I woke up to the buzzing of a text message. It was 7am on Saturday morning. The message was from my Mom back home in California. The timing of the text made my heart miss a beat automatically (when you live so far from home, there are only certain types of news that illicit an early morning or late night text – and in ten years of being abroad, none of them have been good).
Breathing in nervous energy, I steeled myself and typed back an “Are you okay?” text. The answer was immediate and conclusive. “No.” I took a moment before carrying on and braced myself…but for what? For something I knew would be painful. Yes, what came down the line next was going to hurt. But oh, no. No, I didn’t expect what came next. No. No. No. Never in a million years could I have foreseen the next text.
“Your cousin Brad was killed in a car accident a few hours ago. All we know is he was driving to work, someone tried to pass him and over-compensated. They hit his Bronco. The Bronco skidded on ice, flipped, and Brad was killed instantly. I’m sorry.” Oh shit. No…no…no…no!
But, yes. Yes, it was true. I sat in silence for what could’ve been a minute or an eternity or even the blink of an eye. I wasn’t aware of time (I’m still not). And then it hit. In a tsunami of grief. I wept. Hard. I cried until I shook. I let my husband envelop me in his arms as my tears fell on to his chest. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to run. I wanted to hit something. But I just sat with my husband and wept and wept and shook my head in disbelief. Brad was my little cousin. He has four little babies to care for.
After pulling myself together enough to wash my face and head to the kitchen I found myself looking out of the window and getting angry. Angry at nature. Angry at the beauty around me. Angry.
How dare the Sun come out. How dare it shine at all on this day of all days – acting like an omen of happiness and life. How dare its rays hit my skin with an invigorating welcome, a sense if growth and renewal. How dare it shine. HOW DARE IT! That yellow old sun. Making life vibrant and new. Not today. Today should be clouded over. Gray. Cold. Wet. Depressing. But no, the sun shone. Despite my desperate need for it to go away.
I wept more. Went for a run. Listened to sad country music. Hit a punching bag. Blasted metal rock. All the while shaking with disbelief from the center of my being outward. No. No. No. I started to plead.
It’s silly, but I started to plead with the Sun. He’s gone. Only three hours dead – yet here you are. Reminding me of the way you’d shine through the summers of our distant youth. How your rays would dance in Brad’s shy, ornery eyes. The way you stained his forearms the color of molasses from June to October each year. The memories you bring make it all to real. Too HD. Too 3D. Too near. The flooding back of memories. Of Midwest summers where, as children, we ran free together out behind grandma and grandpa’s house. Sun, you bring it all back.
We were running. Jumping. Laughing. Shooting arrows. Hunting frogs. Swimming. Fishing in ponds. Running amok happily from sunrise to sunset. The only call we’d heed was the call for dinner where we’d eat massive amounts before heading outside again after dark to catch fireflies together. We’d keep them in jars.
And now what? The sun still shines on the other side of the world. But Brad, you’re gone. Your life ended in a second of indecision that wasn’t your own. In a moment of squealing tires, iced over highways, and flipping vehicles. You died in a rocket made of Ford steel. Thrown to your death. I wasn’t there, but when I close my eyes I see it all happen. It haunts me like a memory I never needed. Again and again in slow motion. Over and over in my head. Your beautiful eyes, those eyes that danced in the sunshine…darker now with the chill of winter. Pale with the sheen of death.
And here I am, on the other side of the world. Cursing the Sun that I’ve been courting since last year. Hoping for it to return…and now begging it to leave me alone. How can I wake up tomorrow and face the Sun? How is it okay to smile knowing four little children are without a father. That my Uncle is without his son. That I (selfishly) won’t get to share a beer, a laugh, and a few stories with you again. Your slow drawl. Your slow walk. Those big mechanic’s hands. That fast smile. And the reassurance that we’d always be there. Cousins. Taking care of the next generation.
But you’re gone. A family is in shock. Mourning can’t happen when you can’t feel anything. There’ll be plenty of mourning to come. I won’t be there to see you off. I’m sorry Brad, but I know you’d understand. Last night I had a few too many of your favorite beers to celebrate you. I cried too much. Can a person cry too much over someone they loved? You’d have told me “It’s okay, Cassie.” in that slow drawl…but it’s not okay. Not really.
I’ll think of you, Brad. When the sun shines. There will be times in the coming years when I’ll think of you. And cry some more. For everything that could’ve been. That should’ve been. For those babies of yours. For their sake. For my own.
Tell Grandpa we miss him, will you? Give Uncle Jack a big hug from me – I didn’t get to say goodbye to him, either. And, enjoy the hunting in eternity.
Go with grace. Love you, little cousin. See you when I get there.