Thursday, March 13, 2008

Turning Point

***Warning: You might want a tissue.  I did – several of them, in fact..***


I learned about death at a fairly young age.  The catalyst for the way I handle death and grief came in 1990 when my step-father, whom I loved dearly, died of a heart attack at the age of 32.  Prior to this moment in time, I had experienced the deaths of pets and great-grandparents, but none of those deaths impacted me to the same degree as the death of my step-father, Bo.


I remember the afternoon of April 19th, 1990, clearly.  It was warm Thursday, which is usual for April days in southern Arkansas.  I was in my room doing homework at my make-shift desk.  Mom was in the kitchen getting dinner ready, and the smell of onions cooking permeated every nook and cranny in the house.  Bo and my brother J were at baseball practice – something that Bo was more excited about than J because he had the opportunity to be the assistant coach.


I heard a knock on the door and heard my mother answer it.  Suddenly the tone of everything changed.  Mom came to my room and told me to get my shoes on because we had to go to the neighbor’s house to use their car.  We did not have a phone at the time and only had one vehicle, which Bo was driving.  Someone had called our neighbor and told her something was wrong and that Mom and I were needed.  We practically ran to the neighbor’s house, during which I managed to ask Mom what was wrong.  She looked at me with a face full of worry and said, “I don’t know yet.”  She was silent after that.


We got into our neighbor’s car, which was a four-door, yellow, boxy-looking car that smelled of old people, and drove out to the highway and about a mile towards town.  I saw our car on the side of the road sitting at a funny angle and thought, “Oh, he just had a wreck.”  I was familiar with wrecks and how easily and suddenly they can happen because three years before that we were in a wreck that put me in the hospital for three and a half weeks and from which I still carry a huge scar on my arm.  The lights from the police car and ambulance were flashing brightly, almost too brightly for that time of day.


The neighbor parked her car at the house across the street from our car.  J was standing near the house with the lady who lived there, and as soon as he saw mom, he cried out to her.  She went over to him, gave him a huge hug, and told him she’d be right back.  She told me to stay there, too.  I was standing there watching the lights and looking for Bo when I heard her scream.  I looked over just in time to see her pass out and a police officer catch her before she hit the ground.  He and another officer carried her to the back of the ambulance. 


Here is where things start to blur a bit in my mind, because this is when the panic set in.  Somehow I ended up across the street where the car was.  I knew my step-dad was in the car.  The passenger window was down, and I looked in the car and called, “Daddy?  DAD?”  He didn’t move, and he was an odd grey color.  By this point someone realized what I was doing and pulled me away, taking me to my mom at the back of the ambulance.  Someone told me he was dead, but it wasn’t my mom.  My mom could only cry and hug me with such force that it hurt.  I remember hearing disjointed facts.  


Bo’s chest had been hurting at practice, so badly that at one point he was rolling on the ground.  He decided he and J would go ahead and leave practice early because he was feeling so bad.  People offered to take him home, but he said he would be okay.  I don’t think any of the other parents knew Bo’s dad had died at 42 of a heart attack; otherwise they probably would have pushed the idea of going to the hospital instead.  On the drive home, he made my brother buckle up, something that was not common in that time and place.  Apparently when the final pain hit him, he hit the brakes and clutched his chest, coasting across the road and into a concrete embankment.  My brother thought Bo had fallen asleep, and when he couldn’t get Bo to move or answer him, he started screaming and got out of the car to find someone to help.  My brother’s screams drew the lady who lived closest, and she took my brother inside and called the cops.  He was almost 7 years old at the time, and I would turn 10 later in the year.


We didn’t go to school the next day.  Instead, we went to the funeral home to make “arrangements” and see Bo.  Bo, who had been so full of life and fun, was now only a body in a box.  He was beautiful, but his spirit was not there.  My mom’s family and Bo’s family both came to the funeral home, as well as quite a few friends.  There were people everywhere, yet I don’t remember seeing my mom much.


