Tuesday, April 27, 2010
You've never met me before, so I should introduce myself
before I start rambling to you. I'm the only daughter of the
baby sister you left behind when you died. I'm grown now,
but I still sometimes feel like a kid - and yet, I'm older than
you ever had the chance to be. Death at 20 is something I
can hardly fathom. I know you must've had so many dreams
you never got to live out. The Army was never your choice,
and I wonder what you would've done if you'd had all the
freedom I've had. Maybe you'd still be alive. Maybe you
would've lived just a few more years, only to be sent to
Vietnam and die there, with your mind and soul broken by
the violence and horror. Korea, at the time you went, was a
safer place, and I'm glad your time overseas wasn't spent
watching your best friends die.
There's so many things I wish I could ask you. What did you
think about politics? Did you like Nixon or Kennedy? Were
you religious like Nannie and Mama, or a searcher like
Granddaddy and me? What did you like to do for fun? I know
about the dog shows, because that was Granddaddy's hobby too,
but I don't know much about who you were besides that. I've
seen a few of the letters and pictures you sent home from Korea,
and I can see your sense of humor in them, especially that one
picture of you in a dress. (We have dozens of pictures of you,
but that was always secretly my favorite.) I think you would've
made a great uncle, with that sense of humor. The only thing
anybody really said about you was that you were kind of private
and didn't share a whole lot of yourself with the family. I'm the
same way, so I can understand that. We're both Virgos, maybe
that's why, I don't know. But I do, selfishly, wish you'd left
more of yourself behind.
Mama left me last year, gone at a young age too, though she
lived two and a half times as long as you. We buried her beside
you. Nannie and Granddaddy have been gone for years, and
so have all our aunts, though Aunt Evelyn lived to be 93. Maybe
you know all that; maybe they're with you in some comforting,
tangible afterlife. But in case they're not with you, in case you
never saw them again, you should know that you were always
remembered and deeply loved. I've known about you for as long
as I've known anyone else. Mama always talked about how she
admired her big brother, and Aunt Evelyn was always going on
about little Dickie with the golden curls. Even though I never knew
you, I could feel the hole you left. There was something dark and
broken behind Nannie's eyes, some unanswerable confusion in
Mama's mind, some hardened place in Granddaddy's heart that
was built to hide his pain. Mama was so little when you died, and
had a bad memory besides, but she could still remember the way
Nannie screamed when she got that awful telegram. Nannie never
could bring herself to talk about you much. I think she was afraid
she'd start screaming again.
I've mourned for you, too, in my own way. Many times I've
regretted that I never had an uncle, when I knew I was supposed
to. Many times I've wondered if I would've had your children to
grow up with, or your grandchildren to babysit. I was scared when
I turned 20, scared some family curse would come and take me
then too. I wrote an essay about you in sixth grade, to warn my
classmates about speeding and seatbelts and all. I drive carefully.
When I hear about car accidents, I see you in my mind.
I think that's the thing that makes me most angry, when I think
about how we lost you. Like so many of your generation, you
died while in the Army, but you didn't die in service. Nobody
got to describe your death as a "sacrifice" or take comfort in
the idea that it meant something. Your death was meaningless
and stupid, wholly avoidable, a product of young foolishness
that wasn't your own. The "friend" who crashed the car that
killed you dragged your lifeless body into the driver's seat and
ran away. He only broke his arm. Thinking of that makes my
blood boil, though I sympathize with him. I'm sure he was afraid
of jail, and thought the blame could bring no consequence to a
dead man. He was wrong. It troubled Nannie deeply to think you
would do such a stupid thing. She never believed you were
responsible, and she claimed to "hear" you tell her, somehow,
that it wasn't true. A few weeks later she received a letter saying
the driver confessed to what he'd
Part of me will never forgive him for taking you away from me,
for taking your potential children away, for putting out my
grandmother's inner light and making my mother grow up
feeling unstable and lost. But I also know he was young and
out for a good time, and cars weren't as safe in the 60's as they
are now, and anyway his conscience has probably ripped him
to shreds over the last 48 years. I hope he's found some peace
about it, even though I doubt I could look him in the eye.
