I am writing this as I sit here in the living room, right across from the chair you sat in, the weekend before you died. I will remember every moment of that weekend until I leave this fragile, cruel world myself.
You texted that you and your wife were likely going to split up. You had hope though. You and she had planned to “give it once more chance” by taking a trip to Florida, but when she brought her 7-year-old grandson along at the last minute, you said you knew it was over. You told us she texted you, “I don’t love you anymore,” so that’s where you were. You didn’t seem distraught. You were your usual self. You wanted to stay with us for a few days, you had a job interview lined up you were hoping would work out. I said yes! Please come! And I said I would keep your confidence about what was going on with your marriage. You asked specifically that I not tell Mom. You didn’t want to “put up with her BS.” I said I didn’t blame you. She’s always been so judgmental and cruel, unless you’re a member of HER church (which gets anybody a kitchen pass to commit any and every kind of horror).
We talked about you losing your job in hospital construction. We watched the movie about the neurosurgeon in Dallas that killed all of those people, and you explained that “elective procedures are what pays for all of these fancy new hospitals.” Not car wrecks, not women having babies. Elective procedures. I listened to you talk about how your hospital construction company “let everybody go” at the end of 2021, elective procedures had been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. You were so hurt. You showed me how you left the hospital that last day, waving the middle finger salute just so that cameras would catch it. We laughed. I said, “I hope they did see it!” Then Tuesday night, as you and I stood in the kitchen, a look came over your face, and you said, “Yeah. I’m a sh*theel, I drink too much, I don’t support my family good enough,” and I screamed, “MATTHEW! Please, please, please don’t think that! If I ever gave you any reason to think that’s what I thought, please FORGIVE ME. Please, please don’t think this way. THIS IS WHAT KILLED DAD!” You looked at me and I swear, I think you thought something like “Oh sh*t. She knows!” Then you laughed and said, “Ahh, sis. It is what is is.” And I let it go.
The next morning, I wrote a note for you and put it on the front door. I almost didn’t leave that note, but I just knew on some level that, even if it made me late for work, I needed to leave you a note telling you you always had a place to stay here, no matter what happened with your wife. That you weren’t a rotten guy. That I loved you. And I’m so glad I did.
That afternoon, I called our sister. I told her I KNEW something was the matter and that I was worried about you. I told her not to say anything to our mother, but that you were likely going to divorce your wife and move down here. She said that you had called mother yourself the day before you left, and that mother had expressed shock that your wife was acting in such a way, seeming to let her marriage of almost 20 years go down the drain. I told our sister that I was very worried about you and that you had chosen NOT to go see our mother (who lived 5 miles from me here) because you didn’t want to put up with her BS. I don’t remember much else about the conversation other than coming away feeling like our sister didn’t seem to want to say much other than you “should’ve gotten your GED.” I yelled at her that you were a very successful construction project manager who’s made quite a successful life for himself WITHOUT a GED, for God’s sake. I told her that if she thought for a minute that you were not aware that’s how she felt, that she was mistaken. She said, “I never told Matthew that” — as if that excuses how judgmental and unempathetic she was — and I said goodbye.
The next evening, my husband woke me up and told me he had just gotten a call from your stepson. I screamed, “THAT’S WHAT YOU GET MOM!,” before I even fully understood what had happened. That’s what you GET Mom, for not letting two of your three children live their adult lives without unrelenting lack of approval of them. You granted approval for only one — the one who does everything and believes everything the same way you do.
When I shouted as much to our sister after I knew you were gone, she said I needed to shut up and calm down, that now was the time to “circle the wagons,” and come together as a family. I knew what that meant. That was code for KEEP THIS A SECRET. Well, I didn’t. I will not. I never will. I immediately called family and told them what happened. I called ministers and contacted old family friends. They hadn’t been told. Immediate family hadn’t been told even after more than 24 hours had passed. They wanted me to keep it a secret. Nobody wants to talk to me about your last weekend on earth. No one. I read your eulogy at your memorial service, but at your burial service, I was not contacted by anyone. I was the only one you gifted with your presence the days before you died, and I was “persona non grata” at your graveside.
Even my grief counselor tells me I’m “hurting myself by keeping on reliving these horrifically painful moments.” That I’m torturing myself by pounding my head against a wall, asking myself what kind of a mother doesn’t want to know what her ONLY SON said/did/thought about during his final “vacation.”
But you know what, writing is cathartic (or it is for me, sometimes). As I write this, I think I know what kind of mother would rather chit chat about the latest evangelical hoohah rather than talk to her eldest daughter about how her only son’s last weekend on earth went. I think I know what kind of mother would do that. And as I write, I’m realizing that I just may have an idea why you did what you did, after a lifetime of not having your deepest need to feel loved and approved of unconditionally met. So I guess my question is a rhetorical one, on one level.
The non-rhetorical question, the harder one to answer, is do I want to have anything other than an arm’s length, superficial relationship with our mother and sister in the future. How do I let the gaping, black hole in them, their complete absence of empathy, not make me want to scream?? How do I get to the place where I see this as just evidence of their brokenness and “accept them for who they are,” as I am being told to do. “You’re just being the victim otherwise.” Am I?? I don’t think so.
Corey and I are creating an endowed scholarship for college student athletes in your memory now. You were so talented. You were loyal to your friends and you loved your family, even when we weren’t very lovable. You truly were “the best of us.”
I will love you and remember you always. Your name will be spoken often in my home. My children and grandchildren will know you. Your memory will NEVER be allowed to fade. Not while I, your oldest sister who would give everything she owns for one more minute to hug you and tell you that she loves you always, no matter what, continues to draw breath.