On the 29th of this month, it will be the second anniversary of my cousin Brad’s death. Though we were not close, it took me two years before I could write about it. This is my recollection of the days following his suicide.
It was a few days after my fiancé had left me and I was living alone for the first time in my life. I rarely left the brown armchair my step-mother had given me when Aaron moved his furniture out of the apartment. I never realized how large a full size bed could feel until I was the only one sleeping in it. I was between jobs, so I had little to do other than sulk in my own self pity and attempt to do the homework for the college courses that had taken a backseat to my depression.
The knocking started around six in the morning on a Saturday. I opened the door to my father, step-mother, and the news of my cousin’s recent suicide entered the room.
Brad was only a year younger than me and his birthday was a few days ago. He went to a different school when we were growing up. We were not close. I did not know that he had been living in Appleton, only a thirty minute drive from Oshkosh, where the rest of our family lived. I noticed that he had not been to a family get together in a while, but not everyone comes to those things so I never gave it much thought. It wasn’t like we were going to chat over a few beers or anything.
They had called before stopping over. I didn’t answer. My phone was on silent. It was six in the morning on a Saturday. My recent self loathing, jilting, and unemployment frightened my father into thinking there may be a Wara-family-suicide-epidemic.
I didn’t know how to feel. Of course I was sad, he was my cousin and he had recently died; however, I did not know Brad that well and all I could think about was that I should be more upset.
A few days later, at the wake, my family and I arrived at the funeral home. Upon entering the funeral home, I saw my father’s siblings, all nine of them and their spouses and children mulling about and nobody knowing what to say. My uncle Jim was the worst. It is hard to look at him. He was Brad’s father. He could barely stop crying long enough to thank people for coming and spent the majority of the evening pacing around the casket in the t-shirt with Brad’s baby picture printed on the front.
Though I have a hard time dealing with somber situations and have a tendency to make jokes at inappropriate times, my younger brother was the one to do it. I do not remember what he said, but I remember chuckling under my breath. I do remember the teary look in my sister’s eyes and the disgusted look on her face when she realized that Caleb had made a joke. I remember feeling sick to my stomach immediately after laughing.
The rest of the evening people talked quietly, watched the slideshow of Brad’s pictures on repeat, and ate the treats that were set out in the reception room. For the most part, everyone sat with their immediate families except for one of my uncles, who floated around from table to table making inappropriate conversation about his church and the Packers. And then he came to ours.
I had been trying to keep a low profile and not talk much to anyone so they would not notice that Aaron was not in attendance at this family affair. Until that moment no one had noticed. Except for my uncle. He plopped down next to me at the little round table, his boney knees visible through his dress pants and unable to fit themselves underneath the table.
“So was it Megan or Mindy that is engaged?” He looked from me to my sister waiting for an answer and possibly a verbal invitation since he was not invited to the last family wedding. everyone was quiet. I could feel the red leaking into my face and the tears filling my eyes. “It was Mindy. So, when’s the big day?” I couldn’t help it. The guilt of the tears for my lack of fiancé melted my face when I knew they should have been for my cousin in the next room. Still not understanding, he continued, “Where is Aaron today anyway? Did he have to work or somethin’?”
My dad stepped in, “That’s enough.” Finally, he took the hint and went back to his own family.
The next day, since there was nothing I could do to make the situation better, I felt it was my job to provide everyone with tissues. I filled my purse and coat pockets with to-go packs and whenever my uncle Jim started crying, I pressed the little white folded rectangles into his hand. Though I have been to his house and swam in his pool several times growing up we were never close; he squeezed my fingers in his large cold hand.
We took our seats and the pastor spoke fondly of my cousin, who he had never known. Brad’s mother, my uncle’s ex-wife, spoke next. I know that everyone grieves differently, but it was frustrating to watch her play the chipper hostess and not cry or waver as she spoke. I wanted to know what was swimming around in her brain and was angry that she was not hurting in the same way my uncle was. It didn’t seem right. Next, my cousin Wesley spoke about his brother. They were not that close, but I can’t imagine losing one of my siblings. He reminisced about their childhood which made me remember.
It was hard to watch my uncle speak. His burgundy suit shook and it was difficult to make out his words. He had talked to Brad a few hours before he hung himself. He had no idea Brad was having such a hard time. His schizophrenia and depression had finally been subdued by the right cocktail of medications. Jim broke down, kissing the corpse, trying to hug his son close to him for the last time. For the second time in my life, I saw my father weep, not just a tear or two, but bawling into the tissues I had pathetically been handing out to my family members. I knew the tears were not for the loss of Brad, but out of empathy for his brother and the thought of losing one of his three children.
After the service, in the cold October rain, our crowded car crept through Appleton to the burial plot my uncle had picked out. Brad had some terrible episodes in Oshkosh, and would not have wanted to be buried in the Wara family section of the cemetery. I know this hurt my father since he is the one who created the Oshkosh burial site and had offered my uncle a plot. Everyone trudged from the cars to the sodden grass to listen to a few more prayers before Brad was slid into the wall of a cream colored mausoleum. Several people returned to the funeral home to eat; we drove home in silence.