Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Well, today is Memorial Day. A day to remember those we have lost. A weekend that makes me think of our friends Sam & Jackie Langstaff, who we lost last Memorial Day weekend in a car accident, and who now are showing Brian the ropes on the other side. For those who don't know, Sam was in Brian's class at L-M and, like Brian, spent K-12 in that district. That alone, in a place where there are 60 or so in a graduating class, hits close to home. But it went beyond that. Sam's family was active in my church and youth group, so we'd go on day trips together and we starred in the Christmas and Easter Sunday School plays. All three of us (Brian, Sam, & I) were in drama in high school and would spend hours rehearsing together. One year Sam played Dad to my boob-taped 9-year-old girl. Sam went to Simpson College and we spent a lot of time with him there too, especially Brian. Then, after Sam & Brian got out of school, they were roommates for just over a year (in Indianola then West Des Moines), until I graduated and Brian and I moved in together. Brian and Sam tried to get together for lunch every couple of months, and we'd watch at least one Bears/Packers game a year with him. Typically two of the three of us would be griping about how awful the team was this year. Sam was the first champion of Brian's fantasy football league. I don't know when Brian & Sam last saw each other in this life, but we had seen them both at Brian's 30th birthday party in December, about 5 months before this tragedy.

I can't believe what a difference a year makes...

A year ago, Brian and I were home for my sister's high school graduation and about to embark on a fun little road trip from Muscatine to Columbia, Missouri for my friend Lena's wedding the following weekend. We were at my aunt & uncle (Amanda & Randy)'s house that Saturday night to watch UFC fights. My cell phone rang and it was Brian's brother Jeremy. He said he needed to talk to Brian and I could tell something was very wrong. That is how we found out about Sam & Jackie. I cried so hard that night. It was awful, thinking about how that young couple was driving home to see family, just as we had, but the road of their lives took them on a different route, literally, and how easily that could have been us. What if we lived in Indianola instead of Waukee? That could have been us. I was shaken to have a longtime friend taken so suddenly, at such a young age. It felt scary to have death hit so close to home, to think about how fragile life is. Brian was mostly in shock, I think, and I shed more tears than he that night, though I know there were many from us both. Brian and Amanda both held me while I tied to process the horrible news. Brian cried when we got home that night and we had to tell his mom. All weekend we thought of those families and a somber pall was cast over my sister's festivities. All the old friends, family members, and teachers who came to her party were thinking of it in the back of their minds. Brian talked to Sam's parents a couple of times and called college friends with the news. It was a very difficult time.

Brian and I had to decide, then, whether to continue with our trip to Columbia or to stay around for the services for Sam & Jackie. Ultimately, we decided to go on with the trip because the reservations were made, the RSVPs submitted, and because we knew the community was wrapping the grieving families in so much love that our absence would barely be noticed, if at all. It was a strange thing, to have to choose between a wedding and a funeral. I hope to never have to do that again. I don't know what the right choice really is, but I'm glad we forged on as planned. Although reeling from the news, we had the best vacation of our lives. We'd been to Austin, Mexico, and Jamaica together. We'd done spring breaks, concerts, football games, and all-inclusive beach trips. We hadn't done a quiet little trip full of bed-n-breakfasts, wineries, microbreweries, kitschy museums, leisurely lunches, bike rides, and minimal structure or plans. It was amazing. Every night, we knew where we'd be sleeping. That was really it. We could try to fit in four wineries, or just take our time at one and get in a bike ride too. I know central Missouri doesn't really sound like the stuff vacation dreams are made of, but it was the best trip because we enjoyed each other's company the most of any trip we'd taken. The icing on the cake is that we got to share in a beautiful celebration for our friends Lena & Josh on their big day, and we got to catch up with old friends at the same time.

I guess I'm getting off track forward a year. I never would have guessed that I would know loss firsthand the way I feared that night we heard about the Langstaffs. I never expected that, of about 30 guys in Brian's high school class, two would be gone within a year, and both just starting off their 30s. That is too much loss for our small community, our pool of classmates and friends. Statistically, it's a terrible anomaly.

But here I am, in that boat, adrift in a sea of tears.

This was a tough weekend for me. Not only am I thinking of the Langstaffs and Hauperts, but I am torn up inside to be 1,000 miles from home, from Brian. I feel like I'm letting him and his family down by being here in Austin and not hugging and holding hands with his family at his grave in Muscatine. I am really struggling with my physical location right now. I wanted to be home on my first Memorial Day without Brian.

On the other hand, I keep telling myself that it isn't practical for me to fly home every time I want to (or think I should) be at his side. I can talk to him from Austin. Sometimes I think he is talking to me more here than he did in Iowa, or perhaps I'm just in a better place to hear. I think I'm healing so much here that I also don't want to negate that by making multiple trips to Iowa, or making a trip home too soon, this summer. I am certainly not trying to forget about Brian -- I never will and I never could -- but, to be perfectly honest, going to his grave is just so difficult for me right now. I've only gone a couple of times in the four months since his funeral. I feel like a bad wife for not visiting more often. I have this vision of the dedicated, lonely widow visiting every day, spending hours talking to her husband. I feel like a failure for not being that dedicated wife and not fitting that mold.

For one, I knew that wasn't going to be a possibility when we decided to bury him in Muscatine. Even if I were home, the most I could do is visit on weekends. More to the point (and the real reason I haven't visited more often) just tears me up to go there. It is the most painful thing I can imagine. For some, I hear it is cathartic -- that it brings peace or closure, or makes a survivor feel more connected to the departed. For me, I just feel the loss so intensely when I go there. On one visit, I shut myself in the car and screamed so hard it hurt. I don't even think "scream" is the right word to describe what I was doing -- just a raw, primal sound that came from deep within and the guttural, raw nature of which would have probably frightened me if I had been capable of hearing or processing anything at that moment. I just remember thinking I couldn't get my pain and anger out in any more pure of a way. I think I was screaming at God.

So here I am, blogging and crying on my patio in Austin instead of putting my anguish on display in a semi-public setting, thereby terrifying other family members and friends who are visiting their lost loved ones today. I really think if I were at the cemetery right now, I'd be having an absolute meltdown and would disrupt otherwise peaceful visitors who are further along in coming to terms with their losses. I try to picture being at Greenwood today -- the winding lanes spotted with cars pulled over; the slow walk of older, infirm people visiting their dead husbands and wives; people dabbing the corners of their eyes with tissues; flags proudly flying in the breeze; teddy bears, beads, and flowers adorning the graves. I don't see myself fitting neatly into that picture. I honestly do think I would cause a scene -- I see myself crying, screaming up at the sky, breaking down into sobs, and collapsing. Strangers would turn and stare. Those with me would pity me, worry about me, console me. I would be embarrassed by my complete loss of decorum. It is not a scene for anyone else. Just me, Brian, and God. I guess being so far away keeps it that way.


  1. There's no mold on how we should react to things or where we should be. You can "be" with Brian wherever you are in the world. Be where you are, and don't feel guilty about that:)

  2. Thank you Ellie. That's something I struggle with all the time being down here. Being here feels so right, with that exception.