It was really late on a weeknight when I was curled up on the floor of my grandparent’s house watching a movie with my cousins. There were kids on the pull out bed, in recliners, on the loveseat, and a few spread on the floor watching a movie before we were supposed to go to bed. I had spent almost a week being 300 miles from my parents and it was during this movie that I finally broke down, and cried about how homesick I was. My grandma wrapped me in her arms and assured me that it would be okay. I could call my parents the next day, so I could hear their voices and let them know I miss them.
After that, it seemed like everywhere I went people were crying; but, it did not phase me since I was so young. Even though people were surrounding the kitchen table with red, puffy eyes when I woke up the next morning, I went on with my childhood ways. I would catch glimpses of family members crying through windows and doors. I assumed it was none of my business. I was just excited I got to call my parents and talk to them about what I had been doing around my grandparent’s farm. They told me with stuffy voices how they had spent time going to dinner and seeing movies together. They reassured me that in just a few days I would be back with them.
It was Saturday evening when I sat in front of the mirror preparing myself for church, when my parent’s vehicle pulled into the driveway. As soon as they walked through the door, I was no longer concerned about attending Saturday Mass with my grandparents. I instead wanted to tell my parents everything I had done that week. My parents spoke of family, how we need to remember the memories we have with people, and my dad told us that we would forever remember the next memory of my uncle David.
I had spent a majority of my childhood with my uncle David. He lived with my parents and I from time to time and even made the journey to live in Illinois with us when we left Ohio years before. David became the older brother I never had, playing pranks on me, babysitting me, and letting me regularly annoy him like any younger sibling would. In my mind, the next memory I would remember of David would be us going skydiving or something adventurous; I was wrong. Instead, both of my parents began crying as they told us about the car accident David had been in earlier that week – the accident that took David’s life. Immediately tears began streaming down my face, I did not want to believe a word they said.
For the rest of the evening, I spent my time curled up in my mom’s arms, endlessly crying about how much I loved David and talking about all the things I had done with him. We discussed how the last thing we had ever done together was float newspaper boats down the creek after Easter dinner. David had sprawled out on the floor with my sisters and me, teaching us how to fold boats and hats from the stack of old newspapers. We all loaded into his car afterward to go to the creek and race our newly crafted boats. I can’t tell you what we talked about during that time, but I remember how David’s boat had won the race. This was the last memory I had with him and I wanted to treasure every last drop of it.
Before the visitation began, I remember green ribbons being distributed to family members. Each green ribbon had “Donate Life” written on it since many of David’s organs had been donated to those in need. Because of David, someone received new skin, someone else received the ability to see, and many others were able to regain health and have a new life.
Once the doors opened, it seemed as though the line never stopped. Familiar and unfamiliar faces passed by and memories of David were shared amongst friends and family. At one point I tried to escape the sadness and tears by going into the children’s room, but it was filled with books on “where grandma went” and discussing what happens after death. It was not where I wanted to be either.
The next day we had the opportunity to say our final goodbyes to David as a family in the funeral home. We lined up and passed David one by one for the very last time. As I passed by, I gave David the card I had drawn for him with the note I written about how much I loved him and how much I was going to miss him. My sisters did the same and then I watched my dad drop his vice grips into the casket and kiss David on the forehead one last time. My dad always carried vice grips on his hip and I was not quite sure why he did this but in the truck as we followed the hearse to the church he told of how David may need them. In reality, those vice grips were a staple part of my dad’s look so by giving them to David, he would always have a part of my dad with him.
The image that sticks in my mind the most from the entire week and brought me to tears while watching from just a few feet away was seeing my heartbroken grandfather cling to the side of the casket. Tears were streaming down his face as he uttered his final goodbyes to his youngest son. He fell to his knees beside David begging that this not be real; we all wished it was just a nightmare we would soon wake up from but we never did.
At the church, there were sounds of sniffles and muffled cries throughout every pew. The church was filled with those that had fallen in love with David’s kind heart and friendly smile. My dad stood in front of the church to tell memories of the twenty-one-year old that was stolen from this earth. He told of how so many looked up to David, whether they be young or old. He discussed young David’s antics and jokes to help us smile through the tears.
That afternoon there was a dinner served, the burial service, and more refreshments served so everyone could discuss their memories of David. Twenty-one years of pictures and stories were told and retold for everyone to hear. Nobody wanted to let the memories die.
Later that year, my family drove through the cemetery where David is buried. As everyone else went to visit with David, I couldn’t bring myself to get out of the truck. I sat in the backseat with hot tears running down my face as the feeling of loss rushed over me like it had the very first time. My mom tried to talk me into walking with her to David’s plot to tell him how much I missed him being around but I couldn’t do it; it was simply too difficult.
It’s been nine and a half years since that August day when David was called to Heaven and it’s still too difficult. The feeling of losing him is still challenging to live with and I don’t think it will ever become easier. Nearly two years ago I had a paper boat tattooed next to my heart so I can take a piece of David with me everywhere I go and I’m sure David is watching me from heaven, trying to help me get by.
David will always be with me regardless. When I’m scared, I’ll think of the time he helped me cross the bridge beams across the creek even though I was afraid of heights. When I need a laugh, I’ll always have the time he made me flip my bike because I was annoyed with him following so closely that I slammed on my bike brakes and flipped over the handlebars. When I'm feeling down, I'll think of how David would reach over the side of my bunk bed to kiss me on the forehead and tell me goodnight. There are countless memories with him that I can always rely on to get me through life and keep fighting. There will never be anything worse than losing someone you love dearly at such a young age.