Valentine’s Day 1997

We held the viewing on Valentine’s Day, a cold and rainy night. **People came dressed for dinner, a night out, champagne and chocolate. Some filed through quietly, paid their respects to my parents and slipped out the door with their umbrellas. And then in the middle of the background easy-listening Christian hymn music, a cry would go up from the front of the room, a sob that couldn’t be held back.

My brother in the casket, waxy, pale despite the make-up, his short Marine buzz cut spiky with gel. I ran my fingers over it, the black stitches holding his scalp together blending into his hair. You could see where the coroner had used the saw to remove part of the skull, to see what damage his brain had sustained. The coroner’s report read “massive head trauma.” I was surprised he looked this good.

I was angry with the people in their fine clothes, the anticipation of a romantic evening after this duty. Numb and tired from crying, from helping my mother choose a casket. Angry with the funeral home director for trying to sell her a casket she couldn’t afford. The fabric was nicer, made of steel, blah, blah, blah. And I looked at him and asked, what’s the point; it’s getting buried six feet under. You pay more money for a casket that will keep the body from decaying for a longer period of time? And you make more money as a result. That’s disgusting.

My mother pleaded with me to be nice. No, I have no more nice left in me. Bury me in the dirt and let the critters of the earth do their job on me or burn me to ashes and scatter me to the wind; don’t waste your money on this artificial finery. I just wanted to sink into sleep, a long, long nap and when I woke from this dream I could go on with my life as it was before. Not this constant, nagging ache, this realization every morning before I could even open my eyes that something was desperately wrong and out of sync, what was it? Oh yes, now I remember. I don’t want to remember, I want to go back to sleep. But that awareness pulled me into the days and weeks ahead. And still, it remains.

** Editor’s note: My mom finally read this and told me it wasn’t raining that night. The whole week from the accident to burial was beautiful, clear and crisp. I remember the clear weather on Feb. 15 at the gravesite, but for some strange reason, I remembered it as raining the night of the 14th. So, a good reminder in memoir work…sometimes it may be wise to check with others who shared an experience. They have different memories of the emotions, events, whatever, but these little details aren’t subjective. Mom says I need to send stuff to her for fact checking now!

Last chance

14 years ago today…

I held the phone, helpless. The woman on the other end pleaded with me to ask my mother just one more time to consider donating the healthy organs of her 23-year-old son. Strong heart of a Marine in training, lungs for running, kidneys for two, corneas to see. I’ll do my best, I promised.

But mom couldn’t bear the thought of breaking apart his body even more than it had been by the impact of his skull against the steel side of a van. Motorcycle helmets can only do so much. How many lives were waiting for that last chance that a mother’s anguish could not see light to give?

If you were to die unexpectedly, do your loved ones know your wishes? Are you an organ donor? Have you had this discussion?