i am living the story i want to tell you. yesterday afternoon, my husband got a call from his brother: his oldest daughter – my first niece – walked in from work the night before to find that her partner had shot and killed himself. it’s sunday morning as i write this, the 21st of november 2010, and i’m flying to colorado in just a few hours to see my niece.
sounds so simple when i write it like that.
i married into a small family of doctors and engineers. linear thinkers who are quite sure about the way things are and should be. they have degrees from highly-regarded institutes of higher learning. their practicality, clarity, and confidence intimidates a writer and slow cloth storyteller gal like me. their consistency eludes a constantly changing creative like me who also has a graduate-level degree, but finds it hard to focus on one thing long enough to develop a reputation as anything even approaching an expert.
[i struggle to type the word “creative” in the sentence above. it takes several minutes before i finally mash the “c” key. same goes for the word “expert”, but the hesitation is for different reasons.]
i begin looking for flights right after we hang up. even though we don’t know the funeral arrangements yet. even though there’s nothing, no specific assignment of something we can do. even though, even though, even though.
about an hour later, i call my brother-in-law to check in, to see if he wants me to call their aunt. they are a small family, my in-laws, my family dwarfs them in sheer numbers, which is to say, i’ve buried way more loved ones than they have. i think about things like the distraction of notification, about the salve of collective love.
[i am having trouble writing this. the censors chirp and caution me against being too uppity, getting too big for my britches. they remind me i’m not the only one who is empathetic and caring. they ask if i’m really, seriously trying to say that i’m good at being there in times of death, dying, and grief. they point out that i have no degree, no letters after my name signifying that i’m qualified and competent enough to do this kind of thing.]
“that would be great if you’d call aunt ginny,” he says. “i didn’t even think about that, and i don’t have her number.”
“happy to,” i tell him. “we’re looking at flights now,” then i hurriedly add that my son kipp who also lives in denver, will pick shuttle us to and from the airport, my way of assuring donn that we will be no trouble.
“you don’t need to come,” he says.
“we want to come.”
“but there’s nothing you can do. we’re her nuclear family. we have friends, and she has a lot of friends here.” he rattles off all sorts of reasons to defend his position that we should not come, then he delivers the sucker punch: “you’ll just be in the way.”
you’ll just be in the way.
let me be really, really clear here: there was no malicious intent in those words. he did not stop and think before he said them, they just tumbled out. which, to an armchair jungian psychologist like myself, gives them added impact. without knowing it, donn has just ripped open my tender place and poured a barrel of salt into the ever-gaping wound.
i think of myself as a committee, and now the dissident, snarky committee members go into full volume yell, starting with “i told you so.” his words, their words form a chorus that sets me back and the questioning of self begins:
Q: what will you do out there, anyway?
A: i don’t know.
Q: then he’s right: you’ll just be in the way.
Q: don’t you have other things to do?
A: yes, but nothing better.
Q: it’s thanksgiving week. have you considered that?
A: yes, but that doesn’t seem the point.
Q: donn says she’s coming home this week and that maybe you can see her then, right? doesn’t that make sense?
A: it makes sense to that particular part of my brain, but my heart . . .
Q: oh, pshaw. why don’t you think about somebody besides yourself for a change?
A: i thought i was. i only wanted to fly to colorado and give betsey a hug.
Q: what will you say when you get there?
A: probably nothing. words haven’t been invented.
so in just a few hours, my daughter and i will climb into that big chair in the sky that will deliver us to denver. we’ll rent a car, meet up with my son, and tonight or maybe tomorrow, i’ll walk into a room and see betsey. i will try not to get in anybody’s way, try not to take up too much space as i make my way to her to deliver the only thing i have to offer: a hug with all the love i have coursing through me, seeping from my arms into her gentle, bruised, grieving spirit.
i’ll let you know how it goes.
many thanks to karen for putting these support stories. i am honored to be asked to participate and to be the company of such compassionate writer people.