Six years ago, a tragic car accident after his high school graduation took the life of my sister’s nephew. Her own kids were all teens themselves when they lost their cousin, and the aftermath was unlike anything I had ever seen. Saying the entire family suffered immeasurably doesn’t fully encapsulate the deepness of their grief or their struggle to move forward without Johnny.
I wrote the following piece six years ago.
Today, my sister’s children, all young adults now, will say goodbye to Johnny’s brother, Jake, 22, who never fully regained his footing following the loss of his brother.
I just can’t bring myself to write again.
Losing a child is unimaginable for most of us..
Losing two is unfathomable.
* * * * *
We weave and bob through tragedy with every headline of every day.
What a shame…
That poor family…
Isn’t that awful?
But eventually we move on to the circulars. Or the crosswords. Or (like me) the fake news, the drivel, the celebrity scoops. Why not – along with sudoku it’s so much more enjoyable than all that heavy stuff of strangers.
One day, though, unspeakable tragedy pinpricks into our own little life bubble and everything halts.
I’d always believed that if anything ever happened to any of my children all one would need is a dustpan to come and collect me. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Game over. Yet having just witnessed the most unfathomable display of parental strength imaginable, I realize just how wrong I’ve been in my selfish imaginings.
My sister’s nephew died in a tragic car accident this past weekend. He was heading off to college in a few weeks. One minute he was calling his mom telling her he was heading home after a slice of pizza and a few minutes later he was gone in an instant. To list his accomplishments would appear trite — there were far too many. To remark how genuinely beloved he and his family are would seem cliché — one need only to have witnessed the hundreds of people who gathered for him, standing in line for hours – most snaking around the building in direct sun. Or the two thousand people who sat at his mass.
It wasn’t very logistical for me to attend his services. Kids everywhere…husband traveling…700 miles of driving…3 or 4 states to travel through… But I couldn’t not go.
I’ve known this young man for longer than I’ve known my own children. He and his 3 brothers were as close to my sister’s 4 kids as any cousins could be. Like siblings. All born within months of each other.
Here’s what I have become mindful of:
…. If you’ve never experienced a mother’s tortured wails as she collapses over her child’s coffin, pray to God you never will. It is an image you will not soon (perhaps ever) fully erase from your memory. It will stay with you and rear its gripping visual when you least expect it. In quiet moments. While driving. Scrubbing stains out of the rug. Glancing at a photo of your own kids with their cousins, a photo you’ve passed by countless times. It is the most wrenching thing I have ever seen or experienced ever. Ever.
….Grandparents having to live through this will ask why they weren’t taken instead. They will repeat this to every person they greet. They truly, deeply, do not understand why they were not.
….Nieces and nephews, usually so full of light and mischievous sarcasm, will not be. At all. And it will frighten you. And worry you. Teen brains are a fragile piece of equipment to begin with. Shouldering such a dreadful experience can be dangerous to a skewed processing system. You know they’ll pull through this but you’ll wonder how. And when. And what the residual effect will be. And when the light might return to their eyes.
….There is always going to be one person who steps up to perform the most horrific and life-altering tasks during the situation. My brother-in-law was this person. Identifying the body. Making funeral arrangements. Turning away throngs of people because his sister refused to sit down. This man has been on the receiving end of many (MANY) an eye roll from me, my standard jab for decades being, “Dude, you sooo chose the right sister because I’d whoop yo ass….” But as his shoulders shook under my hug I could only squeeze tighter. I worry most about him.
And so after grinding to a heinous halt, life – inexplicably — starts to slowly roll along again.
My sadness comes in waves. Sometimes it’s a mere blip. Other times overwhelming. Things like this simply bring a focus into our own lives. We try to picture ourselves attempting to survive such insurmountable grief and really, it’s unimaginable.
My kids plant wordless kisses on my face. They get it. Mom’s not quite herself.
We try to bring tragedy into our lives as life lessons.
“Mom, don’t wait up. You’re tired, just go to bed, I’ll be home soon and lock up.”
“But it’s a party – can’t I stay out later?”
Sure. But we’ll pick you up.
“Don’t you trust me?”
Yep. Just not everyone else out there.
My mother-in-law died on the afternoon my youngest child was born. The circle of life. Upon returning back home I’ve gotten word that a local friend is in labor with her fourth child. She’s already got three boys and everyone’s excited to see if she’ll finally get herself a little pink bundle or another beautiful bottomless pit of a boy who will single-handedly increase her grocery bill by a third. Either way, the circle of life again. A good thing. A great thing.
We hug our kids tighter.
And wish and hope and pray that their time with us is not temporary.
Tina Drakakis blogs at Eyerollingmom and was featured in the 2014 Boston production of “Listen to Your Mother: Giving Motherhood a Microphone.” Her work has been featured in NPR’s “This I Believe” radio series yet she places “Most Popular 1984” on top of her list of achievements. (Next would be the home improvement reality TV show of 2003 but her kids won’t let her talk about that anymore). A witty mother of four, she takes on cyberspace as @Eyerollingmom on Twitter and Eyerollingmom on Facebook. and@Eyerollingmom on Instagram.