The funeral was held Saturday morning, and the funeral home was packed so full that there was not even standing room.  Bo was a wonderful man who was loved by the whole community.  We, the family, were in a dark room off to the side of the service.  I remember asking why we were in this little room watching through bars instead of out there with everyone else, and one of my aunts told me that we were in this room so that people didn’t watch us cry and we could grieve in peace.  When the funeral was over and we were heading to the cars for the graveside service, my mom collapsed again.  This time, however, she was caught by her father and her brother.  I remember Grandpa telling her gently, “Sandi, you have to walk.  You have to do this for your kids.”


I don’t remember much about the graveside service, except that there were a lot of people and I was ready to be away from people.  I remember a lot of crying and a lot of murmurs of comfort.  I remember wanting to sit down.  I remember going home after the service, and there were still a lot of people.  I finally snuck away to my room and went to sleep, where I dreamed about Bo.


I dreamed about Bo a lot for years after that.  Sometimes I still dream about him.  He always comes to me when I’m struggling with something internally.  Sometimes he has advice, and sometimes he just comforts me.  Everything was chaotic after that.  My brother has never been the same and grew into the angry and manipulative man he is now.  My mom was depressed for a long time and drank heavily.  I had yet one more event in my life to compound my fear of abandonment, although I didn’t know it at the time. 


The death of Bo was a turning point in many lives.  All of my peaceful memories from that point forward are broken with painful and scary ones.  Darkness was always nearby, waiting to be unleashed by my brother’s anger or my mother’s drinking.  Later, my mother’s drinking brought out my brother’s anger, which caused her to drink more.  Thus a perpetual cycle of anger, pain, tears, and even violence ensued.  I have guarded myself carefully from drama and uncontrolled situations in my adult life because I know from experience that I do not like the chaos.  I never want Tree Faerie to experience the fear, uncertainty, sorrow, or loneliness that I felt so strongly for years.  I will do everything in my power to protect her, even if it means distancing myself from those I care about.


Bo’s death also impacted my perception of mortality.  I kiss my daughter every time we get in the car.  I kiss my husband any time we part for any reason, whether he’s going to work or I’m just running to the gas station.  I make sure my loved ones have no doubt that I love them wholly and completely.  These things are important to me because you never know when that moment in time is going to be your last.  My obsession may be morbid, but these little compulsions help me maintain a tighter grip on my sanity.


We must do what we must in order to carry on with our lives.



Anonymous said...

So sad, yet beautifully written.


TTQ said...

If you read my blog today this would be one of those things that I can't or won't share. I don't know why. And it really doesn't matter right now. I was 12 when my dad passed of a heart attack.

I'm rather morbid about my death, but I prefer to call it realistic. I always tell honey to be careful and that I love him. And he still takes time off from work when I'm back in the hospital, which I always tell him isn't neccessary. I still tell my mom I love her everytime i talk to her or even instant message with her.

Beth said...

That was really beautiful....sad but beautiful....

namaste said...

andrea, (((((HUGS)))))

i am SO sorry that you had to experience this as a little girl. how devastating and drawn out all of your days must have felt after your stepdad's death. thank god for the blogs, that our paths criss-crossed and we can lift each other up! i'm sending you my love, girlie! mwah!


Annikke said...

I needed several tissues to get thru that.

My step-father also passed away of a heart attack while driving, he was on a road trip with my mom and we were not with them.

Thank you for sharing that story

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Those of us who have lost someone close to us understand the suddenness of death better than others. We understand that life is fleeting more so than others. Unfortunately, it's a lesson we all learn eventually.

Thanks for the beautiful post, hon!

carrie & troy keiser said...

Thanks you for sharing your story with us. 32 is SO young {I'm 33}. I'm sorry for your losses.
I also am one to constantly tell my husband that I love him and I hope that I tell the kids enough that they know! {I'm not big on hugs and kisses past a certain age of child, so it is difficult.