Reeling For Decades, Losing A Family Member

It was the kind of day where when you got home, you took a look at the sky and breathed in the perfect air, blue sky, sunshine, 80 degrees, and just sighed. Close to heaven, such weather. That was Sunday, the 9th of June 2019. It hadn’t been an easy week.

This week I found out my stepbrother died. I hadn’t seen him in 20 years, not since my dad died, but I was fond of him. He was good looking in a Val Kilmer sort of way, and terribly clever. A lifelong bachelor. He never let himself get really close to anyone. He died young, relatively, and fast. A heart attack dropped him on the spot, we heard. Medics could not resuscitate him.

He was working outside in his landscape business in Oregon. It seemed suitable to me to go like that on a pretty day at age 62. It must be a good way to go, fast, no time to even know one is leaving. We attended his service on Thursday at Lake View Cemetery where he was interred with my father and Shannon, our half-sister who had died at 8 of leukemia a long time ago with a blow so great, it left us all reeling for decades, forever really. Nothing was the same after that, really, and as I write this, I realize it also bonds us in grief and grace. Our stepmother was there, prim and composed under the tarp, hands folded in her lap. She had become a stranger in the last years as happens sometimes in families. The weight of that was palpable. It fell from me when embraced. The hillside required we all stand a bit off kilter. We had to balance with one leg bent at the knee and the other stretched out below. It felt strange and awkward.

It was a curious metaphor for the day because we are always knocked askew by death, no matter when or how it arrives–young, old, middle aged. Death knocks us all askew.

But we must make peace with it one way or another, yes? We must reckon with it, honestly, because if we don’t, it will nip at us throughout the years; it will haunt us in dark rooms of self.

Later that weekend, my sister and I stopped at brother Chip’s grave. We fussed with the big pot of begonias, with their glossy leaves and pink flowers. We discussed the geraniums we would plant soon. There was no evidence of our recent service but some overturned soil. I thought it looked like a nice spot to rest for eternity. Later, we were bound for a charity event in Stow, where we ate salad and spaghetti, laughed with cat lovers and friends, entered our raffle tickets on chosen items. Then we drove down to the Stow ferry lakeside. I hadn’t been there since I was a very young woman, before college, before everything, my first summer as a young mother raising my boys alone. It was a lifetime past.

Yet here I stood on the other side of the lake, on the other side of my own life it seemed to me, looking over at Bemus Point from the Stow side of the old ferry route. We sat on the park dock and stared across Bemus Bay on the loveliest day of the year so far. The boats were churning up white water wakes and passing in the sunshine. The wind rustled our hair. Mallards courted and swam around the docks. My sister and I talked over the week’s events. The sky was penultimate blue and white like delft china.

It’s all a bit of a raffle, isn’t it? When someone we love dies, we gather at graveside and hug our relatives and friends, people we haven’t seen in years, people we may not ever see again. We stand on the edge between dark and light, death and life. We nurse our wounds or come to fresh healing, that’s the option. It’s possible to walk away cleansed, to forgive, to accept. To be stronger. Something about a loved one passing gives us, is it fair to say? a new slant on life. We are close to heaven then, and it’s a reckoning.

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