The wind was cool on that summer night as we drove farther and farther out of town. I found it soothing and refreshing, until my friend slowed down her van and we waited; a train was speeding by. This was the first time it happened.
This was on the night of the musical celebration in his honour, put on by family and friends. He always loved music and he was a gifted musician himself. This was the best way his loved ones could think of to celebrate his life, but that word doesn’t change the fact that everyone found it hard to really celebrate anything that year.
This was a celebration, or that’s the word often used to put a positive spin on things (on a person’s life after they are gone), but it was hard to be positive now and from now on. He deserved to be remembered. This was in memory of him, but he was not there and never would be again. He was younger than I am now and he was gone.
As the train sped by, a rush of anxiety and panic swept through me. I shuddered and shrunk away into my seat and wanted to flee. I would never again be able to hear that sound and feel quite right. That was now the sound of the end of his life and the end of so many things for people I loved.
It was touching to see just how many people showed up for his funeral service. The room was full and the line went out the door and down the hall. I had never been to a funeral quite like this one.
I was used to attending church funerals for grandparents and others, people whose deaths weren’t exactly unexpected, being that they were all near the end of life. This time was different. I never thought we’d seriously be here like this. We hardly ever all got together, but this was the last way I would have wanted to finally make it happen. This was surreal and so shockingly real all at the same time.
I can’t say we were ever particularly close, Morgan and myself. He was older and we didn’t really have the chance. That is just an easy way of justifying our lack of closeness and rationalizing why I don’t have the same right as others to feel any of this, but I am writing because I feel so much, for everyone involved.
As children we did get together at least once a year, at Christmas time. We would all sit on Oma and Opa’s hard cellar floor, eagerly awaiting our name to be called. Uncle Mike made it fun as he passed out the presents.
One year I remember Morgan having drawn my name in the gift exchange. He must have known, or my aunt knew, just how much I loved to draw, but either way I will always associate the scented Mr. Sketch markers I loved so much with Morgan. He gave me a set of four brightly coloured markers: yellow lemon, green peppermint, blue blueberry, and red cherry. I don’t know how many bright days he would have after that, in the years that followed, because I was not around most of the time to witness what his life was like. I heard things from other people, but when I would see him at an occasional family get-together he seemed quiet, hardly one to stand out in the crowd.
In the later years we would have a few brief conversations at family gatherings. I was having chronic headaches by this time and he was kind enough to ask me how I was doing. I suspect he could relate on some level to suffering in its many forms.
Everyone who knew him knew of his startling brilliance and gifts. He had a keen mind and a sharp intellect, but he had so much dark sadness, a weight I can not imagine but of which he carried with him most of his life.
His family and friends spoke of these gifts and these burdens. Journal entries were read and music was played. I learned a lot about him that afternoon, mostly things you never want to learn anyone has had to deal with. Some family could not speak and others spoke for them.
As we sat in that room, with its floor to ceiling windows looking out over the small lake, I hoped at least that he would love the view of nature we all saw as these sad things were spoken. He liked nature and found it peaceful. It was the rest of the world he could never quite see eye-to-eye with.
As we all mingled following the service, refreshments in hand, I sat observing the scene. Surreal wasn’t a big enough word now. Then suddenly my aunt was at my side. I hadn’t spoken with her yet that day. She had been unable to speak and now she was the one comforting me.
She bent down and asked me how I was doing and my throat closed up. It does this to me in extremely stressful or upsetting moments. I have been seen as rude or unresponsive when asked a question in just such a moment as this, I find myself unable to answer someone’s question or even get out one word. This time it made no difference.
“It’s okay. I understand,” she reassured me. “You don’t have to say anything.” Of course she understood better than just about anyone else in the room, but I wish I had been able to be the one to comfort her in that moment and not the other way around.
What could I say then and for these last ten years. I have wanted to write since that time, but ever afraid I might say the wrong thing I have kept it mostly to myself. Silence isn’t the answer, but I am still afraid and I never wish to hurt others with my words. I write for the same reason others play music. It helps tremendously, but never do I intend it to upset anyone.
It was a warm July day and my father was out cutting the lawn. It was in the midst of fresh pea season so I was happy; it was summer and most people were. The summer would, on that day, be shattered and forever coloured by grief and loss.
It was our job to go straight into town to break the devastating news to Oma. This was one of the hardest car rides I’d ever taken. I didn’t want to be the one to tell her one of her oldest grandchildren was gone. I didn’t know how she would react. I could guess, but she was getting older now and she was an unpredictable lady.
