Tag Archives: death

Interrupted by Death

I barely heard the muffled sound of my cell phone in the pocket of my cargo shorts. With all the commotion of helping my son get his catcher’s equipment on and the chatter and cheers of the players, coaches, and parents, it took me a while to pick up on the constant ring tone.

If it goes to voice mail, you’ll know who it is, I thought grimly. The day was perfect for a t-ball game, but a dark cloud had finally moved in from the north, and it began to envelop my very soul and mind into its midst.

A type of cloud that I hadn’t experienced in about 15 years was back.

The cloud of death.

I then heard the triple beep of my phone as the caller finished leaving voice mail.

The night before, my sister notified me by text (how I miss personal phone calls) that our grandma was suffering kidney failure. Grandma, living with my mom, stepdad, and stepfather-in-law, alerted my mom that she was having trouble breathing and couldn’t move. After being transported to the hospital and evaluated, my grandma stayed overnight for more testing. My sister told me in her text that she would keep me posted if anything changed. A routine hospital run; no different than before.

My ignorant assumptions crumbled like a centuries-old letter.

I dialed my voice mail as my son took his position behind home plate. Leaving the chain-link fence next to the empty dugout, I quickly walked to the adjacent baseball diamond where, luckily, no game was being played. Putting my index finger into my left ear as I jammed the phone against the other, my sister’s voice came on: “Hi Scott. It’s me. Grandma’s not doing too well.” A long, horrific pause ensued, meaning only one thing: My sister, the one with a heart of stone, was actually choked up. I stood confused and helpless, trying to decipher her message.

I had to replay the voice mail to understand her through the sobs. “Her kidneys are failing, and there’s nothing they can do. The doctors are gonna give her a private room in another section of the hospital so she can go peacefully.” The last few lines after that were unintelligible.

Immediately dialing my sister’s number, I quickly wondered how my son was doing as catcher before remembering that it was t-ball and catchers didn’t do much. An instant later, my sister answered.

“So there’s really nothing that can be done?” I asked, walking toward the low right-field fence and looking at the trees in home-run territory. Birds sang in front of me, and parents cheered behind me.

“No. Grandma’s too old for dialysis and a kidney transplant. Dialysis would be three times a week for six hours each time. The doctor said she would live miserably. She could go on life support, but her and mom already signed a form refusing it.”

“I see…”

“Yeah,” my sister said, and then paused. “They’re saying she can only last several days without her pills or being hooked up to a machine.”

I knelt down and then plopped onto the tall grass with my back against the wooden fence. In front of me was part of a black, dried up seed pod. I stared at it during the rest of our conversation.

“Can family visit?”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, “It’ll be a nice room. Really nice. It’s called South Care Hospice House. At least everyone can be with her and…” Another pause. “say goodbye.”

My sister lost control, and I felt a sucker punch in my gut. She managed to choke out the sentence about her being en route to the hospital.

It was my turn to cry. “Can you… tell her… bye… for me?”

“Yes.” Very short and clipped.

“Thanks.

“Sure. Bye, Scott.”

“Bye.”

I stood up and looked out into the distance beyond the fence. Orange and yellow trees stood tall under the blue, cloudless sky. “Grandpa, please appear to grandma in her room right before she goes so she won’t be scared.”

As an afterthought, I continued, “But ask God first if it’s okay for you to come down here.”

Another afterthought: “Oh, and, while you’re at it, can you arrange a last-minute flight for me?”

I knew grandpa would do it because, well, he was grandpa.

After a few minutes, I went back to the ball game just in time to help my son put on his batting helmet.

The dark cloud loosened its grip on me, but it remained nevertheless.

In Memory of

Grandma B

October 31, 1920 – October 10, 2011

The preceding was written two years ago after the death of my last surviving grandparent.

~t

(photo by Topaz)


Stand by Me

A bench in McGregor (Texas) Cemetery

My sister flew down from Missouri this past weekend. My kids were excited for her to visit because, when any of my family members come, my boys receive “presents.” My sister, Kay, always has fun visiting.

However, this was no ordinary visit.

For the past two years, Kay and I had been talking about driving down to McGregor to visit our aunt’s grave. We kept mentioning it but never made time for the trip. Finally, the stars and planets aligned, so we chose this past weekend for our road trip.

Actually, our aunt died three years ago, but not a single family member knew about it until Kay’s 2010 Christmas card to our aunt was returned to her. Baffled since our aunt had lived in McGregor for ages, Kay did some online investigation and discovered that our aunt had passed away back in March of the same year.

