When you share the news of a loved one passing, there is no way to ease the blow. There is no weighing if we are to remove the band aid slowly, or to rip it away quickly.
There is a wound that needs healing either way.
My young friend passed away last month. When I say last month, the timing seems skewed. Was that last month? I suppose so. It is only the first week of October. My friend passed in September.
On September 19th 2011 my young friend, Jeffery Brian Wise II committed suicide.
I did not intend to reflect on this last few weeks today. In fact, I'm sort of forcing myself to do this for my big sister's sake. She was very close to little Jeff. We call him little Jeff, though he was over a foot taller than the both of us. A tall, handsome young man. I miss him. We all do. My big sister moved to South Korea recently to teach English. She could not make it to Jeffy's memorial service. I fear that she wept alone. Perhaps that is how he felt for a while. And I live right next door. I'd rather not do this now. But now is as good a time as any. And here it goes.
The memorial service was held at Haven of Rest in Gig Harbor, Wa.
I rode in the backseat of my car. My boyfriend, Blake drove and my kid sister sat up front. My dog, Hiro, sat above my head in the rear window where he watches the world go by. The sun was shining, which was odd. I recall the forecast boasting showers and cold weather. Now, my dog is very self centered but I think even he sensed the gloom in the car as we rode closer to our destination. His tail wagged less. He became less fidgety. He even sat still for a morose picture. Good boy.
Upon our arrival there were dozens of teenagers and fresh graduates standing outside of the building. It looked like the outside of a school dance.
With a lot more crying.
We parked in the back. There were a lot more cars than I anticipated. My kid sister Jenne was crying quietly between singing and fretting over her make up the whole ride there. She still looked beautiful. Even through the sadness. We stepped out of the car and held to each other for strength and moved toward the building. Jenne's old friends Mimi and Jessa seemed to appear from no where. At least to me, it seemed as if they appeared from no where. I was too busy watching the ground through watery eyes. I could not bring myself to make eye contact with anyone. I could not bring myself to step forward. I stood by while they embraced and cried. Quiet whimpers of "I'm sorry." and "I can't go in there."
The last open casket viewing I attended was for my grandfather. He lived a long life. Died in his 70's. It was painful, but natural. It was sad, but touching. Little Jeffy just graduated high school this year. This was something else. This was broken. Abrupt. I would say it was like a story without an ending, but Jeff barely had his first few chapters down. It was more like a sentence without punctuation. Not even an ellipsis.
I felt bitter and confused. His big sister, Christine, is like family of my own. We grew up together. They're close like family. Like cousins. No, like siblings. Watching her stand over his grave stone stirred something in me that I never wanted touched. Not this. Not now. When we finally gathered ourselves enough to step into the building, we saw more young crying teens. Teachers. Concerned parents. I almost didn't recognized my own parents. My tears fell freely. I felt alone among strangers. Even if my sister stood by my side and Blake held me close, I felt oddly alone. Maybe I wanted to be alone. This just felt like too much. We stepped forward to the room with his table of memories. The images blurred with more tears. There stood Christine. Beautiful, broken Christine. With the sad smile of a defeated guardian angel. She and Jenne embraced immediately. More "I'm sorry's" more sobbing. Even after she has lost her baby brother, she rocks us in her arms like her own. She tells us to be strong. Can you imagine? There is a song. The perfect song for this. In it the artist says,
"We're all born into this river without knowing how to swim and eventually we learn how to keep the water under our chins. Sometimes this river's so cold to be in, freezing my soul, solidifying my skin."
The strength she summons to move through these rapids is beyond me.
Since I had gotten the news that Jeff had passed away, I haven't quite been myself. I feel absent. Distracted. The night before this memorial I had gone to the fair. My dear friend Jesse along with his brother and another friend, Brandon, invited me along. I agreed in hopes to lift my spirits. It was an enjoyable night for the most part. Mostly, I enjoyed the distraction and just wanted to get out of my neighborhood. I smiled. I laughed. I got on rides. We joked. I ate awful food. I even threw it up and laughed at the results of my carelessness.
Still I felt empty.
For a few weeks before Jeff passed away, he and I had been texting fairly regularly. He always seemed so troubled. He asked for advice, for solace, for company. I offered what I could. I should have offered more. But there's no sense in thinking those things now. All I could think about was how much I wanted to help him. How close I was getting to showing him that life gets better. Many of his friends told him this. I wonder why he never believed it?
After the fair I asked if we could eat. I did, after all, vomit everything I had eaten that day after going on too many spinning rides. We stopped by Blake's work place, a bar & grill I had never been to. It was within 3 minutes of where we had all parked our cars to meet up for the fair. My old friend Samantha was there. Why tonight, of all nights? The world is a strange place. Timing is everything. We chatted. About loss. About the past. About the present. Mostly about loss. We drank. Why did I drink? I was to meet my kid sister at home. I couldn't bring up an answer. I felt numb. I drank. and I cried. I sobbed, really. We became drunk and belligerent together. Our emotions couldn't be contained, especially with whatever it was that I drank. I thought maybe I could get it all out then. The crying and freaking out, that is. That my young friend was gone forever. That I never got a chance to help him. That I could've done more. That I should've done more. That I could never do a thing to change it. I cried and cried and strangers stared and grew concerned. I was in a bathroom at a bar shouting and crying with an old friend I had never shared an intimate moment with in my life. Never in my life have I ever felt this way. Never did I think it would happen. Then again, I never thought I'd lose my young friend this way. The world is sad and strange.
