some very simple little puzzles, with 5 or 6 pieces each, to get for my dad. Maybe I can help him work these and it will exercise his brain.
By this time the storm is raging outside. I am searching for the puzzles and the power goes out. In the dark, a Walmart manager tells us all to go to the middle of the store, because the storm is very bad and we need to move away from the glass.
Everyone is on their cell phones immediately. I hear three phrases: "stuck at Walmart," "tornado warning," and "what should we do for dinner?"
I sit on the floor in the dark next to the women's fitting room, and hear the rain pounding on the roof, and worry that we won't be able to bury Pat tomorrow either.
My sister and her kids and Pat's sisters decide to go to the small hometown restaurant where Pat hung out many times a week drinking coffee with his buddies. This is where she is when the storm hits, but it's not quite as bad on this side of town. The waitresses have a candle burning for Pat, and have made a little memorial on the counter. It says "Rest in Peace, 'Decaf Pat.'"
They also have a well-intentioned but poorly spaced letter-sign out near the road:
WE WILL MISS YOU PAT
While they are all eating lunch, there is a high speed police chase on the highway that runs through town. The speed limit is 40. The car being chased is going 100 miles an hour and hits a telephone pole right in front of the restaurant. My sister sits in disbelief when she hears the sound of the crash outside.
The story: The woman driving was, earlier, walking around her front yard naked. When an officer came to tell her to put some clothes on, she did so, and then got in her car and tried to run over him. He chased her in his car, and then the wreck. She was hurt, but didn't die.
My sister goes outside and watches the paramedics take care of the woman. They are very very efficient, and this makes her feel better about the effort they made with Pat.
In the car with the woman was a big white terrified dog who would not come out of the car. The officers at the scene went into the restaurant and got a hamburger to coax the dog out of the car.
The storm has knocked all the power out in town with 2 exceptions: The restaurant where my sister was, and the Goodwill. I've finally escaped Walmart, and left my full shopping cart in a line of them at the front of the store, to come back and reclaim later. I run home to check on my parents, who are sitting in the almost-dark of dusk. They have no working flashlight and no candles. This is how I find out the Goodwill is open. I'm out scouring the town for candles or flashlights and I see their lights on. I buy twelve dollars worth of tacky, scented candles but there are no flashlights. Twelve dollars buys you a lot of candles at the Goodwill. I realize this is overkill, but I am afraid the power will be out all night. One of the candles has red and pink rhinestones running up the side.
My sister and her lunch gang come over to Mom and Dad's when it almost dark. They bring pecan Blizzards from Dairy Queen. I've lit some candles. Then the power comes on within minutes. It was out for 2 hours.
My dad's confusion is heartbreaking. He knows that someone has died. Mom and I go through the motions for awhile:
Dad: Who died?
Mom: Pat died.
Dad: How'd he die?
Me: He was hit on his motorcycle.
Dad: Did it kill him?
Dad: When is the funeral?
Mom: They've already had it.
He looks completely lost, and the conversation repeats two minutes later.
Dad has, for a long time, asked if his brother died (yes, 11 years ago) and if his mother died (40 years ago). Now there is a fresh death, and he is concerned.
We decide to change our response. He asks who died, and we say "No one." Because we don't want this endless conversation about Pat to go on when my sister is here. But I know if he asks my sister who died, she will not be able to say "No one."
My sister and I have been so focused on our dad, so worried about his decline, so very worried about how long he can last, and then Pat's death comes out of the blue, like a stray bullet.
Thursday, June 5th
The gravesite has been pumped clear of water, and repumped. We are finally able to bury Pat. There are only a dozen of us there. My sister, her kids, their kids, Pat's two sisters, and his close friend Mike. My mom stays at home with my dad. My sister, still insistent upon doing things in a way that would delight her husband, has us each wear one of his many tie-dye shirts. The nun doesn't go for it, but I'm sure she is tie-dyed in spirit.
The ceremony is short. When the ending prayer starts, a huge gust of wind hits our faces, and we are all thinking the same thing. Pat is here.
Just as the service ends, an old bashful multi-teated mutt sidles up to the gravesite with what is almost a visible question mark over her head. It is exactly the kind of dog that Pat would fall in love with, and maybe even follow to the humane shelter. She stays almost as long as we do, and we are there until the casket, in its concrete vault, is lowered into the grave.
Wednesday, July 9th
My sister received somewhere around 250 sympathy cards. She has written 116 thank you cards to those who brought food, or gave donations, or helped in some other way to get her through the beginning of her trauma. She sometimes wrote her cards at my parents' condo. And my dad did ask her "Who died?" She stopped writing, looked at him, and said "Pat died, Dad. My husband of forty years. OK?" And I ached for them both: He is lost, and she is lost in her own way. But she will be back.