You see, my sister was the only family member who had kept in touch with our aunt and sent Christmas cards to her every season. (Kay has a big heart, obviously much bigger than mine.)

You may be wondering, Why did no one keep in touch with her? Well, my grandfather ruled our family with an iron fist. A shrew self-made multi-millionnaire, he wielded incredible influence and power; we lived in fear of him, referring to him behind his back as The Godfather.

Years and years ago, my aunt met a man and ran away with him to Texas, where they eventually settled in a small quiet town called McGregor. “Leaving the family” against my grandfather’s wishes, he severed all ties with her, excluded her from the will, and told us never to contact her again.

The only memories I have of her have faded a little: going to her house with my mother for coffee; playing with her big, furry dog; rolling around on her shag carpet like I was in the woods; and her trademark cackling at everything we kids did.

So my sister and I were glad that the day had finally come. Only a few hours away from where I now live, our biggest regret was that we hadn’t visited her while she was alive. By traveling there and paying our last respects, however, I believed it would comfort her lonely soul and put a smile on her face as she looked down upon us.

The fresh bread in this Czech town of West always reminds us of our heritage and the kolache that our great-grandmother used to make.

It’s always exciting to take a road trip, especially with a friend or family member. My sister and I are only three years apart, and we have been growing closer as we get older. She suffers from bipolar disorder and a troubled marriage like I do, so it would be the perfect chance for us to, in essence, be counselors for each other.

I made a playlist on my iPod of various dance/pop/R&B songs for the road trip, and we loaded up my car with a cooler full of bottled water (Texas summers tend to be pretty brutal). We set off in good spirits with the music creating a cheerful background as we chatted and took in the landscape of rural Texas.

I told my sister as we left the metro area that everything we were doing reminded me of the movie Stand by Me: Although the purpose of our quest was a somber one, we would have fun along the way, make a few detours, and enjoy each other’s company. Lifelong memories would be formed.

One humorous moment was when we stopped at a small Mexican restaurant along the way for lunch. Kay ordered a margarita since she wasn’t driving, and the waitress asked to see her ID. Having been given such a compliment, my sister quickly gave the waitress her driver’s license. The waitress looked at it and said in a disappointed tone, “Oh. You’re not from here.” She walked away with Kay’s driver’s license without saying another word. My sister and I exchanged puzzled looks. Ten minutes later, though, my sister was happily sipping her strawberry margarita.

Later, as we rolled west on highway 84 toward McGregor, I started to get butterflies in my stomach. This is it, I thought. I hope we find the grave. All we had to go on was what our aunt’s former landlord had told us; nothing on the Internet helped us at all. The city cemetery didn’t have an address or phone number.

Loose gravel crunching beneath the tires, we pulled into the cemetery.

No map. No office building. Just what we expected.

One thing we didn’t expect, though, was the size of the cemetery: It wasn’t a little podunk scrap of land that we had imagined. Rows and rows of headstones and memorials in all shapes and sizes stretched as far as we could see.

St. Eugene Catholic Church in McGregor. I had planned on lighting a candle inside for Aunt Lois, but a wedding was taking place.

“No problem,” I said confidently to Kay. “Look. The dates on the ones near the entrance are as recent as 2012. It’s got to be up front here. See?” I pointed to the next headstones. “2010.”

We quickly found out that there was no organization whatsoever that we could perceive. Gravestones from 1882, 1910, and 1963 were intermixed with ones from the 21st century. Our hearts sunk and reality hit us: We would have to park the car and roam around in the 103-degree (39 C) heat until we found it. Well, Aunt Lois, I thought, we’re definitely thinking of you now. There was no one to ask for help; we were the only ones in the cemetery.

Kay took one vast side of the cemetery, and I took the other. Our iPhones in our hands like walkie-talkies, we began the search. My sister soon texted me: This is like a game. Kinda fun! I smiled.

We both got caught up in pausing before interesting gravestone/memorials. Each one told a story by the engraved pictures, words, and items placed in front. This distracted us from our true mission, but we didn’t mind. I couldn’t help but set vases of flowers and teddy bears upright as I came across them. I apologized out loud before touching these precious items, though. I wanted to do it out of respect, but, at the same time, I felt like I was invading the peace and tranquility of the departed souls.

