Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Day

This is my account of what happened the day my brother-in-law died. It took a very long time to write (and it still only covers the first two hours), and then a longer time to decide whether or not to post it here. In the end, I let my sister decide. She said yes.

There will probably be a few more posts on this subject, about the days following the accident, as I can write them, simply because I don't know how else to deal with my sister's trauma.

I never mention her by name, because she has a very unusual first name that would be easy to find online.

Friday, May 30th, 2008

I've been in my hometown since Monday. Helping my mom take care of my dad, and lazing about watching TV with them in the evenings. My sister comes over for a little while each night and we torment each other. My husband thinks it's funny that 2 middle-aged women wrestle like teen-age boys when they're together.

This morning I ran to the bank for Mom, and picked up a few things. I went into panic mode a couple days ago, because I found out that the summer creative writing class I was signed up to teach in Phoenix, which is terribly under-enrolled, (9 students instead of the official range of 15-25) is going to happen anyway. I have not prepared. I am preoccupied with that. Because I am now screwed.

But right now it's time to go to Walmart. These little errands are so leisurely in a town this small that it's downright relaxing. I enjoy being my mom's personal assistant, going to get anything she remembers she's out of, or any restaurant food that sounds good, and bringing it to her, trying to make her life a little happier.

3:45. Ready to walk out the door. My parents' phone rings.

I see from the caller I.D. that it is my niece Michele on her cell phone. As is customary on calls between the women in our family, I pick up the phone and instead of saying hello, I meow. Long story.

Michele: Candy? (she is crying) Dad's been in a bad accident on his motorcycle. In front of the armory. They won't tell me anything else. They said we should get to the hospital. I can't find Mom! She's not answering her cell phone. Will you call her school and see if they can find her?

My sister always answers her cell phone. I look up the elementary school where she is a media specialist. No one answers. I try her cell phone again, and leave a message. I'm afraid for her, driving home among such upset. "Please. Be. Careful," I say.

I should go right this minute, to the hospital. But I call both my brothers first, and ask them to pray. I pull out the paper with my mom's church "prayer chain" members, and tell her to start calling. I still have the Walmart list in my hand. My mom has listed "grape seed oil" and "Vitamin E" and "Citrus Scope." I put the list on the counter and pick up the car keys and leave. Mom can't go with me. Dad can't be left alone. And it is probably better that she doesn't go.

My sister's house is 4 blocks away. I stop there, just in case she is home and not within earshot of her cell phone, and maybe outside, and not answering her house phone. I leave the car running, the car door open, and run up the small hill of her backyard. I try the door. It is locked. I hear her house phone ringing and ringing and ringing.

I get back into the car and hurry to the hospital. I run to the entrance of the emergency room. I blurt out my brother-in-law's name. Where is he, I ask. The receptionist walks to a door and points. Big double doors with lots of metal. I go through them.

At first I can't figure out where I'm supposed to go, or what is happening. Then I see several people in a small room. Is this the right room? I don't know any of the faces looking out at me, but they seem to be expecting me. Later I find out that one of the unfamiliar faces is the hospital chaplain.

I go inside. My sister and her daughter Michele are crying. My sister is crying hysterically. She is holding onto Michele, yelling Michele's name, facing away from me. Michele looks at me and her face is broken into a thousand pieces. Her son Cole, 11, is crying and also broken and his eyes are filled with pain. My sister turns around and sees me and screams my name. She screams my name as though I must DO something. I must rewind this tape. I grab her and I feel myself instantly breaking into pieces.

"I just talked to him this afternoon!" she cries. "How can he be DEAD?!" And I start crying and trying to catch my breath and all I can say as I hold her against me is "Oh my God."

The room is filled with misery. As though we are trapped in a tall brick tower and the moat has risen and spilled down onto us from the top.

A minute passes. "Where is he?" I ask the staff there with us. They tell me he's in "another room." No shit. Because I thought he was in THIS room and we had just somehow missed it.

They take us across the hall. Through another set of metal doors.

And there he is. On his back, lifeless. My sister starts to scream. "Patrick!" she cries, so woefully that I will never be able to describe it, even to myself. She is doubled over in pain, looking down at him, and says "You JUST started to feel good!" Then looks at me and says "He had some kind of bug for a couple of days and just started feeling better."

