My Story, Part 4

It was a Friday night after a particularly long, hard week that began in Washington, D.C. for an AAG conference.  Throughout that trip, I thought of nothing but my brother and planned to call him later that weekend.  As I mentioned in my last post, he’d been diagnosed with cancer and after a very difficult adjustment period, he had finally moved on with his life and was in his last semester of a master of communication program . He was a graduate student in the University of Oklahoma at Norman’s Communication program.  I never got an opportunity to talk to him. I received a frantic call from my niece who lived with my Mom. An answering machine message from a Norman, Oklahoma funeral home wanted to what my Mom wished to do with my brother’s body. Please note that at this point, we had no knowledge that  there was a problem.

As the oldest, I took care of anything important, so there was no question as to who would handle this task.  In shock, I verified that my brother had indeed died.  After a number of calls, I learned that the University of Oklahoma-Norman police department notified the New Orleans police department who were supposed to personally notify my mother about the death. They did not. The man from the funeral home waited all day for a return call and after receiving none, assumed that the family had been notified and left his questions on the machine.  He was mortified when he learned that my mother had no idea about my brother’s death and I am certain that he has not left such messages on an answering machine since then.  Nevertheless, my mother learned of the death of her beloved son, from an answering machine.

It was I, who moved my brother to Norman 1 ½ years before, and it was I, and my husband, who drove  to Norman, where, four years after his cancer diagnosis, my baby brother died of congestive heart failure.  He’d already purchased the frame for his diploma. It was just like him to plan ahead.  Since I’d helped move him in, it seemed natural that I would move him out.  Nothing was natural about the trip and what followed and I never counted on the future impact that it would have on me.  Imagine this, I literally carried my dear brother’s ashes, in one of his carry on bags, onto a Southwest airlines flight from Norman to New Orleans, rented a car and brought him home to my mother–one of his best friends. I had never experienced that degree of overwhelming anguish and despair, then or since.  As I  write this, I can feel remnants of those feelings that still exist, and always will.

Afterwards, I tried to pretend that nothing had changed, that I was the same, but it was all a lie.  I went back to my job as an AAG, working the horrendous hours, year after year, ignoring what was happening to my body.   Until then, my life never left me much opportunity for self-inquiry. Growing up poor, left an indelible mark upon me to succeed at all costs–and that I did.  Stopping was not an option, so I didn’t. I kept up the insane, crazy, out-of-control pace: working, going to classes, parenting, commuting between Cypress, Texas and Austin for 2 years, and then, the stressful life of a trial attorney. Just as I ignored my inner thoughts, I ignored my body and its’ pleas to stop the madness. Soon, my body wouldn’t take no for an answer and, it stopped me in my tracks. I had no choice but to listen and I am listening still.