“NO! NO! NO!” That’s what I remember yelling into the phone as my parents told me that Mike was dead. The ground began to open under my feet. I reached for the park bench where I was sitting, afraid of falling in.
The hours that followed were a blur. Duncan and Dolly helped me get out of the park and drove me home. My mind was racing with plans of how to get to my parents’ house in West Virginia, who would watch Dolly while I was gone, who would take care of my caseload at work, etc. I called my close friends. I talked to my parents every hour or two. I listened as a detective read Mike’s suicide note to me over the phone.
My parents decided to wait until Sunday, the next day, to make the drive through the mountains from West Virginia to Virginia due to the blizzard that hit on Saturday. “There’s no hurry. We’re no help to him now,” they said. My aunts drove down from Wisconsin to make the drive with them, and to help them in Virginia Beach. I wanted desperately to fly out to meet them, but they kept telling me to stay home in California and meet them when they got back to West Virginia. I felt confused and isolated that first week, despite the outpouring of love from my friends and family here. I tried to comfort my daughter Dolly, but she did more to comfort me. I clung to each report from Virginia like it held some clue that would eventually unlock the mystery of why this terrible thing happened.
The night they arrived in Virginia, my parents went straight to the police station to pick up my brother’s possessions, including copies of the suicide notes he’d left for us. He had left one note on his body, directing the police to the other letters back at his apartment: one for my parents, one for Dolly and me, and one for my aunts. He also left short notes on the doors of several neighbors asking them to please help my parents. Each letter says that he is sorry, and that he loves us. He told us that he was in pain and that he did not have a choice.
On Monday I went in to the office. I didn’t know why I was there, but it seemed important to my parents that I was functioning. I made arrangements to take a leave of absence. I love my job so it was comforting to be there, even though I was still completely in shock and unaware of what I was doing. Meanwhile my parents made arrangements to have my brother’s body cremated and cleaned out his apartment.
On Tuesday I slept all day. My parents picked up my brother’s car from the impound lot, met with the detective, finished packing up his apartment, and had a private viewing at the funeral home before my brother was cremated. My mom said it looked just like him, except for the incision where the autopsy doctor had taken the bullet out of his head. She said she couldn’t believe how cold his body felt. I don’t mind that I didn’t get to see his body, because that wasn’t him anymore.
On Wednesday I went back to the office for the last time, barely able to hold it together long enough to get my work reassigned so I could go home and curl up in a ball on my bed. My parents turned off the utilities for my brother’s apartment and turned in the keys to his landlord. There was nothing left for them to do but wait for his ashes, so they spent the rest of the day on the boardwalk. They bought Dolly and me each a sweatshirt from Virginia Beach, the city that Mike loved and where he had spent his happiest days. We never got to visit him there.
On Thursday I stayed in bed again. My parents made the long drive home through the mountains, holding a black box filled with the ashes that were once the body that was once my brother.