A year ago today, my nephew was in a fatal car crash in North Carolina. It was in the afternoon, a bright blue day. He was headed off to take a final exam. I was here in Texas administering a final to my students. The day seemed ordinary.
It is believed that his death was instant, which means we lost him on December 9. But the hospital kept his heart beating while his brain was at rest, and in that time, I saw him and said goodbye. Sometimes I see him in that hospital room, and I remember touching his face and squeezing his hand. Other times I remember his smirk and his laughter that was much louder in the gleam and smile of his eyes. Have you known someone whose laugh was as much a part of his eyes as it was a part of his sound and smile?
Chris and I were putting up a Christmas tree a few nights ago. I hung ornaments and my nephew came to my mind - six or seven years old in my parent's living room impersonating James Brown; Sean singing "I Feel Good," me and Chris watching and laughing. A bellyaching kind of laugh. Chris once gave him a copy of Santa's Got A Brand New Bag, if I can correctly remember all of those years ago. The night we were decorating the tree, I looked up and imagined James Brown's big-grinned face, his head in a santa hat, topping off our tree. I imagined Sean, tall and twenty-one, the way I wish he was today, walking into the room, seeing James Brown atop the tree, smiling his smile, laughing his laugh.
Tonight Chris and I are making the tree topper and putting it on the tree. Even as sour as the irony of the lyrics "I feel good" strike me, there is comfort I hope to take, some celebration of my nephew as a person who, at any age, could make others laugh, make our hearts shake with joy.
Originally posted on 12/11/09:
First born nephew, my sister's one child: May 12, 1990 - December 10, 2009.
On the night that my eldest nephew lay brain dead in a hospital, I lay in bed, the voice in my head speaking. Please let there be angels with Sean. Please let there be angels with my sister. Please let there be angels. Let there be angels. As if I could both hardly and only believe in their existence and in their ability to give my nephew safe passage to peace and to fill the space in my sister's hurting heart.
I have believed that my nephew was a boy on the verge of manhood. But he must have been on the verge of becoming a being more important and ethereal than a man.