Even though most of the people who knew you are gone, I've
still kept quite a bit of you around. I still have your coin collecting
book, though it's out of date and falling apart, and somewhere
around here is the bag of international coins you collected. I
still have your Army hat, and your Buddy Holly record, and your
favorite shirt, and your baby shoes. There's a box under Mama's
old bed with your Korean knives and the keys to the car you died
in. I have all your letters, too, though I haven't been able to bring
myself to read many of them. In some ways I've done what Nannie
did, deliberately keeping you at a distance to avoid the pain. The
more I know you, the more angry I am that I don't know you. It
hurts, too, seeing you write to people I did know and don't have
with me anymore. Someday, when the pain of losing Mama is not
so fresh, I'll dust them off. Maybe I'll write Donna and ask her to
dig up some old memories - I think she knew you better than
Until then, though, I want you to know that I care about you.
All of my friends who've known me for any length of time have
heard of you. I plan to tell my children about you. I think of you
when I hear Buddy Holly on the radio or see a bull terrier or a little
boy with curls. You've been gone so long, but you were never
forgotten. I plan to keep it that way.
My heart is so heavy today. I am sad for you, and for those
you leave behind, unutterably sad. I could hardly fathom
Linda’s words yesterday when she told me you’d taken your
own life. I am sad that you were so unhappy you saw no other
escape from your pain, no way to fill the void within you.
I knew you had been unhappy during our marriage; we both were.
I had hoped that in the years since, you’d found happiness and love.
I have found happiness and love. The source of much of that
happiness and love is Will’s presence in my life. He truly was your
gift to me. I doubt you knew that, when you talked me into having
a child together. I doubt you realized with that simple choice, you
set in motion my departure just over a year later. That gift, the child
we gave each other, the one I raised after leaving you, he’s such a
beautiful soul. In so many ways like you, which at times challenged
me and touch me still, especially today.
And, well, I’m angry too. Angry at the devastation you’ve left me,
and your family, to deal with. Angry for my son who will never
get the chance to know his biological father. Yes, Will has a Dad,
who loves him and adopted him. Still, though, he yearns to know
more of you, to know from when he comes. Now he won’t have
All he’s left with is regrets. Regret that he didn’t seek you out, even
as I tell him it isn’t a child’s job to make the first advances. Worry
that his choice to be adopted, to take a new name, was a rejection
that wounded you. He feels guilt and hurt at learning that you
avoided opportunities to meet at him holidays at your father’s
home, for fear Will would reject you.
A bit about Will, if I may, Jim. He’d not have rejected you, for the
simple reason that Will loves more fiercely than anyone I’ve ever
known in my life. I remember being amazed, when he was young,
to find out just how much he loved me. He’d have loved you, too.
In his loss, he loves you. He’d also have understood, empathized
with, the depths of your pain. Over the years, as he asked about you,
I made every effort to be fair and kind in telling him what I knew of
you, of what happened between us. I told him – honestly -- that I
forgave you, forgave us both, for the pain we’d brought each other;
that what happened wasn’t entirely your fault, nor mine; that just
as it takes two people to make a marriage work, it takes two people
to let one fail; that I, too, had been at fault all that time ago.
Your father; I cannot begin to wrap my head around what he’s
feeling now. I know he was barely able to get words out over the
phone last night, and yet his words comforted Will. Your brother
was so helpful to Will in making some sense of all this. Your little
sister is heartbroken. So many people who will miss you, who
will carry a piece of your legacy of pain, with us each day from now on.
For myself, to think the world will never hear your infectious
laugh again, never see your sparkling smile, is heartbreaking.
The comfort comes in knowing that every time I hear Will laugh
or see him smile – and I’m sure I will again, though maybe not
soon – I’ll see that same sparkle, hear the infectious laugh. And
I’ll remember you, the very young man I knew and once loved.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
It's been a long time since I last said those words. Fifteen years,
today, as a matter of fact. Fifteen years since I sat on your hospital
bed, holding you and crying while one of the nurses who had become
family to us softly braided my sleep-tangled hair. I can still feel her
gentle fingers, but I can't remember who it was. That simple act, so
human and tender, gave me the comfort and strength to stay there
with you, let you know that it was OK to stop fighting for breath and
life, to let you ruined lungs and ravaged body finally, at long last, do
what they hadn't been able to do fully in years - rest, relax, and stop.
I was 25 when you died. I wasn't ready to let you go. I had thought
that if I loved you enough, I could love you well, genetics and the
harsh facts of cystic fibrosis be damned. I could love you well. When
the doctor told me you were dying and that it could take minutes,
hours, or days, but that there was no longer any hope at all of your
recovering, we were standing at the end of that fifth floor hall, and I
was staring out the window, feeling his hand on my shoulder, but not
the true reality of his words. I thought of the wedding we were
planning - I had deposits on two dresses, and shoes being dyed
specially. I thought of the transplant candidacy appointment
we had scheduled in Boston the following week.
