The day I meet our son at the back door and see his face in his face, I shudder.  I mean for years my brother lingers quietly in my night-visions.  But I don’t like seeing him in my son’s face in broad day-light.  Much rather he stay closed away in deep memory’s burning embers—where he’s been since we closed his grave some 30 years before.

One life-loss can infect the whole of a life”, writes Ann Voskamp.  Those burning life-loss memories we carefully tend.  Who wants to relive them…yet, who cannot relive them?

Maybe the memories must be fully re-lived in order for them to fully re-die.  Ashes fully buried and fully resurrected into the beauty (dare we say it) of acceptance.

I look into my son-brother’s face and I know.  The burning embers are being stoked into flame once more.  Okay, let’s have at it and get this over with once and for all.

The year Randy died.  The year he turned 16.  I would live on to turn 14.  Says a lot right there.  He died.  I lived.  Guilt.  Who gets to decide that?  Guilt.  Sucks to be you.  Guilt.  I’m sorry.

How much guilt can one girl serve up?  I can’t force down another bite.  The lump in my throat sickens.  Regurgitated guilt burns hot and deep.

Walking by the bathroom, he calls my name.  Cradled in his palm are the treasured strands of golden-wheat that fell victim to the chemical warfare in his body.

“Why is my hair falling out?” 

So much pain, so much fear in those six screwed-up words that no 15 year old boy should ever have to say.  And I got nothing, but…Denial.  It’s not that bad.  Denial.  Just comb it over.  Denial.  Looks great.

“How’s your brother doing?” 

I lean over the water fountain and drink and drink and drink attempting to drown the sadness—or myself.  Not sure I can tell the difference any more.  Depressed.  Life totally sucks.  Depressed.  I am one sorry mess.  Depressed.  I swallow it down.    

“He’s doing okay,” I lie to the teacher.

That’s always what I say, because I don’t really know what to say.  Because nobody really tells me anything.  Except maybe my older brother who tells me on the way to school, when I finally get the nerve to ask,

“He’s not good, Lois”. 

But nobody says he will die.  Nobody spells it out for me—those three dagger letters… D-I-E.   Anger.  Who gets to decide that?  Anger.  Sucks to be me.  Anger.  Not sorry.

Moans from the Lazy-Boy, the sick chair, an old man’s chair that no 15 year old boy should ever have to sit in day after day.   Dad’s face falls in shattered reply.  Mom breathes deep with clenched eyes.

“What do you need, Randy?”

If only I could make the pain go away, things can be normal again.  “God, if you will make him better…”  Bargaining.  “I’m really sorry I didn’t believe him at first.”  Bargaining.  “I know I’ve been bad but I promise to be perfect…”  Bargaining.  “If you really exist God …”

Two weeks after his 16th birthday, Randy leaves for the hospital for the very last time.  As we stand at the back door, I think I knew.  And I’m pretty sure he knew, too.  Acceptance.  A quick one-word goodbye spoken from our lips; eyes embrace, silently speaking heart’s farewell.  Acceptance.  He turns to meet death without me.  I turn to meet life without him.  Acceptance.  He leaves my childhood forever.

This back-door memory is the memory that still burns hot.  A witch’s cauldron brew bubbling in my gut.  Eyes still burn from it.  The memory, that is.  Standing at the back door.  Our last brother-sister exchange on earth.  The final goodbye.

I know not how the light is shed,

Nor understand this lens.

I only know that there are eyes

In pencils and in pens.

∞John Piper

And then eyes open…the back door.  The final goodbye took place at the back door.   I recall the opening-grave words in my journal:  “The day I meet our son at the back door and see his face in his face, I shudder.”

It’s at the back door where I see my 16-year-old brother’s face in my 16-year-old son’s face.  I see his eyes in his eyes.  I see the same boyhood-scar on forehead—his from a boomerang gone wild; his from a hot-water radiator collision.

At the back door—the final goodbye place between brother-sister; mother-son.  Don’t leave me, brother.  Don’t leave me, son.  Don’t want to let you go, brother.  Don’t want to let you go, son.  I don’t want to live life without you, too.  Nobody should get to decide that but me.

To be continued …


7 thoughts on “The Year Randy Died

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