Tag Archives: death

A glorious, short while with my brother

I remember that Fourth of July like it was yesterday.

Tuesday, July 4, 1978.

I can still feel my gut sink when I remember how I watched out the front window at my parents’ house as the state police car approached the driveway, red lights whirling, but the siren strangely silent.

That’s the moment I learned first-hand what the silent siren meant. That’s also the moment I learned what it means when two somber officers walk to the front door with heads down and hats in hand.

I was 26, the oldest of eight living children.

Now seven.

My brother, Marcus, was 20, soon to turn 21. He had enlisted in the Air Force to complete his college education and “see the world,” and was home on leave for two weeks from Lackland AFB in Texas before beginning a new post in Alaska. He was very excited, promising mom and dad that he would “buy a little piece of Alaska where the entire family could vacation.”

My parents, siblings — including twins who were only 6 — my two young children, and a bevy of aunts, uncles and cousins had gathered for a Fourth of July barbecue. It was a joyous celebration – Marcus was home to regale us with his side-splitting, humorous stories of of the rigor and rituals of the Armed Services and life in general.

He was the darling — the nucleus — of the family. My brothers, sisters and I would all probably have to agree that he was the most handsome, talented, intelligent, creative and wittiest one of us all. Marc had just returned from Mexico and brought back gifts for everyone, a wool poncho, blankets, sombreros, and — for dad — a large bottle of Mexican tequila with a fat worm lying at the bottom of the bottle. Mom frowned her disapproval.

To the delight of the younger ones, he fished out the dead worm and offered to cut it up and let each kid have a bite. They squealed in horror and he laughed. He also played “Monster” with the little ones — a game he made up — where he was the Monster and the kids had to run and hide or defend themselves and slay him. They loved it.

Marcus in Texas 1978

Some of his old high school friends stopped by and talked Marc into going canoeing at Chain O’Lakes State Park. He was reluctant — he was having a good time with the family — but mom urged him to go and have fun with his friends. He could visit with everyone when he got back, she told him.

As he walked out the door, he jokingly said to mom, “Well, OK, I’ll go, but you know I’ll just become another July 4th beach statistic.”

It was the last time we ever saw Marcus.

Two hours later, he drowned after jumping out of the canoe and racing his buddy, Mike Dell, to shore.

Mike later told us that they both dived in, but Marcus, an excellent swimmer, never resurfaced.

There was no autopsy, so we never knew exactly what happened.

My family had never known tragedy until that day.

Darrell Tim Marcus 1963
Marcus at right, with brother, Darrell, at left, and cousin, Timmy, in 1963.

Rescuers had tried to resuscitate him, but it was too late by the time they found him.

Nearly 30 years later, while interviewing a source for a newspaper story, I found out that the man I was interviewing — Department of Natural Resources officer Gary Bontrager — was one of the men who came to our door that day. He told me the other one was Indiana State Trooper John Barrett.

I was shocked. I knew both men well and had no idea they were the ones who had delivered the terrible news of my brother’s death.

All I remembered was the pain.

My dad aged ten years in the three days it took to bury his golden-haired son. His shoulders stooped, and his hair seemed to gray overnight. My mom did not fare much better. They never fully recuperated.

None of us did.

The younger siblings were confused: “When is Marcus coming back to play with us?” The older ones were bewildered: “Why? Why Marcus? He was the gifted one.”

There was never another family get-together or barbecue on July 4th. The older siblings who had children would dutifully take their kids to the fireworks, but to us it was never the Fourth of July — it was the anniversary of Marc’s death.

The Air Force gave my brother full military rites. As they folded the flag that had been draped over Marcus’ casket and handed it to my mom and dad, jets from Grissom Air Force Base flew overhead in a “V” formation framed in a brilliant blue sky. A friend of Marcus’ played “Taps” on his trumpet, choking up several times and having to start over.

An Air Force officer read a poem — something about how this child was not ours to keep, but only loaned to us for a short while.

It was sunny without a cloud in the sky, but we saw nothing but clouds.

Marc’s friend, Mike, suffered tremendous guilt for years, agonizing over what he could have done, what he should have done, but none of us blamed him. Our hearts broke for him. Life sometimes deals a horrible hand, one beyond understanding — and no one is to blame.

Mike later moved to Oregon and had his own charter fishing business. He was out at sea one day, a storm came up and he never returned. They never recovered his boat or body.

Dad died in 1999, Mom in 2012. They are buried next to Marc. I like to think they are all together again. Maybe Marc  and his friend, Mike, are entertaining them with stories of their earthly adventures.

He was only with us for about 21 years, but they were  wonderful years – a glorious, short while.