And I thought of that window, and the two or three story fall
beyond, and if I could throw myself through it and onto the roof
below before he could stop me. Throw myself out the window
(although I am terrified of falling), and die first, so that I wouldn't
have to face either your death, or my own life without you in it.
But I had promised you, from the time we began our relationship,
that I would keep living after you died. You always knew you
would die. You said you would die before your 33rd birthday
(one week before my 26th). And you were right. On your 33rd
birthday, we buried your ashes.
I'd made a committment to you, and I was determined to keep it.
So I squared my shoulders and went to call my family.
"Tim's dying," I said to my dad, feeling how much effort was going
into your shallow, irregular breaths. You were literally drowning
in carbon dioxide your lungs couldn't release anymore; and each
breath made the problem worse.
"I told you that was what was going to happen," he said, and drove
a huge stake through my already broken heart with his words.
Then I found the nunbers for your family, and gave them to the
nurse, there by your bedside, and sat with you while they were
called. I couldn't bear to leave you, or to speak to any of them.
There I stayed until I was told your family was on their way
(that upset me a little, because I remembered your words,
"I don't want my family there with me when I die. Only you.")
and the nurses said they were going to give you a spongebath
to help you feel more comfortable. So I went numbly to wait in
the nurses' break room. Only halfway up the hall, the nurses
doing your bath came out. "Hurry, Tim needs you now."
And so I ended up on your bed, where we had snuggled, where
you had proposed, and where, once, a nurse had walked in on us
while we were making love (you were often in the hospital for
weeks, and, until the last week or so of that last stay, you had a
very typical male libido!).
It was fitting that you should die there, and I should begin the rest
of my life, maybe. I remember watching your epic struggle for
those last breaths, and how, after i told you it was OK to go now,
to rest, you only drew two more - and then you were still, and I
went immediately from the intensity of "we" to a desolate and
You'd always told me you couldn't relax, that breathing was too
much work to allow it. Seeing that it was utterly true helped me
through the dulled agony of what followed: Your family coming,
looking at you a bit like some tragic display. Riding to your sister's
house in the back of her car, beside your brother, hugging the teddy
bear I'd bought you for Valentine's Day, and sobbing uncontrollably
when the radio played, "Carry On My Wayward Son". Remember
how you never wanted to play Kansas, because they made me cry,
and then so would you? Well, I don't really listen to them anymore -
I gave your CDs to your friend Mark, because I knew you'd want him
to have them. But when they come on the radio, I smile, and tears
come to my eyes, and I remember you.
I never lived alone, before you died, and at first I felt so utterly
lost in our apartment that I stayed at my parents' for a week.
But then I came home, because I could still feel you there, and
I wanted to be where I could feel your support as I began my
life anew. I made cleaning the place up the way I always wanted
to, for you, my top priority. It was a gift for you, it was something
to fill all those long hours that used to be filled with your therapies,
long lazy talks, lovemaking, and delighting in your company.
I had to reinvent myself. I couldn't stay your fiance; couldn't
marry a ghost. And I had promised you I would live, and travel,
and that if someone found me who could love and take care of me
the way you always wanted to, that I would let him. I made a few
false starts, and learned from some of my mistakes, and, a bit less
than two years after you died, I met Jim. I know beyond a doubt
that you would have liked him. He has a similar gentleness, the
same type of quirky humor (he referred to himself, in our dating
days, as "my large interactive teddy bear". So much like you
saying you'd come back to the hospital because you'd bought it,
and wanted to make sure they were handling your investment
I resisted at first, but eventually remembered my promise to
you and let this amazing man love me the way he was waiting to.
We were married on August 23, 1997.
Marrying Jim was a very smart move, just as loving you was. I
couldn't have become the partner I have become, for him, without
having loved you first. I was so damaged by my childhood, the lack
of trust, the fear, to really share my thoughts and feelings. You
bore the brunt of that, on top of the numerous effects of having
lived 27 years before your CF was diagnoses and treated. you
were patient, kind, and never ever told me I didn't deserve to feel
as I did. With you, for the first time in my life, I was free to simply
be whoever I was, in every moment. That freed me to begin to
truly discover who I am and what is most important in my life.
