Archive for the ‘death’ Category

It was a beautiful spring day in 2009. My daughter, her boyfriend, and I had driven out to the coast for the first time since we had moved to Oregon a year before. We had spent a few hours at the casino and we were on our way home talking about going back to the coast again. My cell phone rang and I saw it was my older sister, Sylvia.

“Are you home?”
“No. We’re on the way home from the coast and we were just talking about how you would like it there if you came to visit.”
“Are you driving or is Tina driving?”
“Tina is.”
“Okay. I just called to tell you…I’m sorry I have to tell you…Carlos just killed himself.”

Again. Another brother. I was speechless. She had to hang up because the police were there and she had to talk to them. She asked me to call my younger sister and let her know. I did. The rest of the day is a blur. My daughter took care of everything and before I knew it, we were on a our way to the airport for a 6 am flight to southern California. We muddled through the week that followed. My daughter and I came home to Oregon. The next few months were filled with grief and memorial services in both southern and northern California and then spreading his ashes.

It was difficult for me to go back to see my mother because my brother had been staying at my mother’s house before he died. When I was finally able to return to my mother’s house, everything was fine; quiet; normal. One day, I was in my sister’s bedroom reading. My mom was in her bedroom and my sister in the kitchen. My nephew was in the dining room on the computer. He is autistic and is nonverbal and spends all his time in front of the computer watching videos. There was no one else in the house. All of the sudden, the bedroom door swung open, there was what I can only call a “whoosh” and then all was still. A minute later, I heard a male voice just above a whisper. It said “What’s goin’ on?” I looked all around. No one was there but I had recognized the voice. It was my brother, Carlos. I sensed him in the room for another minute or so then he was gone.

I wasn’t scared. I knew he wasn’t there to hurt me.

I told my sister later that night. She said she had felt him there before and our mother had often felt him and heard him until one day when she spoke to him telling him to leave because he didn’t belong in this world. After that, my mom hasn’t felt his presence anymore. I felt it and heard him. No fear. No threat. Just a sense of peace. He was there with me for that short two or three minutes.

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Note: This is probably the most difficult post I have ever written. It’s hard for me to go back and reread it so please excuse any typos or grammar errors.

It was November of 1982. I was the happiest I had been in a long time. My son was the source of that happiness. He was nine months old and was the light of my life.

Then the phone rang. It was Friday night, about 10. I didn’t think much of it being late as family often called at the end of the day. I picked it up and won’t ever forget the words. “It’s me, Carlos. I can’t talk but you need to sit down.”  I laughed at the sitting down part then he said it again, “Sit down Little Sister.” I did. I still had no clue but when he asked if I was sitting, I answered that I was, still clueless to what was coming. “David just killed himself. I have to go over there right now. The police and coroner are waiting for me. I have to go. I love you.”

That’s when the bottom fell out of my life.

I fell into depression for the first time in my life. I took care of the baby, kept in touch with family on the phone and I spoke to my brother’s widow on the phone every day. She would call me each day at the time my brother used to call her on his morning break from work. That was the time they got to talk about the kids and their lives without the kids being present. To get through that time,she would call me and we would spend the twenty minutes talking. It was good for me, too. We got each other through those first months.

One afternoon, as my son and I waited for his dad to get home from work, the phone rang. The phone was in my husband’s office, just on the other side of the living room where my son and I were. I ran to get the phone, leaving Tony crawling on the rug in the middle of the room. Not thirty seconds after I picked up the phone, I heard a loud bang. I dropped the phone and ran around the corner. Tony was on the floor. Hid dad had just walked in the door and was standing in the doorway, his face ashen, his mouth open. We checked the baby. He was fine. He didn’t even cry. My husband said that just as he opened the door, he saw the baby pull himself up on the coffee table, lose his balance and fall. As he fell, his forehead hit the corner of the coffee table. He said he was expecting to see blood all over. There was nothing. Not even a scratch or a red mark on him.

We couldn’t explain it. My husband summed it up. He’s not one to believe in this sort of thing so it surprised me to hear him say, “Someone was watching out for him.”

It made me smile. I knew it was David. Several times in the previous weeks, I had heard the baby cry during the middle of the night and before I even pulled myself out of bed, the music box would start playing music and he would stop crying. There was no one to turn on the music box yet it played. Twice I had gone into the baby’s bedroom to find the rocking chair next to the crib rocking by itself.

