What is it about June? This one and the one previous both involved death. This time, my friend Sam’s dad died. It was a GSW, as we call it in the medical biz. Gun. Shot. Wound. The words of suicide echoed in the conversations that followed.
It threw me for a loop. I don’t do well with death – especially suicide – it has touched my life one too many times. I’ve attended, technically 2 “funerals” or “wakes” or “celebration of life” type things: both of my grandfathers. I wasn’t particularly close to either of them. I was 8 and 22. Neither of their deaths were unexpected or tragic; they just were. And they were old. Outside of checking people in and out of the morgue at one job I had (and the grandfather bit), I haven’t experienced it. I still feel too young and immature to take on such heavy things like this. Nonetheless, I knew I had to step up and be there for my friend. Charlotte’s boss, the federal government, wouldn’t let her leave so Miranda and I travelled to Vance County, North Carolina – the homeland of our Samantha. Adele, Miranda’s GPS system, accompanied us on our journey, but even she wasn’t 100% sure of where we were going. If US 17 is the “backlot” of North Carolina, Vance County is No Man’s Land. Suddenly I felt like I was back in Illinois – the scenery changed into this poor rural section of the Piedmont. We drove for miles until we found the road the church was on — Adele got us that far — and then we were on our own. The road was paved, mind you, so I took that as a good sign.
We found the church relatively easy – how can one miss a building among fields? We arrived far too early, so we kept driving off the map until we hit the Virginia boarder – I made Miranda pull off to the side of the road so I could snap a picture of the tobacco plants. Despite being brought up in a farming community, we only grew soybeans and corn; tobacco and cotton are still a novelty. We laughed about how crazy it was and I even took a picture of the road at the boarder – you can totally see where North Carolina ends and Virginia begins. It’s always an adventure with us!
We continued on to the church. It was a Methodist church and my 1st time at this particular denomination. I’ve decided that I’m lumping the Methodists with every other Protestant religion I’ve encountered: they preach the Gospel. And that’s good enough for me.
We stepped into the church and took a seat towards the back. It was an open casket. Totally didn’t expect that, given the circumstances. No sooner did we arrive and Samantha and her sister entered in. Many people went up to say their condolences, but we hung back.
The room was heavy; abnormally heavy. I’m not sensitive or anything of that nature, but I do have a bit of the gift of discernment – there were many people in that room that were unseen. It’s happened with my family and I am most certain it was happening then. I don’t have any memory of the air as thick as it was in that church. I could feel the weight of the heaviness on my chest, it was difficult to breathe in. It was a strange feeling that I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.
A choir and piano were on hand to lead the congregation in hymns – my favorite was “I’ll Fly Away.” A dirge in a major key. It seemed fitting. Isn’t that the way it should be? The pastor had a voice like a Broadway actor and he gave a eulogy that was beyond perfect — for a man who apparently shot himself and was a long sufferer of mental illness, which he touched on — he kept the dignity of the man and used his life’s work, a road construction worker, as a metaphor. I can’t do it justice to paraphrase here. He also assured the congregation that he was a Christian.
After a small graveside service a luncheon followed and we were finally able to speak with Sam. I totally lost it. I never cry, but I was so overtaken by the grief she was experiencing, it just flowed out. I told Sam of how I took a picture of the roads at the NC/VA boarder and how I had no idea they bridged the counties he was born and died in, and just so happened to make his career out of NCDOT. That was a weird coincidence. And then, out of no where, I found myself in a made-for-TV movie miniseries, or quite possibly a Lifetime movie: Sam dropped the bomb. “It may not have been a suicide, but a homicide.”
While the plot holes were gaping and not enough information, it was impossible to string the events together. So many clues lead to suicide; yet so many loose ends and events said otherwise: the pendulum of indictment was swinging wildly. Miranda and I exchanged looks. The grief of losing a loved one compounded by a possible murder? It was almost too much. “Where is the relief?” cried Sam. Where indeed.
Miranda and I stayed with Sam, her sister, and her mother for the afternoon. We talked about the crazy events and tried to figure it out to no avail. Sam spoke of the family going back to her father’s house to find the wheel. Wheel? I finally asked what was so special about this wheel they were looking for and Sam laughed. They were looking for the WILL but with the southern twang it sounded like WHEEL to this carpetbagger. Everyone had a good laugh about it, including me. They spoke of happier times with their dad – his love of cars, music, church – when the dragon of was sleeping. I never knew this man, but I think it was therapeutic for them to talk about it.
It’s hard to work through the mourning process without a firm cause of death. And all I can do is pray for Sam and be there when she has a low day. Sam is strong and she will lean hard on the Lord to get through this season. A true ending has yet to be written.