My last post was seven months ago. I thought I had crossed the finished line, accomplished what I had set out to do. To put Aaron and his untimely suicide behind me. I understand that sometimes we think we have said everything that needs to be said on a subject. Sometimes we feel we just need to step back and take a deep breath. And there are times when we had enough of a subject and want to file it away Or maybe all three.
One of my boys, Gabriel (23) is living with his girlfriend (Rachel) and her parents while she is preparing to have her first child. It is a very exciting time in their lives. A few weeks ago tragedy hit Rachel’s family. Her dad ( 51) died in a motor bike accident.
On Facebook Rachel wrote a touching ode to her dad letting him know that his unborn baby grand-daughter would learn about her grandfather that she would never get to meet. Rachel also mentioned in a text to Rhonda and myself how surreal this experience has been thus far.
When I heard the news I knew the process, I was instantly transported back in time. I could feel their pain, their shock and that surreal feeling of “what the fuck just happened”. For a time you live in this bubble as you can feel your body move and think but in slow motion. You go through the motions of life wondering when you are going to wake up from this nightmare you are experiencing.
You wonder when your loved one is going to walk through the door then realizing that it was all a dream or a bad joke being played on you. You see your loved one in such obscure places like a shopping center, riding by on a bicycle or just waiting for a bus at the local bus stop.
Some people call this being in denial. I think it is being on the cusp of another world. Perhaps it is a way of God allowing you to slowly accept your loved one is pulling away and never coming back, as though you are still holding his hand while he is trying to leave this world. A time to adjust, not a time to mourn. Shock sets in as you do not want to believe what has happened and your mind does not accept the outcome. It’s not a miracle you anticipate but a mistake that you are hoping will right its way back to the way it was.
During this time friends and family are gathered, many coming out of hiding not having seen or heard from in years. For a short time you are insulated and protected from what inevitably will come, the grieving process. But this surreal feeling is a blessing in disguise, a place between two worlds. A time to be able to hold on and feel your loved one as though he is sitting right next to you. A feeling that you could learn to live with but reality will invade your space.
For me this surreal state lasted until just after Aaron’s funeral. We had a wake or gathering at our house of friends and family. When all our guests left including my dear wife who had to work that evening, the older children moving the party to another venue, I was left alone with our family dog who took his place at the end of our bed oblivious to our loss.
Alone for the first time grief hit me like a ton of bricks. Reality came in like a flood. My world would change at that moment never to be the same. That surreal feeling that enveloped me like cotton wool protecting me from heartache was gone. My life was going to change its ways forever.
I don’t know what type of grief Rachel and her family will face or how long it will last. It is up to the individual. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, no time limit. I do know that there is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel and when we come out the other end our life will never be the same. Some better, some worse.
I pray for Rachel, Gabriel and their unborn daughter that their end result will be for the better.
As a family we have over the past 7 years refrained from talking about Aaron’s death. Rarely have I had conversations with any of my children about his passing and how it happened. If they talk about it among themselves I wouldn’t know.
As time passed each of us learned to deal with this tragedy in our own ways. I never broached the subject with my kids nor did they come for advice or a shoulder to cry on. In retrospect I wish I could have coped better, at least for the sake of my children.
At our yearly Family Day when we gathered each year near the date of his death. One year my ex-wife brought a picture of Aaron and placed it in the center of the picnic table as a reminder of why we were there. One of her older daughters lovingly rebuffed her and told her it wasn’t necessary because we all knew why we were there. His picture remained in place that day but never showed up again.
Our conversation at these outings was never about Aaron. It didn’t have to be, he was there with us, in each of our hearts and thoughts and we all knew it.
Someday I would like to be able to talk to each one of his siblings and get their story to get a better understanding of how Aaron’s death affected them, the things that they went through, the anguish, heartbreak and their own personal grief. Did they carry any guilt blaming themselves in any way, did they harbour any hidden memories that were too difficult for them to face. What fears did they encounter the days, months and years that followed. Did his death bring them closer to their siblings and our family in general or did they drift away inwardly if not outwardly.
As I reflect on their part in this family tragedy I was encouraged when I started to think about the physical ways that each one of them wants to remember and honour their brother.
Each year many of them meet at his headstone at the local cemetery on his birthday. I didn’t know this until my wife showed me a picture posted on Facebook of them gathered together one year. One of my boys who apparently couldn’t make it the year the photo was taken, had his own face superimposed in the photo and posted it himself to show that although not able to make it in person he was there in spirit.
At Aaron’s memorial we had a small photo of him printed and laminated and passed out to all who came to remember him. Each one of my kids has this photo either in their wallet or purse and even on their refrigerator in the their kitchen.
