Thursday afternoon we headed over to the home of one of Donovan's classmates. Our moving truck had been picked up earlier that day, and after the whirlwind week of madly packing up our house and fitting all our things in the trailer, we were more than happy to take a quick breather. This was our first real playdate with this family- they have two daughters who are about the same ages and D & Q. The kids hadn't ever played that much together at school, but on the afternoon where we stayed for a while on the playground after school pickup I'd had many great chats with the parents and clicked well with them. It's a shame we didn't manage to hang out more before now, but that's just how things go sometimes I guess.
They have the classic New England home out in the country, with tons of land and a garden and flower beds. The kids all got along great and had fun running around outside while we grownups talked. It was a gorgeous sunny day, just warm enough with a light breeze. Idyllic and lovely.
As we were about to sit down for dinner my phone started ringing. It was my mom. I ignored the call, not wanting to be rude to our hosts and figuring I'd call her back once we got back home. A few minutes later Zach came up and told me he got a text from my step-dad that I should call Mom back. I checked my phone again and saw texts from both of them to call home asap.
That's when I got that sinking feeling in my stomach.
I walked over to the part of the yard with the best cell phone reception and called Mom. The first two tries went straight to voicemail, but on the third it rang and she answered. "Honey, are you someplace where you can sit down and be ok?"
And there's that moment when you are gripped with terror because you know something horribe has happened and you can't stand not knowing and you can't stand finding out what it could be. It's like something out of a book or movie except it's real life, and it's happening right here and now. With a lump in my throat and my voice already breaking I asked her what was wrong, and that's when she told me that my brother, JC, had died the night before, suddenly and unexpectedly, while out in LA visiting his best friend.
No one really knows what happened exactly. He had been feeling sick, had a fever, but nothing that seemed alarming or serious. He had chosen to stay in by himself that night, and there's a trail of texts and then...nothing. They say it seemed like he went very quickly. Maybe it was the illness, his body and immune system made frail after the intense rounds of chemo and radiation he underwent 17yrs ago for his brain tumor. Or maybe it was something else entirely. We don't know, and it doesn't seem like we'll ever find out, which feels maddening and yet I doubt any of this would feel any better if we knew the exact cause of death. He's just... Gone.
I talked with my mom on the phone for a few more minutes, Zach by my side, before she had to go to make more calls. I sat for a moment, dried my eyes, then walked back over to the table with our friends. Zach told them what had happened, and we briefly discussed going home but I didn't want to end the playdate. The kids were having a great time and I welcomed the distraction and beautiul setting while I tried to process this new reality.
Eventually, after finishing dinner and the rhubarb crumble and toasted marshmallows, we left to go home (or to our temporary home, a friend's house in the neighborhood who was gone for the summer and let us use their place so we'd have a furnished place to stay after shipping all our things). Zach put the kids to bed while I called my sisters, then Sasha and Jeremy. I felt like I was in shock, and numb, unable to really feel the impact of my brother's death. It just felt so surreal and distant. Hearing the voices of some the people I love most on this earth felt like being wrapped in a warm blanket. I kept repeating it in my head, "My brother died. JC is dead. My brother is gone," trying to convince myself that it was real. It just made no sense.
So that was Thursday.
Friday morning I talked with the boys about it. Zach had told them the night before, at bedtime, but I wanted to talk with them myself as well. Donovan told me he felt sad. Quinn asked some other questions, trying to comprehend something his 3yo brain isn't meant to. Zach booked us all on flights to Austin for Saturday. My sisters would also be coming into town, so we would all be together with our parents.
Friday was when things started to sink in a little more. I cried as I got messages of love and condolences from family and friends, offering their support and saying such kind words about my brother. I cried when I searched for recent pictures of him, feeling so annoyed that I had only my phone to do so, with all my tens of thousands of photos stored on a computer that was in a truck already. I found the last family photo we took, this past Christmas, and felt sucker-punched at realizing he won't be in any future pictures with us. I also suddenly realized that in flying to Austin the following day, we would be saying our last goodbyes of New Hampshire (the boys and I will fly straight on to California after this). In the process of moving I've been started by having to say a few goodbyes before mentally preparing for them, and here was yet another one.
In other words, Friday pretty much sucked ass, not that I expect it will get much easier for a while.
We are currently on our way to Austin now. The trip hasn't been our smoothest-- security almost didn't let me through because of a typo on my boarding pass; our layover in Atlanta lasted 3.5hrs longer than it was supposed to; and the boys spent much of that time driving me and Zach up the wall with their totally-age-and-situation-appropriate-but-extremely-difficult-for-grieving-parents-to-handle energy and wrestling/fighting/punchingeachotherintheface. BUT as I type this (on my phone, as D and Q finally sleep on the plane) we are within an hour or so of Austin and I just have to get through the next few minutes, and then the next few minutes after that, and so on, until we land and I can give my mom and my sisters and my dad and my step-dad the big ole hugs I've been craving and needing to give.
Last night I talked briefly with Sasha. She asked how I was doing, and it's really hard to know how to answer that right now. I mean, yeah, I'm ok. I know we'll be ok. I know we'll get through this and we will miss him and remember him and honor him. And it's like staring down this road, or maybe up a steep mountain trail, you know you can do it (you have to, there's no other real choice, is there? Is that naive of me to say?) but you know it's gonna be hell and it's going to suck, but you can't go under it or over it you have to go straight through it and just "embrace the full force of the brutality."