When she and her daughter went to see the motorcycle, and to get Pat's keys, she found a tiny metal ring that Pat had had engraved for her 42 years ago, when they were dating. A cheap little carnival dog tag, with "I love you" and her name. She didn't expect to find that, and that was a hard day. Among many.
Pat took care of her, with more life insurance than she knew he had. This touched her deeply.
The autopsy results: a broken neck, 18 broken ribs, massive internal injury. The blessing: He didn't suffer.
On the website for our hometown newspaper, a truly pitiful publication, the morons surfaced on the message board. Below the article about Pat's death, the despicable no-life-of-their-own scumbags gossiped. "I heard Pat wasn't wearing a helmet. And he pulled into traffic. No wonder he is dead." I responded, unable to hold back, and was banned from the site. (The harshest thing I said was that the person who wrote the speculations had a room-temperature I.Q. and should stick to things he knows, like eating Cheetos and watching Springer.) I called the publisher and told her to pretend that her husband had just been killed, and then to see the comments blaming him for it. When I got off the phone I was shaking. You cannot protect your hurting loved ones from maligning douchebags.
There have been many little "signs." They add up to the point that you think that Pat HAS to be hanging around. For instance, his favorite cable channel, the Sci Fi Network, turns up on my sister's TV. Trust me, she did not put it there.
And then other things, that make you think GOD has to be hanging around: On Wednesday, before the Friday Pat died, my sister stopped at the convenience store to get a treat on the way to school. A vanilla cappucino. She did her usual precise thing, and took one dollar and one quarter inside with her. Exact change. When she left with her coffee, the cashier found a twenty dollar bill on the counter that she had left behind. A guy standing a couple of people back in line said "I know her husband...I'll drop it off to him if you'll trust me with it." The cashier said yes.
Pat's friend took the twenty to Pat, at home. They knew each other in high school. They talk.
When my sister gets home and hears the story, she calls the guy. There is NO WAY that was my money, she says. I didn't even have a twenty! No, he says, it was yours. She tells him she will split it with him.
After Pat's death, the guy calls her. He tells her that he and Pat had a talk she should know about. They both agreed that the world had become unrecognizable to them. The friend tells him that he's tired, and he's had a good life, and he's OK about "going" whenever it's his time to go.
Pat says "You know, so am I. I mean, I don't want to go anytime soon, but to be honest, I feel that way too."
If not for the phantom twenty dollar bill, she wouldn't know this about him.
When I flew home to Phoenix, two weeks after I'd gotten to Indiana, the goodbye at the airport was my hardest goodbye ever. I did not want to let go of my sister. I had had my arms around that bony back of hers over and over again in the past two weeks, and I felt sick about leaving.
I know the embers will continue to fall. But she's tough. I've seen her strength, and although she has been grieving, and she will grieve for a long time to come, she will make it through this. And she will have, someday, a Friday afternoon when 3:30 p.m. will pass unnoticed.
The last night I was in town, Mom and I gave her something. Among the items that I went back to Walmart to rescue from my cart were 2 candy jars and some colored sticky notes. I wanted something Mom and I could do together for my sister. So for 4 days, my mom and I wrote things down. The purple slips of paper had things written on them to make my sister laugh. Old family jokes and all the silliness we could recall to pull out and put in a jar for her. The blue papers, in the second jar, held serious messages. Things we hoped would give her strength. We did at least 100 of each and told her not to take out more than one from each jar per day.
And in her hometown lifestyle, she has a support system. The good news is that every time she leaves her house, she runs into someone who wants to talk about Pat. The bad news? The same thing.
She and her kids are suffering together, and in their own private ways. Robbie held the twisted license plate (knocked off in the accident) in his hands for two days after his dad died. He even slept with it.
Michele's suffering was compounded when, soon after her dad's death, many of her husband's crops were ruined by the Indiana flooding. Her husband came with her to town often, to be at my sister's house, not only to support his wife and mother-in-law, but to keep from having to see his fields underwater.
After we buried Pat, more flooding came to Indiana. A block from my parents' condo there were rowboats floating in the street. It was just more surrealness. By that point, we were barely fazed by it.
I will end by showing you a poem that my sister keeps near:
Death Is Nothing At All
By Canon Henry Scott-Holland (1847–1918)
Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral, England
Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and You are You
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still
Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way you always used
Put no difference into your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effort
Without the ghost of a shadow in it
Life means all that it ever meant
It is the same as it ever was
There is absolute unbroken continuity
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner
All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost
One brief moment and all will be as it was before
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!