The haunting words repeated with each subsequent paragraph as the second to last writer at the open mic last week, a doctor, I later learned, detailed instructions given to people being trained to deliver the bad news of death to a victim’s mother, He is her’s, he is not yours … stayed with me that night. When I opened my e-mail the next day and read a message from one of my cousins that quite suddenly and unexpectedly, his sister’s son had died, those ominous words surfaced in my head.
On the 4th of July I went to my cousin Maryann’s home for an indoor celebration of the holiday. It was the last time I saw her son, Mark, age 42, alive. He looked robust , smiling broadly when I asked if he was pleased about the recent championship achieved by the local basketball team. He said it was the happiest day of his life. While I was glad he was so thrilled, I remember thinking it was a little sad that a single man in his early forties didn’t have something a bit more substantial to claim as his happiest moments. Nevertheless, our holiday proceeded with friends of their family arriving and Mark’s sister, Becky and her current boyfriend, Kevin, who would do the barbequing.
Memories of Mark, laughing and happy, chatting and enjoying the tasty meal we shared were in the forefront of my mental landscape as I went from lecture to lunch, then crossed the campus and into my classroom as other students filed in. There was no answer when I called Maryann. Through the lesson, dinner and a reading at the bookstore, thoughts of Mark prevailed.
In the evening when I returned to my room, I called Maryann again, this time reaching her. For most of the conversation she was calm, saying that her religion saved her and carried her through. They were able to find a priest at the hospital who administered the last sacrament and the priest assured her that all of Mark’s sins, from his whole lifetime were forgiven. Her tears came, but the calm returned and she said she would let me know the plans once things had been finalized. He is her’s, he is not yours.
In a surreal haze I walked through the weekend and enjoyed another class and met more astonishing people, even riding in the shuttle to the Cedar Rapids airport and on the plane to Chicago.
Finally home, I pushed my suitcase into the house where it is still sitting, opened but not entirely unpacked in the hallway, and answered the phone to hear my cousin Theresa’s voice. She was just checking to see that I returned safely and I poured out the news of our losing Mark. With twenty-seven years of experience as a pharmaceutical representative she had some thoughts on what may have happened to Mark
Tomorrow is the wake and the funeral will be the day after. Family is converging from Virginia and California to mourn together and share our grief. He is her’s, he is not yours …for Maryann the road ahead will be difficult and I hope we can lift her up when those unbidden memories flood her heart.