Tuesday, September 20, 2005

He's Born to Radiate

We got to the funeral home and it was packed. I heard later that upwards of 300 people had come through the receiving line. I walked into the room, sobbing, and straight into the arms of my grandma. My cousin Sarah said “are you ok?” And my grandma said “Of course she’s not ok” and she hugged me for a long time. Besides the fact that the place was full of people, there were so many flower arrangements, interspersed with tons of boards full of pictures of Vannie’s life, and there was his art. He was an unbelievable artist – my uncle is good, my brother is good, Vannie was good. I know I walked around for a while, looking at everything, and then I went back in the room. I went to my uncle, Van, and he put his arm around me and said “Stand here with me a while and hold me up.” The way my dad felt about Vannie was how Van felt about me. I was the first baby on my dad’s side, and Van was just a teenager when I was born, and so he loved to hang out and play with me and be an uncle. We stood there for a while, saying hello and hugging people who came through the line. Kids from Vannie’s high school, people he’d worked with, people who had met him once. I always knew how sweet he was and how genuine and easy to love he was, but every single one of those people confirmed it – he touched them even if they had only met him briefly.

The one that tore me up was a paramedic who came through, a guy, just sobbing. See, the night he died, Vannie had an asthma attack. He hadn’t had one in a really long time, and so there was no medication in the house. He went into his parents’ room, and they called 911. They live out in the country a bit, and it was dark, and the paramedics got lost on the way to his house. He died in his dad’s arms before the paramedics could even get there. This guy was one of them, and he was just so sad. He kept saying “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry.” My uncle hugged him and said something nice to him, and the line moved on.

I don’t know how long we were there. But when it was finally empty, the rest of the family was kind of milling around, and I was alone in the room with his body. When I had first come in, I had laid my hand on his chest, and it freaked me out, because it crackled from the tissue paper under his shirt. I remembered years before, when my grandpa died, my mom touching his face and kissing him, and how I thought that was so weird. But standing next to Vannie’s casket, looking at his beautiful face, I couldn’t not touch him. I touched the side of his face and I touched his chest again, and then I kissed him on the forehead. It was cold – a kind of cold that I had never felt before, but it wasn’t scary or gross. And then I just stood there some more until we had to go.

I don’t know what we did the rest of the time we were there. I don’t know how long we stayed. I don’t remember coming back home. I don’t remember talking about it or going on. And yet, here I am.

I remember looking at an incredible self-portrait Vannie had drawn, and asking my uncle for a copy. He took it off the stand and said “it’s yours.” I remember freaking out when my mom washed the jacket I had taken out of his closet, because she took his smell away – even though it had been a long time and didn’t smell like him anymore anyway.

I remember him playing the drums – he kicked some ass on that set. I remember him acting silly, doing impersonations of people and trying to make me laugh. I remember how fun it was when our families got together because we laughed a lot and were loud and there was just love there. I remember that no matter how long it had been since we’d last seen each other, it was like no time had passed. I remember him holding my hand while my uncle gave me my first tattoo. I remember staying up all night with my aunt, because my uncle worked the night shift and she waited to go to bed until he came home in the morning, and Vannie coming home from being out with his friends. He laid his head on my lap and I scratched his head, because he liked that. And the three of us sat there and talked until my uncle came home.

I remember his smile and his eyes and how he never went through a mean or selfish stage as a teenager. I remember how he would always be so sad when I left, and how he always told me that he loved me.

He has been dead for six years, today. He would have been 25 in August. I haven’t been back to Illinois since he died. I’m afraid to go, kind of, because my whole family isn’t there anymore. And I keep hoping that every year that passes will make the emotions less. But it takes time a lot longer to heal some wounds than it does others, I guess. I get surprised at the things that make me cry now – looking at pictures that I’ve seen a million times, hearing a song, talking about him. Sometimes they don’t affect me, but other times I’m undone. And yet, I kind of hope that I never stop feeling sad for losing him, because that’s my right and I want to hold onto him.

I’ve said before that the song “Shimmer” reminds me of him.
He's born to shimmer
He's born to shine
He's born to radiate
He's born to live
He's born to love…

And he was.

21 comments:

Kendra said...

I'm always here for you no matter what. If you want me to come over and cook dinner tonight and hang, I can. And if you just want to be alone, I can leave dinner on the porch. I love you to pieces, just know that.

Amanda said...

wow, amber. how difficult. thank you for sharing this. from your previous posts you seemed like a really close twosome. i can only imagine how hard it must be on the anniversary. again, thanks for sharing and i wish for you peace of mind. thinking of you, amanda.

jack said...

You began your profile by writing, "Things I love: My family."

Your story about Vannie makes that perfectly clear.

I am sorry for your loss.

Stephanie said...

I'm crying over here Amber! I just went through that same thing in April. My younger cousin died too. Only we weren't as close as you and Vannie were. But I have some good memories of that kid- that's hard, girl. I'm praying for you.

~Stephanie

Hope said...

Wow, you had me almost crying in my cubicle. That's tough. My thoughts are with you.

Miladysa said...

So sorry Amber. Thanks again for sharing this.

Romeo Jensen said...

((((((((((amber)))))))))))

God Bless
romey

Marie said...

((Hugs)). I am sorry for the loss of Vannie. I cried as I read more and more about him, your love for him and how this kind of loss just tears you up inside...and it feels like a hole will always be there no matter how much time passes. Your tribute to him here was most touching and incredibly loving.

Cheryl said...

Wow Amber. This is such a touching post. I am sorry that you lost Vannie. I don't know what else to say, but you do have the right to feel the way you want. However you feel, you hold on.

Ariel1980 said...

I will tell you that there is precious little that I read that ever makes me cry, even less that I will admit to. To say that this post has touched me is an understatement, and I'm sure you can understand why the emotion of it affects me so deeply. I am glad though, that you have shared his life instead of only his death, because it is the love that stays with us, it is the thing which "alters not when it alteration finds", the ever fixed mark. We jews have a saying "may his memories be your blessing", and I feel, from reading this, that they are. G-d bless you.

FigEqualsGood said...

I'm very sorry for your loss.

Rachwell said...

That was truly beautiful, I am so sorry for your loss.

allison said...

sounds like he was a beautiful person......inside and out. I'm sorry for your loss but glad you are able to celebrate the good memories you all shared.

Beth said...

It's all just so...sad. Sorry, Sweetie.

Timmortal said...

Very sad...dont known what else to say.

Alice said...

that was beautiful. i think writing about people like you've done is the best way to honor and remember their lives.. it keeps them with us. even those of us who weren't fortunate enough to know him in real life, but feel like they did now :-)

beckibee said...

Amber,

Beautiful post...if you need anything, on the anniversary or any day he's on your mind, you know you can call. Love you! B

Marissa said...

Wow - that is just beautiful. I can feel your love for Vannie. He seems like an incredible soul - an angel, really.

Kiki said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Amber. It's so hard losing someone you love. Be strong. We're always here if you need to vent.

La Chat Noir said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! So wonderful that you were able to be so close to Vannie in life. Funny how memories can feel so fresh even years later ...

undercover celebrity said...

such a touching post