A month or so had gone by since the baby had fallen and hit his head on the coffee table. My next door neighbor volunteered to drive Tony and me to the store. We got in her car and she asked me if my guest wanted to go to the mall with us. I said we didn’t have a guest. She asked if he had already left and I said we had not had any guests in months and no male guests in about a year. She shook her head and said, “But I saw him. He was in the window in the baby’s room. I saw him last night. I couldn’t sleep so I got up and wandered around the house. When I looked over there, I saw a man walking back and forth carrying the baby against his shoulder. He walked back and forth, back and forth.” I asked her to describe the man she saw and she described my brother, David. My husband was the only man in the house and he was a full foot taller than my brother and very thin. My brother was near 200 pounds.

Indeed someone was watching over him. And it brought a smile to my heart.

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I knew since last Wednesday that his death was imminent. The word came today.

Dad, San Jose maybe 1955

Dad, San Jose maybe 1955

Dad around age 50, 1980ish.

Dad around age 50, 1980ish.

Dad and Mom with me at Junior Miss Pageant, 1973.

Dad and Mom with me at Junior Miss Pageant, 1973.

This is me with my Dad the last time I saw him, on Father's Day of 2012.

This is me with my Dad the last time I saw him, on Father’s Day of 2012.

You can read some of the posts about my dad here:
Tall Tales
What I Want To Remember About My Dad

And a post I wrote the last time we thought he was about to leave us in 2013

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The First Time

Suicide is something I’m not sure I will ever understand.  Intellectually, I understand the whys of it, but emotionally,  well that’s something altogether different.  I’ve known quite a few people who have chosen this exit path.  All in all, there have been about fifteen to twenty suicides among friends and family.  As a lot of my readers know, two of these have been my brothers.  Each of these tragedies has left its mark.  This week another friend also chose this route.  It made me think of the first suicide I was aware of.

The first time I encountered a suicide, I was about five years old.  I think it was the summer before I began kindergarten.  I didn’t know what it meant for someone to die but I knew it was a very sad thing.  My father’s uncle had died a few months before and for the first time in my life, I had seen my father cry for the uncle who took his father’s place when his father ran off before my dad was born.  My dad’s tears meant that dying was something horrible.  So when my oldest brother, Carlos, came home and told my mom that his good friend Tommy had died and that he had killed himself, I knew the emotions; I knew it was a very bad thing that had happened.  I remember how my mother, who had been making tortillas for our dinner, turned absolutely white then had to sit in the chair at the table.  She cried and cried and kept asking “Why?  Why?  What could be so bad in his life that he would kill himself?  Why?”  She kept asking Carlos if he was sure it was true.  She sent my brother to Maio’s Market on the corner to get the evening paper.  Later, when my dad got home from work, my mom, still shaking and having  trouble keeping from crying, told him what had happened.  They talked about how unbelievable it was; how Tommy had always seemed to be such a happy-go-lucky kid; how incredulous it was that he would take his own life.

I remember how my mom took care of her kitchen radio after that.  She always had before but after Tommy died, she took special care of it.  She didn’t let anyone touch it and she refused to clean the greasy fingerprints that Tommy had left on it the last time he had been at our house.  You see, my mom’s radio kept her company in the kitchen where she spent most of her day preparing meals or cleaning up after meals for her family of nine.  She would sing along with the radio and listen to talk shows and the news on it.  It was her lifeline to the world outside of our house.  So when the radio broke, she was more than sad.  My dad wasn’t able to fix it so she had no radio.  When Tommy was over one day, he asked my mom why the radio wasn’t on.  She told him it was broken.  Tommy took it apart to fix it and he did!  My mom was very grateful and wanted to pay him but she had no money that day.  Mom told Tommy that the next time he came over she would have a treat for him.  He said it was okay, she didn’t have to pay him.  He smiled at her through his black framed glasses, clearly proud of himself.  Mom hugged Tommy and thanked him before he got on his bike and rode home.

Mom never got to pay Tommy.  A week after he fixed her radio, Tommy hung himself in his parents’ garage.  He was thirteen.

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Boy Interrupted

I’ve been restless for a couple of days.  I’ve also been fighting depression which has been a problem for me in the past ten or so years.  Then tonight I turned to HBO On Demand for a distraction and came across a documentary called Boy Interrupted.  The synopsis told me it was a film made by the mother of boy, Evan Perry, who committed suicide at age 15.  I know I probably should have looked for something else but I didn’t.  I chose to watch it.

