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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Chapter Four - A Short Walk (Part II)

***

We are uplifted by the people of our community.

Barely a minute after Mick left, there was another knock on the door. All I could see, through the glass before I even opened it, was a gigantic pink geranium in a pot. It was so big that it completely obscured the person delivering it - because the person delivering it was a little kid. 

It was Torin, who used to live just down the street from us. His mom's car was idling in the driveway. I took the flower pot from him, and his face was so sad... A little kid should never have that look on his face. Theresa thanked him, and he was a very brave boy just to talk to her. She looked as bad as you might expect.

After Torin and his mom dropped off that beautiful gift, which still grows to this day, my sister Trini stopped by, with her husband Rick, and my sister-in-law Simone. (My brother had come by very, very late the night before, the night it happened, and that was rough.) They said all that they possibly could say to Theresa - which is nothing - while she cried and moaned, in both physical and spiritual agony at the same time.

As they were leaving, my old buddy Larry showed up. Charlie called him Uncle Larry, a point of pride in both of their lives. Larry had shown Charlie the real world: The woods and lakes of Southwest Michigan. He took him ice fishing, even took him out hunting once, and on that occasion Charlie got to carry my grandfather's .22 rifle in his hands. He did not fire a shot, but he took it with him into the shadowy world that lives beneath the canopy. I'm forever grateful that he got to do that.

Larry knew that something had gone horribly wrong, because he heard so from his Dad, who heard so from Papa Pete's. All he had been told, though, was that I had lost a nephew. And Larry imagined that something had happened to my oldest nephew, who hasn't been driving very long, especially when he saw a teary-eyed Simone coming out of the house when he pulled up. He was devastated to learn what had really happened.

Larry, who has gone through personal tragedies in his own family, is as tough as nails but he has developed over time an aversion to wailing, keening grief. But that's the sound that filled our house. Even so, he stayed a long time, supporting us, being a friend, like Lenise had. She came back, too, and so did my folks, and the neighbors, and just about everyone else who ever knew us or even know of us.

Later that day, while my sister cried in her bed, a group of children gathered around the tree in our front yard. Each one put a hand on the trunk and they said a prayer for their fallen friend. This is as much a part of Charlie's life as anything else that ever happened to him. Those kids still come around, just to see how Charlie's Mom is doing, or to walk Charlie's dog, Snoopy. They visit his grave as much as anyone else. Sometimes they leave coins. Other small treasures.

We are uplifted by the people of our community.

Tuesday morning, my oldest sister Marian had flown in from New York - and it felt great to have another hand on the family deck. She tasked herself primarily with helping my parents pick up our shattered pieces for us, because we could do very little in our grief. Renee being there the whole time is, I'm sure, the only way we possibly got through it. She was able to maintain her senses, and make sense to my bereaved sister.

Per Theresa's request, Father Al Camp came up from Mississippi. He's from the Catholic order of Octogenarians, yet he was driving up this way anyhow for a family reunion. The Lord works, he would tell you, in mysterious ways. I haven't seen Father Al since I was a little kid, and when I mentioned that to him, he replied, "My, how you've grown."

The next few days were a blur. What I distinctly remember, though, is the food. When an unspeakable tragedy occurs, people don't know what to do, because they know intuitively (if not personally) that there's nothing that can be done. So they bring food. Platters of food. Buckets of food! Good food, too. And they leave envelopes. With cash. I would say there is no way to ever thank them. They would say there is no need to.

By Friday, the day of the funeral, everything had been prepared. I don't know how. It was a monumental effort of love, a bold-print statement in the face of death. His clothes had been picked, the obituary had been published, and somewhere in there, Charlie was sent from WMed to Redmond Funeral Home. One of his uncles on his Dad's side arranged for us to have the funeral plot right next to Charlie's grandmother and her husband, and the next plot over, too, for Theresa someday.