I am sobbing with her. I feel a shock I have never felt before in my life. I grab her and hold her so tightly that I'm afraid of breaking her ribs. She yells my name. "Why won't you wake me UP?" she screams. "This can't be happening. Oh my God."

And the pain flows into every part of the room. My brother-in-law does not have a scratch on him. I expect him to open his eyes and sit up. And this will all be over, and my sister will wake up. She has somehow taken me into a nightmare with her. But we will all get out alive.

My sister is trying to take in this reality that is right in front of her, but she cannot do it. She doubles over again, puts her fists between her knees, while gut-wrenching sobs fly out of her like large dark birds. There are 6 of us in the room. My sister, her husband's body, Michele, Cole, me, and the chaplain. I go to the chaplain and whisper "What can I do for her?" He says "You just do what you're doing. Be here for her."

Which is nothing. Or it feels like nothing. This is my older sister. I am 48; she is 60. She was like my mother when I was a baby. Her life went on an upward swing when I was born, because she had gotten two brothers first. Then finally, a baby sister whose hair she could style, whose clothing she could fuss over, whose fat cheeks she could pinch as she carried me around. She is the stable one, the one who keeps her shit together, who can be counted on, who is always the one giving. Now she needs someone to help. To fix this. And all I can do is hold her.

For a moment, just my sister and I are in the room with Pat. I take her over to him and we pray over him, thanking God for the 42 years they had together, asking God to gently take him in, and to let him reunite with his parents, and his brother, who died just three months ago. We touch his hair and his face, and we keep praying. The expression on his face, even in death, looks like a smirk. As though he is about to tell us one of his stupid jokes.

At some point the chaplain has come back into the room. He listens to us pray from a far corner to give us some space, and when we are finished, he is wiping tears from his face.

The quiet moment has passed, and the second wave of what has happened hits my sister.
She says it again: "Why won't you wake me up?!" Even when her regular doctor comes in, on his rounds, she says "Dr. Johnson, I know you'll give me something to wake me up, since nobody else will." And he tells her he is sorry.

"It's OK," she says. "I know it's all going to be fine, because I know that at 5:25 a.m., my alarm will go off and this horrible nightmare will be over."

None of us know what to do. I look around the room. On a table by the wall is Pat's purple motorcycle helmet, which did not save his life. And there is his wallet, and his cell phone, and his twisted license plate, which was apparently torn off during the accident.

The police are here. Three of them. They tell us what happened. The guy in the car behind Pat was driving 60 miles per hour (the speed limit was 40), Pat was in front of him, slowing down to turn left, and the man was not paying attention. He hit Pat while still going 57 miles per hour, according to the computer system in his car. Pat was knocked 50 feet and was dead at the scene, killed instantly. One cop tells us that he himself arrived within thirty seconds or so, having been in the area, and yelled to the people gathering around Pat, "Leave the helmet on!" in case he had a neck injury. But Pat was already gone, lying on his back in the middle of the 2-lane highway.

We want to know who the stupid bastard is, the one who hit him. We instantly hate him. There has been a ticket issued for "Following Too Closely."

"That's IT?!" my sister says. "He kills my husband and that's IT?! What about wreckless homicide? What about murder?"

They speak in their trained, calm cop voices and say that a murder charge would have to include premeditation, and all those other things they say to people who have fallen into a thousand pieces.

None of this is helping, because my sister's husband is still dead. He is still on the cold metal table under the harsh fluorescent lights.

As horrific as the past half hour has been, there is much more in store. My sister's son, Robbie, doesn't yet know his father is dead. Michele called him and left a message on his cell phone that there has been a wreck and to come to the hospital. We are on pins and needles because Robbie is not only a very emotional man, but he now has to make a 90-minute drive from Indianapolis. During rush hour. Since he got the message, he has called Michele back several times, but she cannot bring herself to answer. She's afraid that if she tells him their father is dead, he will have an accident himself. He and his father have become very close in the past few years, talking on their cell phones every day, especially when Robbie is driving the long haul to work. We can't tell him this news on the phone.