Marrying you would've meant giving up the chance at children.
Though I'd always imagined being a mom, I was willing to give up
the abstract concept of children for the reality of our love. And
so the birth of Jeremiah in 2001, and Annalise in 2004, seem so
much more miraculous. Even the 2003 birth of Elijah and his death
12 days later were made more bearable by knowing I had survived
your death, and would survive his, too, no matter how wrenchingly
shattering it was in those first horrible weeks. Parenthood is a
journey like no other, and I think the selfless love I first experienced
from and with you helps tremendously. It lets me, more and more,
see my children as they really are, and love them as-is.
I know I've made some choices you wouldn't have, and that used
to really bother me. Over the last few years, though, I've realized
that you never wanted me to owe you any more of my life than what
we'd shared willingly with each other. I own my life, and I need to
make the choices that work, for myself and my family, now. And
I think you would completely understand that. We live a blissfully
happy life, here, and you have something to do with that.
If I had any regrets about the time we spent together, it would be
that I wasn't nicer to you., I didn't understand, yet, that you were
already preparing to die when we met, that you were too tired to
"rage against the dying of the light". I thought if only you would try
harder.....I was always trying to get you there, to that strong place
where you could live. But I could never provoke you to fight, even
though there were times when I was a complete bitch.
You just kept on loving me, no matter what I said or did in my rages.
You did it in your own quiet, humorous ways, and, when the storm
blew past, you always said there was nothing to forgive. I had never
before felt such unconditional love and acceptance, and I'm still not
as good as I'd like as giving it (although finally, halfway through my
40th year, I am getting better at it.). Before you, I never knew that
I deserved that kind of love, and a lot of my anger was really
poorly-masked fear, that, if you died, I would never have that type
of love again.
Without you, Tim, I would not be who I am. There is a place in
my heart that remains yours - as we used to say, "Always, Only,
Forever". Jim and the children know about you, and have seen
the few pictures I have, and heard stories about you. Because
you are a part of me, and, to understand that part, they need to
know you, too, as much as they can through me.
I don't know if any of this will make any sense to anyone but the
two of us. Maybe, like the delight of a rambling conversation
where there is no destination, only a delicious journey, it just *is*,
and that is OK. Maybe, like all the letters I wrote you just after
you died, when it seemed I could still feel you, smell you, taste
you, and hear you everywhere, where I kept seeing men who
looked so like you that I could not stop staring at them, it's just
a way to reconnect and explore again the gifts I've received from
the time we shared our lives.
You will always be there, within my soul. We never took vows in
fact, but we were faithfully married, in our souls. You gave me the
best of yourself, without hesitation, for the rest of your life. It
truly was "till death do you part." I thank you for that, and for
letting me know that I was worth that to you.
It's time to let you go again, because my family will be home soon,
and this writing has made me a bit too thoughtful and melancholy
for the jubilant spirits who will soon fill up this little house.
I will leave you with the Shakespeare quote I most associate with you.
Doubt that the Earth doth move.
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.
I love you.
Your "Honey Dee"
The Unfettered Life - living, loving, unschooling
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Rich, mon vieux! Wherey'at, bra?
Bob and I were talking about you the other day. We still talk
on the phone regularly and you come up several times a year
when we're reminiscing about our (vain)glorious days together
on the gymnastics team, the time you came to Seattle for a ski
vacation, and various other times and adventures we shared.
We laugh with you then, alive and vibrant, an energetic triumvirate
striding boldly through the halls of memory.
I want you to be alive right here, right now, so I can smack you
upside your stupid head. Ok, maybe I'd need a stepladder, a small
one anyway, to reach. I was always the little fireplug of intensity from
"da Jeswits" and you were the tall, elegant, good-looking "Sheik of Arabi."
Remember when we left Leon Redbone's version of that song on your
answering machine? Bob and I laughed ourselves nearly to the point of
puking over that one. I know you felt inferior because of being from
Arabi, down in "da parish," and because you were the designated target
for your father's endless rage and disillusionment with his own lot in life
and you accepted his contention that you were weak and worthless.
You were better than that but you never believed that you were.
Is that part of why you got seduced into *belonging* to that charlatan
preacher so much that you committed suicide, disguised as an accident,
so that she could collect the large insurance policies she had taken out
on you? Because she (pretended that she) cared about you? Because
she told you how wonderful Heaven was and you were tired of the
disappointments in your life and wanted something wonderful so
desperately that you suppressed your critical faculties and chose to
believe in her? Hell! I'll never know with any certainty, will I?