I always thought Marcus had a say in what would be his last day on earth. I can almost hear him saying, with that beautiful smile and twinkle in his eyes, “For the rest of your life, every time you see fireworks, you will think of me.”

And we do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing Grace

by Viv Sade

Mom’s health began to deteriorate in June.

I stopped by her house in the morning before work and sometimes after work to help water her yard and flowers, do her dishes or take out her trash. My four brothers and two sisters also checked in on her, almost daily.

We were scared.

Mom turned 80 in January and that summer was the first time we ever saw our mom slow down. Even though Dad had died in 1999 and mom was diagnosed with breast cancer two years later, she remained very active, and seemingly healthy.

Mom – a retired nurse – also belonged to a quilt club and usually spent the day gardening, quilting, reading or in the kitchen trying a new recipe or canning produce. At night she loved to watch Jeopardy — she knew most of the answers — do crosswords and watch a good movie or television show. Well, actually, it didn’t even have to be good – off-beat, foreign, independent, popular, quirky — she was a movie connoisseur.

A quiet, but strong woman with a quick wit, my mom’s name fit her perfectly – Grace.

My youngest sister gave mom a hanging plant for Mother’s Day – a mix of cascading deep purple and orange-edged-with-scarlett fluted flowers. Mom hung it on a plant stand in her front yard. It was gorgeous.

Mom, who had become a Master Gardener and a licensed practical nurse late in her life, told me the correct botanical names of the flowers, but I could never remember them.

Mom tended to all of her flowers up through the end of June; the last entry in her gardening journal was June 20.

After that her kids took over. We were not quite as gifted. The gardens began to look neglected and weeds sprung in the previously immaculate flower beds.

I think that’s when I first noticed that the hanging plant was not looking too healthy.

Much of Indiana and the Midwest had been hit by an extreme drought and it seemed that no matter how many times a day I watered that plant, it continued to turn brown and shed its petals.

“What am I doing wrong?” I asked mom.

Mom tried to make me feel better, pointing out that it was probably the drought that was killing the plant. Also, it was a variety of plant that was difficult to care for and would probably die before the summer was over. It’s just one of those plants that was very pretty while it lasted, but it did not last long, she said.

I didn’t buy it. It had always looked beautiful under mom’s green thumb. It had to be me.

Through June and much of July, I fretted over that plant. I did not want it to die on my watch. Daily, on my trips to mom’s house, I couldn’t help but notice that despite my almost desperate attempts to keep that plant alive, it was slowly dying.

For as long as mom could, she liked to go out in the mornings and drink her coffee amid her beloved flowers and birds. Sometimes when I pulled up to her house in the evenings, I would see her  sitting in a chair in the back yard, near her bird feeder and bird bath, watering flowers with the garden hose.

It broke my heart.

On July 20, when the oncologist told mom he would like to run some more tests, she shook her head and said, “No more evaluations or treatments. I want hospice.”

That’s when we realized our mom was dying. She had been trying to tell us for months, but none of us could imagine life without her.

I grew even more desperate to keep the plant alive. I added fertilizer and pulled out all of the withered branches. It sprang back, and the purple flowers multiplied and bloomed in the midst of the drought.

I was encouraged.

Mom even remarked how pretty it was looking.

Mom seemed to be doing okay, sitting in her recliner, talking with her younger sister Evelyn, and smiling and talking with her grandchildren as they visited.

We were encouraged.

Two days later, I told her that two hummingbirds were on her front porch, enjoying the various potted flowers that sat on her steps, and two turtle doves were in the front yard, seemingly fearless of all the humans coming and going. Mom told me she had quit filling her bird feeders the week before.

“They’re on their own now,” she said, matter-of-factly.

We set mom up with at-home hospice and a hospital bed in the same bedroom that dad had died in 13 years earlier.

My siblings and I wrote up a daily schedule to make sure someone was there 24-7 to help if she needed it. Turns out, we only needed that schedule for a brief time.

She slipped quickly.

In death, like in life, my mom called the shots. And when she made up her mind to do something, she did it quietly, stoically and without fanfare.

PJ waters Grandma Grace’s flowers.

She died Aug. 3 at home just after midnight. My sister and brothers and I were there when she took her last breath.

We were devastated.

We were sure she would not die on our watch.

Three days later, after the funeral, I noticed that the plant was almost completely dead. Most of the flowers had withered and dropped to the ground below.

Oddly, the grass below the hanging pot was the only spot in the yard that was bright green and lush — from the twice-daily watering.

As I walked into the house, the hummingbirds that were drinking nectar from the potted plants on the front porch barely moved out of my way. I looked up. Two turtle doves studied me intently from the utility wire overhead.

They seemed to be assuring us that our mom was in another garden in another world, tending to acres of beautiful flowers that would never die.