Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die.
Mary Frye (1932)
That was the verse on a card I got from Sally right after my world got turned upside down.
There are some things I remember vividly, some I remember pieces of, and some I can’t remember at all.
It was a fall day like any other, and I was in my office at The Metropolitan, my college newspaper where I was one of the editors. I called my mom to tell her that I was on my way home, and to see how my dad was feeling. He was supposed to leave on a business trip that morning, but had gotten sick, and so he didn’t go. My dad NEVER gets sick, and he was supposed to go to the doctor, and I wondered what he had said. I asked “How’s dad?” and my mom said “Not good. You need to come home because we need to tell you something.” She’s never been good at things like that. My first thought, naturally, was that something was seriously wrong with my dad, and so I immediately started crying and telling her that she had to tell me right now whatever they wanted to tell me. She wasn’t going to, but then she said “Felicia (my aunt) called this afternoon. Vannie died this morning.”
I don’t know what happened next. I remember being alone, and then all of the sudden all of my friends from the newsroom were in the office and I was sobbing – I don’t know where the phone went. Somehow I calmed down enough to drive home – or maybe I didn’t, but the next thing I remember is walking in the front door of my house. It felt weird. Usually my house is quiet, and the t.v. is never on during the day. But it was, and my mom was sitting on the couch just doing nothing – waiting for me to come home, I guess. My mom never just sits and does nothing. I think she hugged me, and she said “Go see your dad – he’s in the computer room,” and so I turned and went towards the hallway. Right then, my dad came out of the room and when he saw me, he started sobbing. Which undid me even more, because my dad rarely cries, and never like that. He hugged me and held onto me for a long time while we both cried.
Both my parents come from big families, and I have lots of cousins, especially on my mom’s side. But Vannie was my dad’s first nephew from one of his brothers and sisters, and my dad had always spoiled him, especially when he was little, because my brother wasn’t born yet and my dad could buy Vannie cool little boy things. I remember the joy my dad got from playing with Vannie when we’d visit Illinois, or when my grandparents would bring him here. So he was heartbroken.
I don’t know what happened next. I think I went to Kendra’s at some point – just showed up there, bawling. I don’t know if I went to school the next day, and I don’t remember how many days passed before we left to go to Illinois for the funeral. We rode the train, and I remember lying on the bed in our sleeper car listening to, of all things, Kid Rock’s Devil Without a Cause at top volume on my headphones. When we got to the train station in Illinois, we were so late, the visitation was starting like right then, we still had a ways to drive and no one was showered or dressed.
I remember my mom and I standing outside the station, waiting for my dad and brother to bring the car, and the waves of nausea washing over me. I sat down on my bag, looked up at my mom and said “I can’t do this. I can’t go to this. I can’t.” She looked down at me and said “You have to go. You’ll regret it if you don’t. You can do it. Just remember – you can get through this – you’ll never get over it, but you can get through it.” I am so thankful to her for that. My mom is not usually the one to go to for sympathy, but in this case, she knew exactly what the score was. When she was young, she lost a nineteen-year-old too – but it was her husband, killed in a motorcycle accident nine months after they were married. She knows too much about sudden death, what it is to have someone taken from you so unexpectedly. And she knew what I was feeling. Continued...