Two hours later, after numerous breaks under shade trees, a bag full of empty water bottles, and sweat-drenched clothing, my phone rang.

It was Kay.

I prayed in this spot on the church grounds before we drove to the cemetery.

My heart fluttered in my chest. We had texted up until now (don’t ask me why), but she was now calling me. I answered.

Yep. Just as I thought: She had located the grave.

I jogged toward my sister who was standing way back at the far end of the cemetery, not far from where I parked the car (ugh). On our way into town, we had bought four different kinds of plastic flowers at Dollar General because we wanted them to last longer that just a couple of hours.

We planted the four sprigs in diamond formation around the small but gorgeous headstone. I suggested that we have a moment of silence. (I didn’t want to use the word pray because my sister is definitely not the praying type.) I bowed my head as my sister respectfully gazed down at the flat rectangular stone.

In silence, we got back into the car and drove along the gravel trail back to the entrance. Suddenly a thought came to me: We didn’t waste the past two hours wandering under the fiery sun. Aunt Lois had no family and very few friends when she died. To her, the past two hours were like an afternoon of coffee and chit-chat with her niece and nephew in the run-down apartment complex that she called home.

All I know is that Kay and I were the only family members who had made the trip to pay our last respects.

I imagined Aunt Lois smiling and seeing us off at the entrance, her hair in the same beehive style that I remember.

“That was a nice visit,” Kay said as we slowly drove away.

“Yep. It was.”

The Circle of Life: We saw these horses directly across from the cemetery as we left.

~t

(all photos by Topaz)


That Fateful Night: An Excerpt

Credit: realhdwallpaper.com

I have been writing a lot for the past couple of years. How much is a lot, you ask? Well, I have a few completed manuscripts that I’ve accumulated.

That’s great!! What are you waiting for?? Send them in!!

Ha.

If only it were that easy.

I haven’t wanted to release any of them yet. And the one manuscript that I did shop around turned out to be lacking something. Oh well. We live and learn.

Live.

Yes, it’s all about living. That much I know.

This current project feels like it might be the one that sees the light of day. It may very well be the one that gets published self-published. Why? Because it’s the only one that feels right: the story that is bleeding out of my still-open wounds. It’s not like I’m on a 1,000-word-a-day writing binge, but I’ll get it written at some point.

My goal is to have it finished and bound before my mother passes away. She’s not sick or anything, but she’s the one who keeps urging me to publish it, so I’d at least like to finish it before she does pass away someday. She wants me to get my story out there so others can learn and benefit from it. Plus, she thinks it’ll earn me millions of dollars.

Yeah, right. It helps to dream, though.

Anyway, below is an excerpt from my work in progress (I almost said Enjoy! but decided not to). Mind you, it’s a rough draft, so please overlook mistakes of any kind:

 

**************

 

I never thought I would be so brave as I rushed toward my death. No goodbyes, no crying (and I was quite the crybaby). The four margaritas, each with an extra shot of tequila, had given me the courage, though. They had taken the credit just like everything else in my pathetic life.

Luckily I had enough sense to pick up my prescription at the drive-thru. The Muslim lady with the head scarf gave them to me through the window just like she always did. She has her faith. That’s good, I thought. I had mine: nearly two full bottles of Xanax.

Like in that Clint Eastwood flick where the one-armed deputy had two guns in his belt.  “But you only have one arm,” someone had asked him. “Well, I don’t wanna get killed on account of not being able to fight back,” he had responded. I, too, wanted to be like that.

 

**************

 

Not so smart now, are you?

Why was my mind still working?

Somehow I knew it wasn’t God’s voice; sounded too familiar.

I didn’t see anything.  No blackness.  Just… nothingness.  Even with all the liquor and drugs in my system, I was still somehow tied to reality. What was going on?

 

***************

 

“Scott, Scott, where are you?!” The voice was frantic. I knew it was my wife’s, even in my condition. That smallest hint of recollection. Funny how the mind worked. Her voice sounded tinny, like it was coming from my grandma’s childhood radio that she had shown me pictures of.

I was fumbling with my work bag on the floorboard. “I can’t find my phone!!” I was frantic, too.

But why? 

Oh, I know. 

The redneck standing outside my passenger window. I’m not actually sure if he was a redneck, but that’s what I called those guys in Texas who drove those huge gas-guzzling pickup trucks. I think I had asked him if he were okay. “I’m fine, but your car is totaled,” I remember him saying.

I never started up my car.  I was still in the crowded parking lot of El Ranchito… right?