Quite a few have gone to the extreme of getting tattooed with his name or other messages on their bodies, keeping him forever remembered.
I am not a big fan of tattoos. I have none myself but I have come to terms with the fact that this day and age it seems to be ingrained in our western culture not much different to social media.
So when one of my daughters turns up at a family gathering one year with a huge tattoo on her outer thigh I was really taken by surprise and to be honest my reaction was not a great one. Then when she told me to take a closer look I saw it was a picture of Aaron permanently inked on her leg. It was her way of honoring his life.So how could I argue with that.
When my youngest child who is now eighteen told me she wanted to get a tattoo I froze. She is what is known as a “clean skin” and the last I thought would go down this road. She consoled me with the fact it would be a little one. When I asked what she was thinking of getting she proudly stated, “Aaron’s name”. Another one of my girls has a little message on the back of her neck with Aaron’s name so anyone standing in line behind her will know that whoever this Aaron is, is very special to her.
The boys went about it in bigger ways having their memories of him emblazoned on their chest or arms.
There is a story behind each tattoo, each visit to the cemetery and their personal bigger story locked away in each of their hearts.
Their outward manifestation of their love for Aaron needs no explanation or discussion.
Someday I hope to be able to have the courage to ask what lies inside their hearts and how that fateful day affected them.
Someday I will ask, but not today.
For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.
Aaron’s memorial was on a Tuesday, the following Sunday happened to be Mother’s Day. Since all our family was together for the first time in years we decided to get together and celebrate mum’s day in a local park for a BBQ.
The weather was perfect and we had a 100% attendance. The mood was light and cheery, a big weight had been taken off all our shoulders as the memorial and burial weighed heavily on our hearts.
It was nice to be outdoors in the sunshine, the little ones feeding the ducks by the pond. Plenty of food and drink and more happy faces and laughing than what I expected. It had been so long since I have witnessed all my children together of all ages the eldest being about thirty-six and the youngest eleven. The grandchildren mingling with their aunts and uncles some of who were the same age gave me a feeling of joy and pride I hadn’t experienced for such a long time. It was a great day.
A regular occurrence at our past family gatherings was full on sport or games. Touch football, cricket, baseball, soccer, capture the flag etc,with all getting involved. This day was no different.
I was right in the thick of it pushing, shoving, yelping, hollering, shouting, cheering. I usually had to relinquish my competitive sportsman like in your face hands on participation for the referees whistle keeping the peace and making sure that everyone went home in one piece. An overly competitive family thanks to me.
The only wave of sadness came on me when everyone was running around laughing, yelling, arguing, teasing, pushing and high fives going every which way.
This is where Aaron thrived. In the middle of all the action. Actually he was the one who instigated getting us all out of our lounge chairs and on the playing field no matter where we were or how many we had. He usually started most arguments too.
I was never so proud of my family watching from the sidelines each one touched by Aaron’s death in their own special way but putting aside their grief to just have fun. Soon we would all return to our respective homes and have to deal more personally on the events of the week.
But not this day. This day was special.
As the “games” and pent-up energy was released on the playing fields and as the sun was about to set, Before packing up one of my girls suggested to everyone, “why don’t we make this our annual family day. We don’t get together like this too often any more, most of us have our own families now and Christmas is no longer our family get together. Why don’t we make this time each year our Special Family Day, Aaron’s day.”
Hence the beginning our yearly get together. It has become our special day. We get together, we eat, we drink we play games. We talk, we catch up, we hug and laugh together. We shed a tear or two, maybe more but very rarely mention Aaron. We don’t have too. We know why we get together each year. We’re family and Aaron is here with us each time we get together because he lives in our hearts forever.
Its two in the morning Rhonda’s phone beeps, a text has been sent. She turns on the light, grabs her glasses and reads the message half asleep. One of the kids asking if she was doing anything. If not could she pick him up from the city as he has no other way home.
My dear wife works twelve-hour days and to say she is tired at night when she crawls into bed is an understatement. Without missing a beat she texts back, “tell me where you are, I’m on my way.” She jumps out of bed gets dressed, grabs her bag and heads for the door in her pajamas.
Me with my eyes closed can picture her every move. This scene has played itself out a hundred times.
“May I remind you” I say, my eyes still glued shut, “that before he went out you told him he needs to find his own way home. You don’t have to do this”. .
“Yes I do” she says.
“Because I can, because I’m a mother, because that’s what I do.”
“Ok, you win, drive safe…..”.
Rhonda takes pride in being a mother, she loves it and she relishes the daily mundane challenges each child presents.