But then he calls his dad. The cell phone next to the scraped motorcycle helmet is ringing. We are stunned and don't know what to do. The chaplain helps. He answers, tells Robbie that "Your dad is here in the hospital, and the doctors can fill you in more on his condition when you get here."

The rest of us are slowly soaking in the truth. We are all sniffling, red-faced, our eyes swollen. My sister takes out her contacts and throws them away. She goes back to her coping mechanism and says "I've had really bad nightmares before, but none of them have gone on this long. It'll be a real relief to wake up."

Michele and I have been making phone calls. She has had to call Pat's sisters and tell them. And the misery compounds. I've called my mom and my brothers. I can't help being grateful that my mom wasn't here to see the worst moments of my sister's life. It would have crushed her.

I've called Scott a few times. Last night on the phone, we had a fight. For us, it was a bad fight, because we so rarely fight about anything. We had both been tired and preoccupied and on edge. I tell him on the phone today that none of that shit we fought about matters at all. I become a huge Hallmark movie cliche on the phone. But I have to make sure that he knows how deeply I love him.

We sit on straight-backed metal chairs and we are offered cheese and crackers and soft drinks by the hospital staff. Cole, my great-nephew, sits quietly drinking water from a styrofoam cup. His face is tear-stained and when the nurses ask if they can get him anything, he meekly says "I guess I would like some more water." I don't know why this breaks my heart even more, but it does.

I didn't know, until now, how much my sister loved her husband. I mean, I knew they loved each other, but I didn't know how blazingly happy they were together. How can you ever know what's going on in someone's marriage? Especially when you've left your hometown and your adult life is completely separate from your sister's? As close as we are, she doesn't talk about her marriage much, and I just took for granted that since it had lasted 40 years, it was at the very least, content. Apparently I wasn't even close. The things she will tell me in the next few days will illustrate for me just how outrageously happy they have been together.

It's been an hour and 15 minutes since Robbie called, upon leaving Indianapolis. We try to brace ourselves. We make sure that he will be brought directly back to us, to be told only by his mom. Although we are all still in shock, the whole thing will be fresh for him. It is a terrible wait.

The hospital staff moves us to another room, a room next door to where Pat is. We need to buffer the news for Robbie, and not have him come in to instantly see his father's body.

We move around the room, sitting, standing, rubbing our faces, taking sips of water. We are like chess pieces that can't find our places on the board. We make more phone calls and we cry until there is nothing left. Each time another wave of agony hits my sister, I go to her and I squeeze her and part of me believes that I might be able to pull some of the pain out of her and into my own body. I believe it a little, but it doesn't work. I feel myself entering new back alleyways of my heart, feeling new potencies of love and grief that I have never felt before. It is as though my only purpose on Earth has become a sharp arrow, one goal: to lessen her pain. And with that thought is the immediate realization that I can do very little.

We hear someone outside the room say "Here he comes." It's Robbie.

He enters the room. He is already crying, his face filled with agony. He looks at all of us.

"Is he alive or NOT?!" he yells.

My sister looks at him, her face bathed in sorrow, and shakes her head in such a tiny gesture of "no" that it's barely detectable. Robbie slams his keys down on the floor and adds himself to the group of us that are in pieces. He falls against my sister, lost in sobs, in disbelief, and there we are, starting from the beginning again.


  • At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Your pieces have been kept in our hearts. Bound up by threads of prayer. Cotton batting of hope and peace, thick about them.

  • At 11:09 PM, Blogger EB said…

    You're so brave, Candy. So, so brave. And strong. And I love you and miss you and wish the tears falling off my chin were hitting your shoulder.

  • At 10:23 AM, Blogger Jerry said…

    I don't think anything can be said to make this any better for anyone involved. You are there for each other; somehow you survive the grief.

    And the sorrow continues until you heart says--enough, and you snap into another phase--healing.

    You have no control now, so you ride the emotional wave--the surges of pain...then no pain for a moment...then pain renews as though everything just started

    This is the worst life has to offer; the dark thing that we cordon off in the furthest corner of our heart--hoping we never have to feel this kind of pain.

    And the sorrow continues until you heart says--enough, and you snap into another phase--healing.

