Thursday, June 9, 2016

time to go

For Brian- on the 40th Anniversary of his loss:

Aunt Joanne and Uncle David had it all- a successful business, three beautiful children, and a garage full of old Buicks that I loved riding in. They were among my favorite relatives to visit, and we did so often.

Their perfect world was shattered in the summer of 1976 when three year old Brian, whom each thought the other was watching, fell head first into their swimming pool and drowned. They pulled him out quickly, and David tried desperately to perform CPR, but it was too late. Their happy-go-lucky little boy was gone.

Their grief was both overwhelming and debilitating. My own parents were in Montreal when the call came. They dropped everything and raced home to Flint in the big Buick Electra. Dad, who was not a speeder, learned new talents as he desperately tried to get home to his anguished brother. Mom said it felt like the Electra's tires never touched the highway that trip- they were all but airborne. Once home, Dad helped Uncle David with the heartbreaking task of arrangements, and Mother glued herself to Joanne's side.

Joanne kept her composure through the visitation and funeral with Mother never out of her sight. Mom was afraid that she would simply pass out from the grief, but somehow she made it through. Finally the graveside service was over and people began returning to their cars. Except Joanne. She was unable to leave her little boy's side, and just sat there in silence. Every time Mother tried to lead her away, Joanne refused. Finally Mother took her hand and said "Joanne, it's time to go". Joanne resisted but Mother was firm. "You have two children at home that need you. It's time to go". She led her to the waiting car.

The birth of another son the following year put Joanne on the road back to life, but the collective anguish and guilt of the tragedy soon spelled the end of David and Joanne's marriage. I saw her infrequently after that, and usually only at a major family event, but we retained the warm bond we always had. Years went by.

When Mother passed away in 2007, Joanne was working out of town and wasn't able to make it to the funeral. It was a lovely and touching service, and after the mourners had filed out, it was just my brother, Dad, and I. Then it was Dad and I, and finally just myself. Looking at her, touching the lapel of her pink suit, recounting stories of how crazy and full of life and how utterly irreplaceable she was. And I stood there, unable to leave her. It was the last time I would ever see her, and I simply could not bring myself to part with her.

Then the door opened, and in walked Joanne. She had sped up from Detroit and missed the service, but wanted to pay her respects. She gave me an gigantic hug and we talked about her. We looked at the display boards of photos and she talked about what enormous strength Mother had given her when Brian died. She had come up to thank her for that time. We stood silently for a few minutes, and then Joanne took my hand and softly said, "It's time to go". I knew exactly what she was doing. Hand in hand, we walked outside into the setting sun.

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