Early on Saturday morning I got a call from my brother John. We talk on the phone from time to time, usually for special occasions. He and I share the same birthday- he was my big present on my eighth birthday. Each of us tries to be the first to call on that day.
But an early Saturday morning call could mean only one thing- bad news. The mind races at such a time, thinking, “Who it could be?” John’s quivering voice left no doubt. He hesitated, cleared his throat and said, “This is not an easy call.” I knew it wasn’t a call for casual conversation.
I waited for him to compose himself, to form the words and to get them out. “It’s Brendon,” he said. Then he paused to get his bearings. “He was in a car accident.” Another pause. “He didn’t make it.”
John didn’t have many details about Brendon’s death, but the moment you get news that a loved one has been killed in a car accident the details seem trivial. The particulars will come later. John said, “I just spoke with Gwen. She’s at the hospital. She asked me to make the calls, to let everyone know.”
Brendon is my youngest sister Gwen’s middle son. He was fourteen years old, the only passenger. The driver was seventeen.
Details of the fatal accident dribbled in during the day. On Saturday evening I finally got to talk with Gwen. She asked if I would do a funeral service for Brendon. She assured me that she would understand if I decided not to do it- she didn’t want to ask me to do something that would be as difficult as this.
All day on Saturday I grieved for Gwen, and of course for Brendon, and for his older brother Bill, and his younger brother Brett, and for his father, Bill, from whom Gwen was recently divorced.
I told only a few folks at the church, knowing I had to do my work on Sunday morning. I knew I needed to keep some distance from the terrible, haunting pain. The first service on Sunday was extremely difficult- my mind kept going to Gwen and her terrible grief.
I greeted those who wanted to talk after the first service, then, as soon as the coast was clear, I went into my office and wrote the first draft of this letter. Writing is a way of reigning in the grief to gain some temporary control.
The second service went better, but Miller Williams’ words, “you don’t know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone,’ were ringing in my head. Grief has a life of its own and this new grief connects to the accumulation at the core of my being. Seneca’s words ring true; “Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb.”