My brother, John, would have been 30 years old today. He was killed in a car accident in December of 2005. It was a little after midnight and he had just left his companies Holiday party – the roads were dark and icy…his car left the road and hit a tree – he died instantly.
My brother didn’t have enemies…he never met a stranger…he was one of those truly rare individuals that everyone liked.
I was awoken by a phone call at about 5am that December morning – it was my mom – she was crying – my first thought was something happened to my Grandmother…but sadly no.
I was the one to call my sister…she was only 18 months younger than my brother and they were very close. It was one of the hardest phone calls I have ever had to make…the only harder one was the one I had to make to his girlfriend.
Honestly I don’t even remember jumping in my car and driving 2 hours north to my parents house…but I did…and when I walked in my mother just looked at me and said “What do we do….what do we do”
See, we are hardy people, my family we live to ripe old ages and tragedies like car accidents didn’t befall us. When I was pregnant with the twins Third Child was faced with the prospect of losing his job, through no fault of his own, I told him not to worry because “bad things don’t happen to me” – how very wrong I was.
So I got on the phone and called my best friend…my best friend who lost her husband of a year and a half….the love of her life…suddenly just 2 months earlier and asked her “What do we do….What do we do”
Life was surreal – being the oldest child I guess it is in my genetic makeup to mother and organize…so I did it…I found the funeral home…I contacted close family and friends who hadn’t heard yet…I called his girlfriend….I went to see the car…I went to pick out clothes for the viewing and I was the first one to see him at the Funeral Home…
One of the first things my mother started talking about was where was she going to bury her son…my sister and I looked at one another and we knew…we knew John would not have wanted to be buried and we told our parents this…John had never expressed his wishes…why should he - he was a 20 something, by all intents and purposes single, young guy – who thinks about death. After much going back and forth my parents decided cremation would be the best way to go.
The next thing my mother talked about was that she didn’t want a ton of flowers and she wanted John to be remembered in ways other than large stinky floral arrangements – there was a look across her face and she said St. Judes. Now never before in my life had I ever heard my mom mention whit about St. Judes….but she looked at me and said “St Judes – Having to deal with the death of a child is hard enough I can’t imagine watching your child die” – so we asked for donations to be made to St. Judes Childrens Research Hospital…He did not die in vain and hopefully his death will bring comfort to many many children and their parents. In an interesting twist a month before the accident TW and PWG went to a kiddie Holiday Shop - the ones where you as a parent give them a few bucks and one of the shop volunteers help them pick a gift for you and it is wrapped up...gifts that were "donated" (aka let's go through the junk drawers and see what we can find) by people... on Christmas morning I unwrapped my gift from TW - it was a St. Judes magnet - of all the things in the world...A St. Judes magnet...The site of it brought tears to my eyes.
Where am I going with all this…you may ask – other than to write stuff out so I don’t dissolve in a fit of tears…
My brother was basically single….his girlfriend was more of an on again off again relationship – he was living in Northern VA and she in Georgia (in a cruel twist of fate she was in Northern VA that week visiting family – she and John were suppose to meet up the very day he died) – after going to school at VA Tech, living for a year or so in San Deigo with his girlfriend, going back to school at VA Tech (6 year plan…) he had spent about a year back in his old room in my parents home while going through a management program for a restaurant chain. It worked out well – he got a place to stay and my parents got a live-in chef, handyman and landscaper…
After the training program was over he was assigned to a restaurant about 45 minutes from my parents house – he dutifully commuted for a couple months…around October he decided to start looking for his own place closer to the restaurant….one where he wouldn’t have upwards of a 90 minute commute to and from work…He had found a townhouse to rent with 2 other roommates only 5 minutes from work and had moved in about 3 weeks before his death.
Luckly, he like me is a huge procrastinator - so changing things like drivers licenses and bills and such weren’t that high of a priority – because of that when the accident happened he still had my parents address on his drivers license – we still had his cell phone bill at my parents house to use for contact numbers for people he had called, but…that didn’t take care of everything.
When he moved into the townhouse my parents had only met the owner of the townhouse and couldn’t remember his name – the house had no land line – 3 single guys – they each had a cell phone and we didn’t have their numbers. My sister and I drove to my brothers place to find clothes for the viewing…we had to write a note….write a note – as hard as it was for me to write the note I can’t imagine what was going through my brothers roommates head when they had to read the note.
Somehow during the whole thing I was a rock…looking back I wondered how I did it…I came across a memory – two months before his death my best friends husband died suddenly – I went back “home” to console my friend and be there for her…the evening of the funeral I made it back to my parents house totally drained and exhausted and John was there – for someone who was spending 80 hours a week working him being home was a rare site indeed…we sat for about an hour talking about life and how we should never take anything for granted. I told him I loved him…that was the last time I talked with John…my last words to him were
I LOVE YOU…
So once again where am I going with this…
Get your affairs in order because we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring – at the very least make sure your loved ones know your wishes – this is especially true if you are single. If you have single friends or family members ASK them what would they want if something should happen to them…make sure they have a list of names and numbers tucked away somewhere of people to contact should something happen to them
I encourage everyone to take inventory of their life – make it a priority to get a list of important names and numbers together – a list of all your bills (credit card, mortgage, car payments, etc…) – a list of any insurance (car, life, disability) and put everything together. Here are some places to get you started
LOCATION OF PERSONAL DOCUMENTS - has both long and short versions - Word Doc or PDF - I personally use the Long Form Word Document...easy to change around
PERSONAL DOCUMENT LOCATOR - in .pdf format
If you are married – get a will – especially if you have children. Make sure both spouses have access to joint accounts. Make sure you have discussed what would happen if the worst happens.
If you didn’t do it yesterday – tell everyone you love – that you LOVE them… don't wait until tommorrow
And by chance if you happen to have a few $$ left after paying the Holiday credit card bills and treating your sweetie yesterday – think about giving to St. Judes…
Either through a direct donation or shopping through their catalog Gift Catalog
At my brother funeral there were over 400 in attendance...400 who came the week before Christmas in the icy sleety weather....many who drove 5+ hours and a few who changed thier holiday plans to fly to pay thier last respects to my brother - that alone is a testament to the man my brother was. At the viewing many of his Lambda Chi brothers came...both Alumni and undergraduates, a few who had only met John for a few brief minutes - others who had spent the past 6 years being lucky to have a friend like John. My mom I stood in the recieving line and consoled these men, many of whom were in tears... A sign that showed us just how much John touched others...
The measure of a life well loved is not alone in
it's length, but in the quality of the life in the
length it is given, the depth and breadth of
its impact on others, and the character and
quality of the memories it leaves behind.