Last night one of my nieces, Roxie, posted on Facebook that she missed her brothers (who are living away from where she lives) and I was instantly compelled to comment that I miss my brothers too.  But then I erased it without posting it.  I didn’t want to make Roxie or anyone of my nieces and nephews uncomfortable.  It is their fathers that I miss, my brothers.  I seem to be thinking about them a lot these days.  I want to see them and talk to them and listen to them.  I want to hug them and cry with them and laugh again.  But I didn’t post any of this.  I kept it all inside.

Tonight I needed to watch that documentary.

There is one point where Evan’s grandmother is being interviewed about the suicide of her grandson and the suicide of her own son, Scott,  35 years earlier.  She makes a comment to the effect that suicide “changes you and you are never the same”.  I knew exactly what she meant.

Boy Interrupted is a compelling film.  It is well worth the 93 minutes you spend watching it.  You will learn from it.  And with luck, it will save someone’s life.  I’m glad I watched it.  I hope you are able to watch it.  It is currently on HBO On Demand and was a 2008 Sundance Film Festival nominee for Grand Jury Prize.  I’m sure that even if you don’t have HBO, you will be able to find it to watch it.

It will change you and you will never be the same.

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I’m sitting at the airport in Oakland, California waiting for my flight back to Portland.  I’m so tired.  I ache.  And my heart is breaking.

Yesterday was one of the most difficult days I’ve ever dealt with.  We spread my brother’s ashes up in the mountains east of Sonora, California, where he loved to go hunting and camping.  This was the first time anyone in our family had been cremated so it was even more difficult.  But we did it.  There were only 16 of us who were able to make the trip but it was a good group and we were there for each other.  That’s what counts.

So now I sit and wait to get home so I can really begin my mourning.  I haven’t been able to work through it because of all the back and forth travel and because of trying to be strong for the others.  When my kids were with me, I didn’t want to cry because I don’t like for them to be upset by watching me cry.  My son went out with me and the rest of us yesterday and I did have a very difficult moment which I tried to control for his sake.  But now that I’ll be home alone.  I can begin to process things.

I was afraid that it wouldn’t happen but as I sit here typinng this, the tears are already spilling and I know that I will use my waiting time and my flight time to begin the transition from the public face to the private one where I can let out the things that need releasing.

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Thank you to everyone who has expressed their support.  It does mean a lot; more than you can know.

I’m home now.  It’s a big difference from being at my mom’s house with the rest of the family.  At any given point last week, there were between 20 and 50 people in my mother’s two bedroom home.  Even when I went back to the motel we stayed at, I had my girls with me and my son joined us after a couple of days.  My sister and her family stayed in the same motel as did my aunt and uncle.  We had six rooms to ourselves.  So we were still together.

Now I’m all alone in a very quiet house.  I’m trying to avoid the thoughts that I know will drag me down but I know that they must be faced, sooner or later. I’m just having a very tough time dealing with the utter aloneness and despair that someone must face when they decide that the only way out is by taking their own life.  I cannot understand it.  It leaves me with great sadness.

I’ve lost two brothers to suicide.  I’ve also lost another brother to “sudden cardiac death”.  While all three are just as gone as anyone else, I must say that dealing with the death of my brother who died in his sleep was much easier to handle than the deaths of the two who took their own lives.

I know I have to deal with it but I know that it will take me to a very dark place and the glimpses I’ve seen in the past week are not any place I wish to go, especially all by myself.  I can’t even seem to sleep. I am only able to doze while watching TV or reading.  I just can’t seem to let my mind go where it seems to need to go.  I’m fighting it.

I’ll be traveling to the SF Bay Area next week to accompany my nieces and nephew when they scatter my brother’s ashes.  Maybe after that I can come home and just let myself break down and deal with it.

And before I forget…go tell your loved ones that you love them.  We don’t do it often enough and one day it will be too late.  Go do it, now.

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I have, all of the sudden, been plagued by migraines. I used to get them all the time but in the past four years, they have been rare. On Monday I got one and it hasn’t left yet. So instead of fixing the posts I have drafted for publication here, I will wait til I am thinking straight and feeling better.