  • At 11:34 AM, Blogger Lisa Dunick said…

    I can't even imagine what I should say to respond to this-- nothing I could say could every be commensurate with the sorrow I feel for your family and the true tragedy of the entire situation. But I am so sorry this happened to you and yours- and you'll all be in my thoughts and prayers.

  • At 1:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Candy, when tragedy of any sort happens to someone, it is common to hear "that's awful . . . I know how you feel, that happened to me, etc." The truth is that everyone is affected differently and suffers various depths of shock, pain, sadness. Everyone handles emotional pain in a very personal manner. Nobody ever knows just how someone else feels about what they are experiencing.

    When someone with your talent is able to express, as you do, their emotional experiences through writing, it allows us to share your pain and shock and anquish. You put me right at the scene and you led me through the first hours of unspeakable and incomprehensible pain; yours, and your family's. I was there. I felt pain. And I wept, and I don't even really know you or your sister and her kids.

    I got my 17 year old son to read your post. I was able to use your words to explain to him why it is that I embarrass the hell out of him whenever I drop him off at high school or when he goes out with his friends by saying very clearly, every time, "Bye, I love you". It's the last thing he hears from me. And now he gets it. I think he understands at last.

    Thank you for sharing, Candy. My heart goes out to you and your family. I hope that relief and healing comes quickly for you and that you continue to let us peek at your life.

  • At 2:34 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    EB, the brave, strong one is my sister. I am just like a lost basset hound at her side.
    But thank you.

  • At 2:37 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Jerry, true about the sorrow going into healing. But I'm noticing already that it goes back and forth and back and forth for my sister. She truly is the strongest person I've ever met, and I'm learning valuable things from her.

    She is riding the surges of pain, but the surges of love keep hitting her, too. One good thing about living in a very small town is that the support system is always there, no matter where she goes. Grocery store, post office, walking the dog in the park. Someone hugs her.

    Makes me long for the small town life sometimes.

  • At 2:39 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Thank you so much, LD. Just your presence here is enough. Means a lot.

  • At 2:49 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Banjo, it took much deliberation to decide what to do about posting this. I've been so hypervigilant as to what NOT to do to make my sister feel worse.

    She has been keeping a journal since her husband died, and although I would never ask to read it, I know how much it can help a person's brain AND heart to accept things.

    This quote I found says it for me:

    "Everything one records contains a grain of hope, no matter how deeply it may come from despair."

    I rarely feel any hope when I'm "recording" something devastating, but I see the hope later on. More importantly for me, I simply cannot move beyond much of anything until I write about it. Even good stuff!

    I told my sister I had written this, and gave her the choice of reading it. If she hadn't wanted to read it, I'd have certainly not posted it. But she's the kind of person who wants to allow the possibility of anything at all good coming from her loss. She was thrilled to find out that Pat's corneas gave two people sight.

    I'm glad you found some value in the post, Banjo. My sister will read your comment and will receive the gift of it.

    On the actual writing: I felt stiff and scared and not exactly as though it was done well. But it was done. Until the next post.

    Thanks. Keep embarrassing the hell out of your son. :)

  • At 3:53 PM, Blogger Norma said…

    Candy, your family is in my prayers.
    Take care. I love you. You are much stronger than you think.

  • At 5:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Candy, thank you for helping all of us to help you (at least in some small way) through this terrible, terrible time by writing about it.

    You and your family are in my heart.

  • At 6:30 PM, Blogger c . . . said…

    I imagine, Candy, that part of the reason your sister is able to ride the miserable and the hopeful waves is because you are there beside her. You may not feel strong in the midst of this ... my God, who could? ... but I also know that you are exactly the kind of person, basset hound or not, who I would want by my side in the midst of this ...

  • At 10:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have written and re-written my "comment" at least a thousand times.

    It never comes out right.

    Maybe because there is no way to express how I feel about the loss that cannot be conveyed in a way that has not already been expressed...

    I have never, in my life, been where you are.

    I have never, in my life, lost someone that I loved so deeply or so "forever" as your sister has.

    I have no words.

    I am happy and feel personally blessed that you, your family have eachother.

    "Candy"... I do, love you.