Broken arms, severe burns, heartbreak, bullying at school, low grades, health issues, sibling wars, police matters, teenagers, the list goes on.
Rhonda is right in the midst of it at all times, always ready to fix any problem big or small. She may not have all the answers but you can be sure she will go about finding someone who does.
One morning while having a cup of coffee together,(not many days after Aaron’s death), we were caught up in our own thoughts enjoying one of those special moments without having to speak. We were still in the “what on God’s good earth just happened to us” state of confusion.
We were understandably having a hard time accepting Aaron was no longer with us, that he would never show up unannounced anymore, that we would never see him again at a family gathering was difficult coming to terms with.
Breaking our silence Rhonda blurted out, “you can’t fix dead”.
She looked over at me to see if I had heard what she said, I did and I looked at her for an explanation.
She said, “you know, I have this philosophy in life that as long as there is a pulse,there is life and where there is life there is hope. When we have hope I have the belief that if there is a problem or one of our kids needs fixing it can be done. But you can’t fix dead. Aaron can’t be fixed anymore.”
We went back to sipping our coffee giving more attention to our own thoughts.
From time to time when we hear of a suicide our hearts go out to the survivors, the loved ones left behind. We understand the unwanted journey that each one must travel. We would look at each other and sigh, sometimes one of us would say, ” “you can’t fix dead”.
Now it impresses us even more that we can and should try even harder to fix those who still have a pulse.
For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.
I’m the organizer between Rhonda and myself so I took the reins in getting the ball in motion for all the work needed to be done to lay Aaron to rest.
My daughter Heidi helped me with the funeral preparations, Jesse put together a video memorial of Aaron to be shown at the service and our dear friend Rose helped put together the after party at our home.
And with family and friends arriving from interstate and overseas it turned out to be a welcome distraction. I had plenty to keep me busy so as not to miss Aaron too much. It turned out I would have plenty of time for that later.
I had only been to one funeral in my life. My grandfather died when I was seventeen. He was dying of lung cancer for many painful months before he died. It was more of a relief to everyone although his suffering was unbearable to some especially my mother. I don’t remember much of that day so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one.
All the men in our family wore black at the funeral.I’m not sure if that was a conscious decision or just worked out that way. It turned out that black was a good way to describe the mood.
“Lots of grief” ,a friend posted on her Facebook page who was at the funeral. I don’t disagree.
I didn’t know what to expect at the funeral service. Our immediate family gathered before any guests arrived, so the immediate family could view his body that was lying in a room set off to the side of the front stage podium. I watched as his siblings along with his mum made their way to see, touch and say their goodbyes and have one final look at their brother and son.
I stayed in my seat in the front row of the podium where the service would be held. I wasn’t about to budge. I didn’t go to the morgue the night we were called in to identify Aaron’s body. I left that to Rhonda and two of my boys, Jonathan and Daniel who for their own reasons were eager to go.
To see my boy lying on a cold slab in a sterile room or lying in a casket fully dressed was not on my to-do list. I wanted to remember Aaron alive.
One of my girls came and sat next to me and encouraged me to go and see his body that it would do me good.
For what ever reasons she thought I needed to view his body and what good it would do for me I knew she meant well. I wanted to rebel like a two-year old who was being made to eat his broccoli.
To keep things civil I reluctantly dragged myself over with the others and stood before my son. I looked,I touched his hand, I said I love you and left to take up my position in the front row once again.
It was painless and took no more than ten seconds.
Yes I admit, he looked peaceful and he looked as though he went to sleep and never woke up. They did a good job. But when I touched his hand, it was cold and lifeless. I pulled my hand away quick smart lest I catch something I didn’t want.
The funeral service was a family affair.
Heidi took on the role as MC.
My youngest daughter started proceedings by reading a poem.
We allowed anyone who wanted to unburden their hearts or talk about their relationship with Aaron access to the podium. I smiled, cried, laughed and was touched by all who spoke.
The highlight was the video memorial of Aaron’s life. It touched us and helped us to understand regardless of how his life ended he will always be remembered as our loving son, brother, uncle and friend in life as well as death.
The prayer duties were given to Aaron’s brother Brian.
After the service we laughed and cried with our guests before the casket was brought out to be taken to the cemetery for burial.
Watching the faces of Aaron’s brothers who were carrying out his casket brought me great pride. The survivors of a brothers bad decision.
These were now my heroes, those that would continue their lives with one less sibling at their side.
I was never so proud of these boys as I was at this moment. I would love and cherish them in a different way from here on out.
As we piled in our cars to follow the Hearst to the cemetery to lay Aaron to rest I had a sense of relief that we made it over the first hurdle.
It turned out to be one of the easier ones.