However, I did want to update those of you who have asked about my friend Dean who disappeared in the snow in early January. For those that haven’t followed my blog, the story is here. His body was finally recovered last Friday and the coroner made positive identification on Saturday. So at least he is accounted for. I’m sure it is both settling and unsettling for his family, but at least he has been found.

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A Friend Died…

…and I feel guilty. 

My friend Maria, who I never met, died on Friday morning.  We met online about three years ago.  She ran several lists in which we exchanged graphics for Paint Shop Pro and Photo Shop and another list exchanged eBooks and links to download a variety of files.  She was about 6 years younger than me.  She had a number of chronic conditions.  Last January she developed a severe pain in her side which did not respond to pain medication.  Two days later she was rushed to the ER in excruciating pain.  She had no health insurance and no money.   She and her family had just driven across the country from Alabama to Washington state for a better life late last fall and they had not yet completed the paper work to go on state aid.   She was sent home with stronger pain medication.  A day later she was taken to the ER again, this time with more severe symptoms.  They kept her for some tests.  It turned out that she had cancer in her stomach, intestines, liver, kidney and colon.  She needed surgery and treatment but because she had no insurance, she got the run around and was sent home again.  Finally, she had to be rushed by ambulance in really bad shape.  She was admitted. That was the last week in January.  She never went home after that until a week ago when she was released because she and her family had decided not to go through chemo which would only buy her a matter of months with no quality of life.  Her husband has kept us all updated, almost daily.  On Thursday he reported that she could not talk, only moan.  She could not eat or drink or swallow.  She was in pain.

This morning the email came.  She died in her sleep, with a slight smile on her face.  Her pain is over.

Why do I feel guilty?  When she wrote us the group email telling us about what they thought was wrong with her (which ended up being only a part of what was wrong) and the prognosis, Maria talked about her 12 year old daughter and how she was just out of her mind worrying about what would happen to her daughter.  Her husband cannot manage her on his own and the older daughter is not dependable and lives in another state.  She’s 18.  Not exactly  mother material.  And I said nothing other than to scold her and tell her not to give up and to remain positive.  What I wanted to say was that I would take her daughter.  That’s what I would normally say and do.  I would gladly take her daughter and raise her and look after her.  But I didn’t say it. 

Why didn’t I?  I feel older now.  Too old to take on a 12 year old girl who has lost her mother; a girl who has been home schooled for the better part of the last three years because she has some social problems.  I felt selfish, too.  I am just at the point where my youngest is leaving home for school in a few months.  In a way I am looking forward to having my turn in my life.  I haven’t had that before.  Somehow it has not ever been my turn.  And so I didn’t offer  Maria the peace of mind that she needed and wanted.    I wanted to.  I almost did.  I typed the email but didn’t send it.  And now  it is too late.  She’s gone.  I really do feel guilty.

It isn’t like me to not have offered willingly.  And that bugs me.  Am I growing selfish in my older years? I certainly hope not.  I certainly don’t mean to or want to.   I know that someone else’s child is not my responsibility but I still feel so guilty.

And I miss Maria.  Before she got sick just over two months ago, not a day passed when we didn’t exchange email or instant messages.  I know I never met her but I still feel the loss as if she had been the kind of friend that was in my home daily. 

In a way, she was.


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Los dias de los muertos is a wonderful holiday and tradition. In Mexico, there is a connection between the living and the dead. Each is part of the other. Not surprisingly, Mexicans don’t fear death as they accept it as part of the natural cycle of life. They know they aren’t really gone. They live on in the lives and hearts of those they love.

Some time ago, when my middle child was in seventh grade, I volunteered to put on a presentation for her social studies class. The presentation was about the culture, tradition, and significance of the day of the dead. Before long the teacher had volunteered me to present to each of her five classes instead of just my daughter’s. This was the first of many day of the dead presentations I put on over the following six years. In fact, when I was working, I took the day off from work to put on the presentation at the school.

Before the presentation, I would provide the teacher with a handout covering the background of the tradition, including the origin of it and how it is not only a religious celebration but a testament to the indigenous ways winning out over the squelching of yet another tradition and religious rite by the Catholic Spaniard conquering population. The handout was to go to the parents before the day of the presentation to inform them of the content in case they wanted to exclude their child from it. I warned that we’d be talking about the dead and the role they play in our lives. Then there was a list of things that the students could bring, should they so choose, to add to a class altar we would build during the presentation. (more…)

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