  • At 1:21 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Thank you so much, Norma. I miss you.

  • At 1:22 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Jackie O., thanks for reading it. There is value in releasing it into the world as a bit of writing, even if it's bleak as hell.

  • At 1:24 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Thanks, c... I'd be happy to serve as your basset hound!

    My sister has her kids with her, and they keep popping up to check on her, and loaning her a grandkid or two. They're a huge help to her, and of course they have all grown closer in quantum leaps.

  • At 1:26 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Pieshell, thank you. I've never been in her situation either. I can only look in from out here, and focus my prayers on her in a more pointed way. Sometimes they feel like little straight pins I'm shooting at her.

    It's amazing how much I've learned from her in the past three weeks. I've learned way more about strength than I knew before.

    Thanks for being here, and bringing love.

  • At 7:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Candy, I am so sorry. You and your family are in my prayers every day.

    The Rabbit

  • At 9:54 AM, Blogger Carin said…

    Candy - I never know what to say, so I'll just say I'm sosorry for your sister's loss :(

  • At 1:19 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Thanks, Rabbit. Wish we could get together.

    And Carin, thank you.

    I know people are probably getting pretty OD'd on the sad stuff here. I'm getting tired of writing it and even more tired of seeing my sister live it. She's doing OK, given the freshness of it all.

  • At 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Words escape me. words defy me. the struggle and pain of life is .... I'll think of you tonight and find a star and say a prayer. keep writing.

  • At 2:50 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Thanks, JBelle. I'm still writing, in tiny chunks. I'm sure my sister is too.
    Thanks for the prayer.

  • At 3:39 PM, Blogger mgm said…

    Candy, I couldn't think of what to say when you first posted this, but I am, as usual, with c . . . Your sister must be grateful to hav eyou at her side and I would be, too. I am utterly at a loss and, with several recent reminders of our mortality lately, cannot imagine what I would do if I lost my own spouse. It would be so much like losing my right arm.

    Just know, Candy, that while I might be many miles away, you are in my thoughts and I am sending you my love, like everyone else.

  • At 4:33 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Mad Grad, Thanks for the comment.

    Unfortunately I'm 1800 miles away from her now. But she has her kids and our parents and about a zillion friends. None of that can replace him, but I'm so glad she has a support system.

    I'm still so grateful that I was in town when it happened.

  • At 2:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    When I first read this post I had no idea what I could possible add to your post (in comments) so I just lurked away. Always intended to come back here with something thoughtful to add... unfortunetly I haven't much, except how very sad..... and I am sayingg another prayer for you and yours tonight.

  • At 3:57 PM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Kirby, thanks for the prayer. Don't worry about what to comment. I'm just writing to keep a little stability right now.
    And I'm very slow at it.

  • At 7:58 AM, Blogger Dana said…

    I've read this several times over and I am at a loss for words. Nothing I could say would do justice to your pain.

    Just know, I am on my knees before the Lord in prayer for you and your family.

  • At 2:56 PM, Blogger E. said…

    Candy, I began this post a week ago and could not finish it then. I had to steel myself and only gathered the courage today. Reading it brings me back to the day over ten years ago when I suffered the only real loss of my life so far, also gathered together with my family and torn apart by their pain. It's like walking around underwater, taking water into your lungs with every breath.

    I am so so so sorry for your sister's loss, and feel so deeply for you, watching her go through this horrible nightmare. It is a nightmare, but a living nightmare, one you all can't wake from. All I can say is that I am sorry, and that the one tiny comfort in all of this is that you have each other. It's times like these that make you appreciate having a close-knit family. You are helping your sister, so much. And yet her pain is still so enormous. But it would be worse, much worse, without the love of her family.

    Take care. You, your sister, her kids, your whole family are in my prayers.

  • At 1:40 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Dana, thanks so much for the prayers. They are really helping my sister get through this.

    E., I remember what you went through, from having read your poem about it. It is exactly the way you describe it.

  • At 11:04 PM, Blogger FarmAndAway said…

    Candy, this is so sad. You really captured the sense of "we only have to go back an hour to undo the accident" that is so normal in the face of bad news. If only it were that easy.

    I'm sorry, for you and your sister and your family.


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