This is a very long post. I’m a writer. This is how we writers process. I’m putting it on my blog because sometimes you lose things on Facebook. If you are sitting down to read this, thank you.
We are hanging in here. I have amazing support around me. Emma is home for the day. Her heart hurts. Her Uncle Billy was the world to her. She has moments of sadness and moments of seeking distraction. I think this is how adults cope too. Like walking through a fog and bumping into things, but being both numb and grateful for the human contact. An odd feeling.
This is the second time I’ve had to tell her that someone has passed (my mother being the first). I don’t think I’ve ever known such whole and complete helplessness as when you look at your child and know that the next words you say to them will hurt them. But, I held her and we cried together. I told her that it will hurt a lot when she thinks of him at first, then… over time… it will hurt a little less until one day, when she thinks about her Uncle Billy, it will only hurt a little bit. It is okay to hurt. There is no wrong or right way and that we should remember good things too.
I left the hospital close to 5A.M. I needed to see him and tell him goodbye. Goodbye from me and from all the others who were grieving. I’ve never seen a dead body so soon after death before. I chose not to see my mother after she passed. I guess I thought she would look the way they do in a funeral viewing: not quite right after the embalming–waxy and still. Empty. And I didn’t want that memory. But, over the years, I regretted not seeing her directly after. So, I had to see Billy. I just had to. And I am glad that I did. He looked . . . like Billy. It was him with his brown hair and scruffy beard and hairy arms. He was cold but it was his skin. And I touched his face and smoothed his hair back and cried for a little bit. I touched his arms. I even lifted one of his closed eyelids. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I knew that he was a donor and someone might get a part of his eyes and I wanted to see them. And his eye was there, looking into nothing. He was gone. I whispered to him goodbyes from everyone I could think of. I told him how much he meant to me, how much he meant to Emma and to so many countless others.
(By the way, his corneas were donated. I learned that today. Billy would have given every part of himself. That’s why he was a donor.)
When Billy was 18 months, maybe a little older, we were on vacation in Arizona. My folks and the adults were out to dinner and the teens and kids were left behind to watch T.V. and rent some movies. (Ghostbusters if I remember.) At some point, I couldn’t find Billy in the vacation house we were staying in. He did that sometimes, just wandered off. My gut feeling told me to go check the pool. I did and he had fallen in. I think he had tried to reach a ball that was floating near the edge. I scooped him out and held him to me. He cried and I cried too. All I could think about was, “What if I hadn’t gone out to check the pool?” I told him many years later about that. How that fear followed me, haunted me. “What if I hadn’t been there?”
I never thought, “Wow, I’m amazing, look at me. I saved a life.” It was a genuine fear of “What if?” When you have a moment like that, it’s quiet. It’s intimate. I did not tell anyone about that moment for a very long time. And even then only a handful knew. Most of you won’t know anything about this. I carried it with me. That is the kind of love and fear you just don’t talk about, I guess. Maybe I was afraid if I did talk about it, death would change his mind and come back? You think about weird things like that when faced with the possibility of losing someone. I tell you all this now not to brag. I don’t want to share it. I’m telling you because when it was he and I alone after he died, I told him that I was sorry for not being able to save him from drowning again. That as a big sister, I wanted to be everywhere, to always protect him, and I just couldn’t get there fast enough this time. Nobody could.
I told him Jessie (his dog) would be okay. We would all see to it. I told him I was going to work my ass off to finish school. And to finish my books. And to do something with his writing too. I hope to get it in nice format, find a great cover, and publish those online for him. He was discovering a lot about himself when he started writing. He was onto something.
I told him to say hi to Mom for me in the afterlife. I told him I was going to be happy. I made that promise to him. He was one of my biggest cheerleaders. If anyone can find a way to kick my ass from the afterlife, it’s him.
I kissed his face. I touched his hair again. I left and took his things with me. It was important that I had his tablet. His writing is there. I touched and kissed him for all of his friends and family and told him how much he would be missed. I said goodbye.
Billy battled many demons. He struggled with severe depression and alcoholism. Not a good mix. I know he was in pain at times. Many of you know this too. I don’t want to say, “He’s in a better place,” or some trite garbage like that, but I do know he is not hurting anymore. I know that. He looked so much at peace.
I am soul-sick over this, and sometimes I’m not very strong—but I am strong enough for this. I know how to grieve. Losing my grandmother, mother, and uncle within a 4 month period a few years ago gave me some unpleasant practice. But I learned HOW I grieve and what I need. Trust me when I say that I will take and ask for what I need, when I need it. It might be looking at funny cat memes. It might be asking you how you are or how your day is. It might be asking you what you are watching on Netflix. Those things please me. I like those things. Know that I know what I’m doing.
I want to end this entry with lighter things. I have a memory of Billy that I love to share. When I was 20 or 21, my stepdad and mom took me and Billy to Hawaii. It was amazing, like going to Fantasy Island. Our hotel was on the beach. There were penguins swimming in clear pools in the hotel and birds of paradise quorking in tall trees. The night of the big luau came. Who wouldn’t want to go to that?
Billy didn’t want to go. I guess he must have been 6 or 7, but he threw quite a fit because the luau was taking place at the same time as the David Copperfield special on T.V.. It was the big event where he going to “fly” and Billy really wanted to watch that show. So, I stayed in the hotel room with him and we ordered room service. (What kid doesn’t love ordering room service?) Sure, the luau sounded amazing, but my little brother wanted to see David Copperfield and back then there were no DVRs or streaming services.
We watched the hell of that special. It was as awful and tasteless as you would expect, but we loved it. And I swear, we saw him fly together, little brother. We really really did.