Exit Stage Left
On May 1, 1992, my seven-year-old brother was crossing the street to get the mail. He stepped off of the school bus, crossed the road, and was hit by a pick-up truck. He did not live. I was three weeks away from my 13th birthday.
My hope for this blog is not to gain sympathy. Crap happens (good things happen too.) The goal of this blog is to help other siblings with their loss and know that they are not alone. When lives are snuffed out before their time, the parents are the primary focus. I’m a parent now. I understand that. There are others that suffer as well though.
Here’s how the events unfolded…
It was a pretty windy first day of May. I was jumping on a bus headed home full of excitement. My friend Lisa was having her 13th birthday party that night and our group of friends were going to a slumber party at her house. As the bus headed towards home, we saw an ambulance on the side of the road.
I turned to my friend, Molly, and said, “Wouldn’t it be weird if I knew that person?”
The bus continued its route and as it continued around the curve to my house, I saw police cars. As I got off of the bus I was greeted by our pastor. I remember the intense warm wind and Andrew’s backpack sitting on the ground. I vaguely remember what felt like a crowd of people staring at me but it might have been two. Tim, our pastor, walked me to the house and told me there had been an accident. Andrew was hit by a truck and was at the hospital. My parents were there and he was going to take me to them. We were going to get our youth pastor’s wife, Jeanne, on the way.
At that time, there were three hospitals in Fort Wayne and none of them were too close to where we were. Now, there are two hospitals that are within 10–15 minutes of that home. As a result, we had to weave through town to get to Parkview. I remember on the way that there was a billboard for a celebrity hockey tournament that Dave Coullier from “Full House” was playing in. The things that stick out during these scary moments are so weird.
We got to the hospital and I was ushered into this tiny tiny room where my parents were. I remember people coming in and out. Every time a doctor came with a report I was ushered out of the room. I don’t remember much about the last time I was asked to leave and then coming back into the room to hear the news. I do remember going with my parents to see my brother after he passed. I stayed for maybe a second or two. I didn’t want to see that.
My parents and I went back to the little cramped room and I went and checked on all of our friends and family that had camped out in the hospital. Thinking back, it was amazing how many people were in that waiting room for us. We had family spilling over into some clerical offices that were vacant at the time, we had co-workers of my parents in with the masses and we had grandparents on the way from in town and our hometown of Bay City, Michigan.
I remember trying to call friends of mine to tell them what had happened. Most were going to the slumber party but they hadn’t left yet. One friend’s brother was unfortunate enough to answer the phone. My friend Marissa wasn’t available and I blurted out, “Andrew just died. I need to talk to her.” Sorry about that Seth. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Needless to say when I called back I got her right away.
For some reason, I don’t remember my parents at the hospital and their reactions. I do remember going out and showing people that we were okay. To check on them. I was especially concerned with my cousin, Joseph. He and Andrew were best friends and I knew that he was going to be feeling something.
We left the hospital and went home. I slept on my parents floor for quite awhile. We had a two-story house but Andrew and I were the only ones who slept on that floor. I remember not being sure how to feel and not quite wanting to be alone. Most of the feelings I remember at that time I realize now as shock and immaturity.
I didn’t feel much. I did want to show people that we would be okay. I just knew, we would be okay. Others were concerned about us and I wanted to show how strong we were.
I remember a lot of darkness at that time. Like, literally it was dark. Curtains were drawn, lights were off. It feels like my parents spent a lot of time in their room and I played our Super Nintendo (that’s right, SUPER Nintendo). I know that they were around and concerned about me, they were also trying to draw strength from each other and process the fact that their family of four was just reduced by one energetic, happy, loving, firecracker of a son.
There are lots of things that happen when there is a death of a loved one. There’s family gatherings, food, lots of tissue, viewings, hugs, tears, a little laughter, food, stories, and experiences with seeing a loved one looking a bit plastic in a casket. Another thing that happened which seems really bizarre to me now, is gifts. I got gifts at my brother’s viewing and funeral. Gifts. I was given a Caboodle (remember those?! If not, you missed out!), a Walkman, and a bunch of other little things. I have no idea what would possess someone to give a gift to a kid at a funeral but I really love the fact that they thought about me. They wanted to show that they cared and didn’t know how to respond. How many people do you know that have lost a kid brother? My guess is not that many.
One (very wise) act of love that stands out to me was something my mom’s friend Karen did for me. We were at the viewing and she pulled me aside. “Come on, we are going to go get you a diary.” We drove to Hallmark and I chose a diary and purple pen. She said,
“I want you to write in this. You will forget how you felt or things that happened. This will help you remember when you are older and can process this more.”
I still have that diary. I read it not too long ago. She was right.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t cry at all about losing my brother. Please don’t misunderstand, I absolutely loved him. I just couldn’t process what was happening in my world. I knew he was gone. I got that. I just couldn’t let those tears out. I felt like I had to be strong. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I’m still thinking about how I didn’t deal with it. I’m still a little unsure why I felt like stone. Vacant. Just a little lost.
I went into Andrew’s room not long after the hubbub died down. The only reason I wanted to go in there? I wanted to cry. I wanted to release the feelings I didn’t know how to articulate. I didn’t. I felt guilty about that. I was feeling sad and lost. I felt like something huge was missing. It was.
I don’t know if it was being three weeks away from turning 13 that messed up my emotions or if it was just shock. I do know I managed to build up a pretty significant wall to my grief and had to knock it down with a wrecking ball. It took me seven years to chip away at the concrete. Seven. Years.
It’s a funny thing, that grief business.
I’ve tried to find ways to get this story out there. I feel a tug on my heartstrings anytime there is a death in general. I feel a gut wrenching pain whenever that death is of a life cut short. Death is hard enough to deal with. When its unexpected it’s hard and shocking. My dad’s mom passed away from cancer 10 years and one month after Andrew. That was hard but it was a little easier to process because we knew it was coming and her pain was over. I’m not trying to diminish anyone’s death experience at all. Just giving you context into my experiences.
The funny thing about grief is that you never know when it will decide you need to water the ground a little more. September of 2011 I had my first daughter, Georgia. I had no idea that such an amazing, life-changing event would bring my Andrew grief up again. My grief this time was from my mom’s perspective. What she and my dad must’ve gone through. How did they let me out of their sights after that? How would it feel having something I brought to life gone before me? Bring on “the feels” and bring on the blog.
He may not be here, he may be in Heaven, but he is still a part of my life. That is something that will never go away. Ever.
This blog previously appeared on Medium.