Yes, I am still mad at you, you dumbass. Make no mistake, I love ya,
bra, and I hold you in my heart still; but you really pissed me off pulling
that shit. You remember Ray from the gymnastics team. At the time
of your death he was a Major in the N.O.P.D. and Bob got him to
look into your death rigorously but there was never enough for them
to act on, even though they agreed that the circumstances were suspicious
enough that several of the insurance companies didn't pay.
Ahhh, shit. I don't want to write you a letter where all I do is yell at you,
so that's enough of that. No more. I choose to dwell on the good
memories, the fond ones, the amusing ones.
I always smile when I think of the time you hurt your tailbone and had
to wear that big foam pad under your gymnastics uniform. You were
so tall and lean and you body formed such an elegant line… except
BOOM! There was that big square shape sticking up and distorting
the top of your ass. Oh man! What a crackup.
And your (in)famous open-top car! You survived that nasty wreck
with the pipe truck which tore the roof off that POS Chevy but
couldn't afford to get it repaired so you drove around with no top
and just wore a heavy coat in Winter and a raincoat in the rain.
You had a mold and fungus garden in the back seat of that thing!
I remember riding with you and other drivers would be yelling at us,
"It's raining. Put your top up!" and we'd just laugh.
You and Bob came to visit me in Seattle for a ski vacation and for
one of our breakfasts I took you to Beth's Café, famous for its HUGE
omelettes, and I warned you that maybe you'd just wanna split one
but you insisted that you were hungry and you could eat one yourself.
Then you saw it, a 12-egg omelette stretching to the edges of the platter
on top of a full load of hashbrowns. Your expression was priceless.
That's the face I have fixed in my memory when I think of you.
An authentic mix of surprise, joy, amusement, and a little bit of
shock. No artifice. No practiced expression designed to amuse
and entertain others. Simple, genuine Rich. That's the guy I always
knew was inside your skin, even though he didn't reveal himself
often enough. I miss him. I miss you.
This evening we had some New Orleans-style boiled shrimp
(or as they say in da parish "berled swimps") for dinner and I
thought of you and came back to finish this letter which I'd started
a while ago but couldn't seem to make any progress on. I decided
it didn't have to be thematic, or logical, or consistent, or even
sensible; it just had to be to you from me. So here it is.
Hope dey got dem dressed eryster poboys in de place where
you be stayin' at now. Love ya, bra.
Note from Ren: Frank posted this letter at his blog too (you should stop over there, he's always a great writer) with a few pictures of his friend.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
It's been 7years now since you passed away. I still miss you more
than you could ever know. Your life was so short, so difficult.
I will never forget meeting you for the first time. I kept looking at
you in awe, wondering how someone so small could be such a fighter
and so incredibly beautiful. You amazed me. Remembering back to
the days you were here with us, you continue to amaze me: hospital stays
, ambulance rides, doctor appointments, tube feedings, medication upon
medication, special foods, seizures, brain damage, surgeries, crying ...
but mostly I remember your smile and your laughter. No matter what life
threw at you, you always came out of it smiling and laughing.
I'm not the only person you amazed. Your family was so in love
with you and you brought so much happiness to the house. Doctors,
nurses, therapists, friends, neighbors ... you touched so many lives, Princess.
The situation may have been dark, but you were a bright light. Your light
may be dimmed now, but you are not forgotten.
Grammy and I are the only ones that go to your gravesite now.
It's where I feel closest to you. I still have this need to protect my little girl,
you know? You are buried right next to Gramps and I know he watches
after you, but I long to hold you. February is a big month now ... Valentine's Day
(your favorite because the color red and hearts were your "signatures"!), your birthday,
the anniversary of your death. All within days of each other, but the month is dedicated
to you at our house. We still bake vanilla cupcakes, wear all the red/hearts we can
find and share our "Livy memories". It's the most precious time of the year.
I believe that in death you are healthy now, and truly able to be a happy little girl.
I believe that one day I'll see you again and this time you'll run to my arms and be
able to say my name. I believe that the ache of your loss will never go away, but
that it will only cause my love for you to grow and make our new time together that
I love you so much, Princess. This letter is my hug to you ... for the time being,
until I can hold my baby girl again.