We found her down in her basement, in her favourite chair, keeping cool. One of my parents broke the news, but it must have been clear on our faces the moment we walked into the room. She immediately broke down and we had all been on the verge ourselves since we heard the news. This would make the list of the hardest things I would ever face.
I spent the rest of the day in a haze of pain and disbelief. I had heard about suicide before, but this brought it all so close to home. How did someone do this to themselves and to others? My headaches tended to get worse with stress, but this time it was not only that. It was my mind straining to understand.
I had been through my share of pain, mostly physical and I had thought of a way out in my worst moments of fear and frustration, but never would I have gone through with it. At times it may have been a matter of lacking the “guts” to follow through. It’s a good thing too because as the intensity of my physical pain passed, came and went, it would get better. Any depression I ever had was episodic and fleeting. It was caused by the situation I was in at the time and would not last. I had no real idea what long periods of depression felt like, what true clinical depression did to a person. I saw it barely at all and only heard through secondhand sources. What kind of pain did he have to be in to do this to himself? I asked myself that question over and over again, but I couldn’t say I had any answer.
Was it really anything to do with “guts” at all? I was angry when I thought about the people who remained behind to deal with the mess and the emotions. How could he hurt his family this deeply and permanently? Then I realized I knew nothing whatsoever about it and who was I to judge him for taking himself out of his pain, if that’s what he believed to be the only answer. I couldn’t really be angry at all.
I picture him sitting there beside the train tracks, reading his book, just before he took his life. I stop myself, most times, from imagining the sound of the train as it approached and what could have possibly been going through his mind in those precious precise moments before he took those last steps. The sound of a speeding train will forever cause my mind to go places I do not want it to go.
This perhaps is why I shiver any time I hear a train. Why I have the impulse to put my hands over my ears or roll up the car window and crank the music way way up to drown out the roar. I don’t like to imagine too much further than that, but sometimes I can’t stop myself. What were his last thoughts before it was too late to change his mind? These are things I am sure I’m not alone in thinking about, but of which none of us will ever be able to answer or even want to know for sure. He was alone in these final moments and that’s the hardest part, but he must have been alone in so much more preceding those last moments and of which is impossible to fully comprehend. Who among us hasn’t felt lonely or hopeless at one time or another, but we get through it. He seemingly could not see a way out and how bleak must the world have seemed to him then?
I can’t imagine having a love so strong as the one a mother has for a child and also can not imagine what it feels like to lose that child. I feel it in the way my aunt and uncle speak about it sometimes, but as hard as I try to empathize I can only listen. I try to relate it by going from how much I love my niece and nephews, but I have never had a child who is a physical part of myself.
I do know what my relationship is like with my brothers and so I find it somewhat easier to relate with my cousins. I always say I don’t know how they’ve gone on with life since that July day ten years ago, but I know, with most of the hardest things in life, you find a way, somehow and amongst all that pain. Things make less sense, but I suppose that’s the best way I can put it. I think about what it would be like if I were to have to go on without one of my brothers. My cousins are tough, smart, and funny people, even after all of this; as if that day might have erased those traits in them. I am glad it has not and I think he would be too. For everyone who loves them this is enough, but it’s clear a piece of them both will be missing forever. The time doesn’t really slowly heal all wounds like the Hallmark cards might say. They are simply left with little other choice in the matter.
I try to focus less on the sound of a train and more on music, nature, and the people I love and I hope these things bring at least a little bit of peace to those who were closest to Morgan. That’s all we’ve got to remember him by and the ones who knew and loved him best could probably speak on most of this with more authority. It’s important to remember, today and every other day, that he was once a young man so full of life and who had many times of great happiness during his lifetime, not just sadness.
Five or six years later this sort of thing would strike again, on the opposite side of the family. I felt no better equipped at breaking the news to the people I loved the second time around than I did the first. Again I struggled to understand, but how can I or anyone else truly understand until we are the ones standing at the end of our own lives. Morgan was complicated in life and nothing will change that now. He must have felt like there was no other choice and the kind of pain he was in is the kind I will never know.
I think of him every time I hear a certain song, as I tend to do with certain songs, experiences, and people in my life. Sade’s haunting voice sings of great passion and deep deep despair. This particular song speaks of someone who feels like they were cursed to a fate of unhappiness and endless pain.
King of Sorrow
I don’t know if any tool in our age of medicine could have lifted him out of these things or if he was doomed to shoulder the things most of us are able to push off our own shoulders. Wherever he is, whatever you believe, one thing we all agree on is we hope he’s at peace now. He made an impression on all who were privileged to know and love him or even to speak with him for even a little while. How many people in the world can say they have had just such an impact on others like that?