“Where’s my blasted phone?!” I shrieked again and again. It was no longer in my bag. I was going by my sense of touch, unable to see. I could still hear my poor wife’s frantic question coming through the receiver like a short-circuiting megaphone in the darkness of my mind.

“Scott!!”

 

******************

 

–killed someone!  You could have—

I was on my back, staring up into a bright light. Nothing but radiant fog, like headlights shining through early morning mountain air. It was a woman’s voice. She seemed to be addressing me.

–could have killed—

–someone!

You could have—

Yes, I get it, now shut up, I thought.  All I was conscious of was my vision, or lack thereof; I hadn’t noticed my limbs, if I were even able to move them.  Was I strapped down?  Was I in an ambulance?  Were we in motion?

Who cares?  The radiance was giving way to a shadow; an eclipse entered my line of mental vision and sent icy pellets of fear through my body.

I’m dead.  Oh my God, help me…

Someone had an arm around me and was helping me walk. I felt cold. I sensed that nothing was covering my legs. Where were my clothes? I was doubled over and staggering like an old man, a few baby steps at a time. I’m 6’3” and a lean, solid 220 pounds, so whoever was helping me was pretty strong, that was for sure.

Come on…  you can do it…

An old man’s voice. Maybe it was God.

 

*******************

 

~topaz


A Life Cut Way Too Short

I’m not into posting in an impromptu manner, but something has been weighing heavily on my heart today.  There is a lady whose blog I have recently discovered.  It is called My Bright Shining Star, and it is an outlet for her to deal with the trauma of losing her beautiful daughter, Kaitlyn, to suicide this past April.

As a lot of you can guess, this topic really hits home to me since I attempted suicide late last summer (the night of August 24 to be exact).  I cannot do this poor woman justice by describing her pain and torment and how she pours her heart and soul into her blog posts, so just go over there and read them for yourselves.

I know the blogger’s name, but since she doesn’t publicize it anywhere (that I saw) on her blog, I will just refer to her as Kaitlyn’s mother.

She is still Kaitlyn’s mother and always will be.

My wife spent one year in the U.S. as an exchange student in high school. She was placed with a very dear LDS (Mormon) family. They had six children, but two of them tragically died in a car accident years before my wife lived with the family. To this day, my wife’s host mother still includes all six children’s names in her Christmas cards that she sends out each year.

It melts my heart each year when I open the card and see all eight names at the bottom (including the parents). To my wife’s host mother, the two deceased children’s bodies are no longer here, but their spirits live on in the hearts of the surviving family members.

I’m not sure what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about it, but my wife and I have a mutual understanding that we would have done the same exact thing had we been in her host parents’ situation.

I wrote a comment to Kaitlyn’s mother today and told her that her blog has impacted me in ways that she probably cannot imagine. After my attempt last summer, my wife, parents, and siblings told me over and over how they would have been affected and how it would have changed their lives forever. My mother even said that she wouldn’t have been able to celebrate Christmas quite the same for the rest of her life; she and I share that holiday as our favorite, and I would have unknowingly ruined it beyond repair.

My older cousin took his own life while I was living abroad, and I’ll never forget reading the email from my mother about the details. I began sobbing right there in the Internet Cafe as I read the news. My mother said that my cousin even took the time to put his two beloved dogs in their kennels before he shot himself.

My mother, from whom I get my emotional heart, said she would have given any amount of money to know what he was thinking as he led the dogs into the kennels and latched the doors for the last time. Those little trivial thoughts are like life support for a memory that has already evaporated.

Even though it has been over twelve years, little things like that pop into my mind from out of nowhere. One year for Christmas I bought my cousin a newly-released CD box set of The Doors, his all-time favorite band. He loved that gift so much. I still wonder what became of those CDs. Are they sitting in an attic covered by layers of dust? Did his ex-wife sell them at a garage sale? Or did my aunt and uncle leave them in his bedroom where he had last left them, like a lot of parents who seal off their deceased child’s bedroom to preserve their memory for as long as possible?

Anyway, if you’re reading this, Kaitlyn’s mother, please know that, although I cannot begin to comprehend your loss and the trauma that you’re experiencing, your writings have impacted me like nothing else ever has. I promised my family that I would not attempt suicide ever again, and you have helped me to cement that vow.

May you and your family be comforted and carried by the Lord and His angels until you are all reunited with your lovely daughter again.

~topaz