At 7:30 P.M. last night, Wednesday, June 25th, 2014, everything I’ve ever believed in, hoped for, or placed my faith into was shattered.
I received a phone call from Richard who had left for Florida at 3:00 A.M. with his brother, David, to help their parents move into a new condo.
When Richard called I had just returned home from the hardware store after having coffee with my friend, Alyson.
He told me to sit down, so I sat on the garage steps. He said that he had the most horrible news to tell me. I asked him if my mother was okay. Was it my sister?
“No, it’s Paul,” he said.
“My brother? He’ll be okay, right?”
“No, he was killed in a car accident.”
I yelled at him that he was making it up. I told him he was lying. I told him it wasn’t true and then I hung up. I ran into the house from the garage, up the stairs and back down again. I heard a sound that I had never heard before. It was coming from me.
My son Lucas and his friend, Robert, came running to find me to see what was wrong.
Without thinking, I repeated what Richard had just told me. I remember hearing Lucas smash something. I don’t know what it was, as if it even mattered. I didn’t care. He had every right to do whatever he needed to do at the moment.
Robert left just as Veronica walked in with her boyfriend, Aaron. Richard had called her, too, even though I didn’t want him to because she’d have to drive home after hearing about her Uncle Paul.
Feeling guilty for not being able to comfort my own children, I ran outside. I heard that sound again. It was otherworldly; a combination of a wail, a scream, a cry, and a moan. I fell to my knees and asked God how he could take away my father and now my brother in less than three weeks.
Not that it made it any easier for us, but my 82-year-old father had become handicapped over the years.The lung cancer he had only recently been diagnosed with was shrinking, and we went out to celebrate his clean CT scans. Then, on Friday, June 6th, 2014, his heart suddenly gave out as he walked into the house with my Mother, looking forward to eating the Burger King and Duncan Donuts they had just bought.
But my brother? He was 58. He had a great life. He was in love with Terry, his life-partner of 38 years. Paul was the favorite child. Terry is #2.
Paul deserved to be the favorite child. He was perfect. He was gorgeous. He could grow an afro that defied gravity, and a garden that came alive in perfect harmony. He was smart, helpful, humble, caring, generous, creative and talented in so many ways, and had a soothing voice that instantly made me feel safe from the moment I was born.
My mother referred to Paul as a “Professional Do-Gooder” because he gave up being a partner in my father’s law practice in Chicago to lobby on behalf of non-profit organizations, such as groups that supported people living with HIV/AIDS, AARP, and, most recently, Covering Kids & Families of Indiana, to improve healthcare access for everyone.
Just last Sunday (four days ago) he had driven here from Nashville, Indiana. We knew he could only stay one night because he had a conference in Indianapolis early Tuesday morning, but he came to go over a few legal matters with my mother.
When he arrived, he went with Beth, Sam, my Mother, and me to the cemetery to visit my father. I wasn’t sure I was ready to go to the cemetery so soon after burying my father, but knowing Paul would be there gave me the confidence to get through it. It wasn’t easy, but it ended up being comforting.
I don’t know why I didn’t get to say goodbye to Paul on Monday, like I usually do. He said he had sent me a text so I could come over to Mom’s to say good-bye, but I never received it. It was okay because we both knew we’d see each other again soon. He said he’d be coming into town more often now that Dad was gone, plus my mother and I were planning the first of many road-trips to visit Paul and Terry.
Two days later I was on my knees, that sound involuntarily bellowing out of me, as I screamed, “No! This can’t true.” I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder and turned to see my friend Rosa. Richard had asked her to come to the house to stay with me for a while.
When I saw her, no matter how many times I said it couldn’t be true, she told me it was. Her husband, Art, and their son, Noah came and embraced me, too.
Eventually, I knew it was true. I had just recently begun to get the images of my father’s body in the hospital and in his casket out of my brain when images of my brother started to flood my imagination. A car accident? The images were too horrific for me to let them take over. I didn’t even know what had actually happened.
We came back into the house from the yard. My sister and brother-in-law, Sam, arrived. Our friend Steve, who Richard had called, walked in, grabbed me and held me.
Terry had called Beth to tell her, and then Richard, poor Richard, to tell him. Everyone in our family knows that Richard is the best messenger.
But, Mom didn’t know, and Richard wasn’t here to tell her. After nearly three weeks of trying to get used to living alone, she had finally decided to go out to dinner with friends.
There’s a Jewish saying that bad things happen in threes. My sister and I were sure my mother would collapse and die the moment she found out about Paul, so Beth called Mom’s doctor to ask for advice. I suggested Mom be placed into a medically-induced coma; a good reason I should never become a doctor and stick to my day job as a writer.
Art, who is a doctor, and Sam, who is a gentle soul and whom my mother adores, were elected as the most competent to go to the house to tell my mother. The rest of us waited to see what Mom wanted us to do. I thought she might want to come to our house, to get away from her house for the night, but she asked that Beth and I go to her house. Lucas insisted on coming with us.
Between the three of us, the sound of the loss of my brother was perverse and scary. Lucas waited patiently for Beth and me to release our Mother, and then wrapped her safely in his arms.
The howls of grief escaping from my sister and mother began to make me shake. I felt dizzy. I needed to go home. Rosa, who had stayed with Veronica, Aaron and Noah came to my Mom’s house to pick up Art, Lucas and me.
Veronica went to sleep in her room. Lucas and I slept in the living room with the dogs. Richard flew in this morning. He had offered to fly to Indianapolis, and then drive to get Terry in Nashville and bring him here, but Terry didn’t want him to do that. He wanted to drive here. We thought Terry was going to drive alone, so we were relieved when he said his friend, Rhea, was coming with him. So here we are. At my mother’s house, waiting for them.
I’ve always believed in a being greater than me. I always thought things happened for a reason; that is until 7:30 last night.There cannot be a reason, or even an explanation, for my brother to have been killed.
My mother said last night that we’ll never recover from this. I think she’s right. It’s just us girls, now, and our wonderful husbands and kids, but our family of five has been ripped apart within the span of less than three weeks. There just can’t be a purpose for that.
Please understand if my writing is sporadic for a while.
Please read these beautifully written tributes about my brother, Paul:
“At a Loss for Words About a Loss”
http://indy.st/1lGc010 Opinion piece by Dr. Quigley, Clinical Professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis
“Paul Chase Accomplished Much for Indiana”