Jeffy's memory table was set up in a room with a partition wall separating us from his lifeless body. There was a line of people with stone cold faces going into the room with with his casket and a line of people hurrying out sniffling and shaking their heads. Why do we take turns to stare at what we've lost? That is all I could wonder. My mother asked me to bring these flowers from her garden. I don't even recall where I placed them. The table itself was enough to make me break down. A plate of his favorite foods, grown cold. A small memory box with pages filled out by those who saw him before me. Some of his old belongings. Trading cards, his zip up sweatshirt, an old Spongebob Squarepants wallet, pictures of he and his parents and two sisters. It was sad to me to see how the table of his belongings only showed just how truly young he was. A few steps more, past the partition wall were more pictures on large posters of our young lost friend and his body. Were we to expect closure from seeing his body? I wasn't sure. I was too busy crying.
My sister Jenne was very close to Jeffery. She was his unreachable, beautiful girl next door. He's always admired and loved her and watching her grieve for him was almost too much for me. My father held Jenne and urged her to see Jeffy one last time. My father on one side, Christine on the other, they practically carried Jenne to his casket to say "Goodbye." I stood off to the side, staring at the ground. I couldn't bring myself to look at him. Beside his casket, I hadn't noticed until much later, his parents and his other sister sat. Everyone surrounded Jenne as she cried for her dear friend. The boy who always found her beautiful. Who always found her amazing. Jeffy looked strange. Unreal. He didn't look like himself. But who else could it be? All I could think was that he'd be embarrassed to be laying there like that, with his hair fashioned in such a strange way, in a suit he didn't pick, make up on his young face... All I could think about was how he would've hated how he looked. And I felt angry with myself for considering this. I stood to the side and cried, feeling alone. I think Blake held me. I sobbed into his chest. At one point, their sister Gina touched my arm. I didn't recognize her at first through my tears. But her touch warmed me. I've never really spoken to her. She didn't grow up next door to us like Christine and little Jeff did. She even hugged me. It's strange to me that the loss of Jeffery's life is what it took for me to share such intimate moments with people I consider near strangers.
Everyone was crying. Those who weren't crying looked nothing but lost and distant. I can't remember much after that. We sat on a couch for a while. Quietly crying. Speaking of memories with Jeffy. Sometime after was when Christine led a small group of us to the spot where they would bury Jeffery. When we approached the gravesite, all I could do was stare at the dates and names on the stones all around me. Lives so long. Souls so old. Maybe he'd find that comforting. Blake held my hand on the way there. When I wasn't sobbing into his chest, Blake spent most of the viewing wandering the graveyard with Hiro. We trailed behind Christine and a handful of others towards Jeff's new home. When we arrived, all I could think was that Jeff would think this is a cool place to hang out if he were still here. He had a strange sense of humor, that kid. He would've really liked to just sit and smoke and brood right in this spot. I couldn't help but smirk at the thought. Even in his absence, he makes me chuckle.
There is not much more to say about what happened that day. The viewing was scheduled from 3pm-4pm but I think it ran an extra hour. It was hard to tell, it seemed indecent to watch the clock. I wished very much that my big sister, Ethelyn could be there with us to mourn, to remember, to embrace each other and cherish the simple feeling of having a sibling to hold. My heart still aches deeply when I think about the loss Christine and her family has suffered. I don't even dare to venture that option in my own mind and heart. I cannot lose a sibling so soon. I will not. Losing Jeffy, who is close like a sibling has hurt this much. I cannot venture that thought. I will not.
Just before we left the memorial, we went back inside to pay our respects and say goodbye to his family. It was the first time I had actually looked at his parents. I didn't know what to say. We took the time to write on a few pages to place in his memory box. I blanked. All I could think of were the times I spent with him as a small child. So eager and hopeful. So goofy and strange. I used to baby sit him. I watched he and my kid sister play together. I pulled them on a little red wagon he liked to topple over with the other neighbor kids. Birthday parties. Trips to the park down the street. His father scared me to look at. I'm not sure what I was afraid of. I just knew I felt fear and sadness. Nervousness. They urged us to look into the small wallet on the table of his belongings. Jenne recognized the wallet to be hers from long ago. Apparently she gave it to him. Inside the wallet was a small sticker with what looked like a picture of his sister on it. Within the wallet was also another trading card-it may have been Dragon Ball if I recall correctly- and alongside was a picture of my sister Jenne. A small picture of Jenne in 7th grade as a cheerleader. Behind that was a picture of myself, my big sister and Jenne. I cried and his mother held me. Jenne broke down again. We all had to leave. It was too much. The way home felt like a blur. I don't even remember what I did after. I just needed to go. Jenne took off with her friends to reminisce. I took off with Blake and Hiro. I felt so strange and numb. And yet, the sun kept shining.
Has it really been over 2 weeks? Life is strange. Strange and sad. It feels like he's still next door. For a few days I still expected to receive a text from him around 3 am, asking questions about dreams, about girls, about friendship and pain. It is strange to me that life carries on so quickly. The river keeps flowing. And we all just float along.
I miss you, little Jeff. Wish we could've spent more time together. I'll visit you at your new home sometime, my friend. I wrote you something. I'll leave it for you, maybe with a cigarette or a drink since I think you'd like that better than flowers.
there is change in the air
i'm not yet ready to fly
is the wind so different from the water?
the ocean and the sky
i am neither
has anyone ever drowned
while learning to fly?
the wind on my back
waves in my face
i feel neither
there is change in the air
must i follow?
i'm not yet ready to fly
and the water, it rises
am i to drown in this mess?
the water, it rises
and before me lays the horizon
when one can neither
swim nor fly
can one simply float?
in the wind and the water you do both
in the air, in the ocean you are both
in the sky and the sea
you just float