Charlie's life truly was a fairy tale, and maybe it was the half a Valium I took that morning, but his funeral seemed that way, too. 

We are uplifted by the people of our community!

Seemed like half the town was there. There were not enough seats in the biggest viewing room to hold all the people that were arriving, that much was clear just from the parking lot. There were people I knew well, and others I had not seen in years or decades, and others I did not know at all. It was a serious crowd.

As Theresa and Dennis (Charlie's Dad) were saying goodbye to their son, my brother and I stood and blocked people from going in. They didn't mean to intrude, there just wasn't any room to put them all.

Then my brother and I went to pay our respects, before everyone could watch us do it. Vince went first. He murmured something to him and kissed his head. It was my turn.

I had never been right up close to a dead person before. Never touched one. But to me, it was Charlie. He looked a little funny - I know the procedures used in preparing a body for viewing, so I understood mostly what I was looking at.

"Okay, listen," I said to him. "I have some things for you." I pushed two pennies under his folded hands. They were cold and stiff, which was very alien to my sense of touch, hard to reconcile. "You give those to the ferryman," I said quietly. "He'll take you to the other side." Cover all the bases, I figured. 

"And I'm giving you my Winchester," I said. "I know you always wanted it. And Charlie always gets what he wants." I placed my Winchester pocket knife, which he had long coveted even after I had given him a Buck for Christmas, by his side. "I'll see you when I get there, kid."

I kissed him on his cold forehead, turned, and marched out of the room. 

I've done harder things in my life.

No. I haven't.

We are uplifted by the people of our community. 

It was standing room only. We told everyone NOT to wear black. Most people wore white. Our whole family did. Courtney (Theresa's grown-up daughter) and Marian and I had worked on singing two songs for the funeral, "Be Not Afraid" and "Amazing Grace". We nailed them both. Marian later told me that she listened while singing, and when neither Courtney nor I broke stride in the first line of "Be Not Afraid", she knew we could get through it. I'm not that strong - I told her about the half a Valium. She said, oh... Well, that explains it.

Father Al did a great job. He always does. When he hit me with a blessing before the service, it was the first time I allowed myself to believe that I might be able to get through this.

The funeral home is just across the street from Charlie's new real estate at Mt. Ever Rest Cemetery, and the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety blocked traffic on Kalamazoo's main thoroughfare with their SUV's while a spontaneous parade erupted. Hundreds of mourners crossed on foot in front of the flashing red and blue lights. Theresa made the walk with another of my nephews who is about the same age as Charlie. He held her hand as they crossed the street.

Vince and I were on the middle handles of Charlie's casket. It was light enough that we could have carried it ourselves, but Charlie had two big families, and so many good people wanted to be pall bearers that I felt a bit honored when I was among the final six selected. We did our jobs as his Uncles. We carried him until the very last step.

Upon reconvening at our parents' house, the home my siblings and I all grew up in, we were bowled over to see that the entire street had set up tents and tables, and laid out all of the food and drinks. It was the closest thing to a party anyone could have pulled off. There was even some humor, as it turned out Father Al had left his car engine running for the entire gathering. He was down to a quarter-tank.

Charlie's Ranch, as we call it, is located a few golf shots away from our driveway. If you walk to the end of Park Street, where it ends at the cemetery just south of Buchanan, you can see it. There's a beautiful granite bench sitting there that makes it easy to spot. He is as close to home as we could get him. We are uplifted by the people of our community.

***

The following Monday, my Dad calls Theresa on the phone. He does not sound like his normal self, not even his sad-as-the-new-normal self. He sounds kind of distraught, which he almost never is.

"I just got the Death Certificate from Redmond," he tells her. And he asks if she needs it for any legal purposes. 

Almost distractedly, my sister asks him if they listed a cause of death.

"Yes," he says.

"Well, what does it say?"

My Dad draws breath and says, "Suicide."

pH 4.24.16

***

NEXT WEEK: CHAPTER 5 - In Other Words

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