Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Stuff That Won’t Be In The Book – Part 6

Many of you wrote to say Part 5 made you teary. Sorry about that. It’s why I decided I may as well hit ya’ll over the head with another one and get it over with. This part still makes me cry.

Part 6:

Mary and Mr. Jones made me visit places I’d not been to in years. While I could have been undone, I was proud of myself for facing the fear and feeling the pain and crying the tears, all while losing weight and working and doing all the other things I did in my normal life. Grief hadn’t won. Yet.

Just as I was about to walk on stage and thank the Academy for my awesome performance, Carlene got an email from David – the man who married us, buried Bruce, baptized Carlene and stood in the center of my loss.

“As I sit here at my computer, I have in front of me the bulletin from the funeral service for Bruce,” David wrote. “I often think of that week in the life of the Jasper community because it was filled with some of the most profound pain and sorrow I have ever witnessed. Your dad belonged to those people and his death was deeply felt by all who knew him…

“…Looking back, I also remember one of the greatest errors we made in those days was not letting your mother at least touch some portion of his body. It was not fair of us (the mortician and me) to not make it possible for this physical ending to happen. How difficult it must have been to have Bruce virtually disappear from her life…my deepest apologies for this mistake.”

When I learned Bruce’s tractor was hit by a freight train and David told me I couldn’t see his body, I imagined Bruce strewn in a million pieces along the tracks. Blood, body parts, his coveralls, boots, and hat all unrecognizable pieces of what had a been the person I woke up next to four hours earlier.

A week after the funeral, our local newspaper confirmed I was wrong. And they had photos all over the front page to prove it.

No one warned me there would be photos. I expected there would be an article about the accident, but I never thought there’d be photos of Bruce’s mangled tractor next to a line of coal cars, of people mulling about the scene like it was an Easter egg hung, or of glass and metal scattered all over the tracks and ditch. But one photo in particular hit me smack between the eyes: “The body of Bruce Bouwman can be seen in the center of the photograph alongside the tracks and covered with a tarp.”

What the…? I didn’t understand. For a second, I floated outside my body and looked at me looking at a photo of my husband’s bootless legs sticking out from under a tarp. Then I was riding on an asteroid plummeting through the earth’s atmosphere.

Think, Lynn, think. What’s going on? What is this?

I tried to make it make sense when a few seconds later, wham! I hit the ground, and from the crater rose up so much anger and despair I started to choke and hyperventilate. There is no sense of direction in hell.

“That’s my husband!” I screamed to no one, although Carlene was asleep in her crib in the next room.

Tears and snot ran into my mouth as I reached for the phone on the wall and dialed my parents’ phone number. Dad answered the phone.

“Daddy,” I bawled, “you promised me I’d never have to see his tractor! You promised me!”

“Lynnie?” he said. My voice was unrecognizable and he was obviously taken off guard. He begged me to calm down and tell him what happened. I paced the length of the phone cord and cried and listened to him saying calmly, “Shhhh, honey. Shhhhh. Shhhhh.”

Finally, I slumped to the floor and in fits and stops, told Dad about the photographs. While it was true he promised me that Bruce’s tractor was taken far away and that I’d never have to see it, he couldn’t have known there would be published photographs. My dad, who’d lost his father when he was 6 years old and felt tremendous personal sorrow for Carlene, was beside himself trying to comfort his daughter 200 miles away. As a parent, I can only imagine how he felt. My guess is he wanted to hurt someone. Really badly.

The only thing those photos did was assure me that Bruce had not been cut into a million pieces by a freight train, and that the body we buried in the ground was whole. I wondered why that mattered. Dead is dead. But because it mattered and I was left with so many questions about the accident, I sought the answers a few weeks later. I went to talk to David because I knew he’d tell me the truth. Even though he thought he was protecting me by not letting me see Bruce’s dead body, he knew I needed to know what happened and how.

I told him of my original fear about how Bruce died and he assured me that Bruce’s body was indeed intact and that he died of a severe head injury. Investigators surmised that the train hit the front wheels of Bruce’s cab tractor and that his body was thrown through the front window and into the ditch. The glass lacerated his brain and he was killed instantly. I still wonder if in the last seconds of his life, Bruce saw the train and if he was afraid and if he knew he was going to die. My heart aches for him if that is true.

David was on the ambulance crew that day, so he’d seen Bruce dead, and David’s trauma became my lasting nightmare. I developed what I call “Bruce dreams” shortly after our conversation and I’ve had them ever since. Experts say it’s because I never saw him dead. Never got the chance to say goodbye.

I wasn’t angry with David about his decision to not let me see Bruce. I knew he acted out of love and compassion all those years ago. Still I welcomed his apology because it validated what I’d felt for years – that I needed to see Bruce dead so I could have some closure. If I hadn’t been a 19-year-old bleeding, nursing new mother, I would have demanded it.

Reliving the hardest days in all of my life gave the 19-year-old me some satisfaction, but the present me was falling into a black hole. As Carlene’s project wore on, I became more aware of how the time separating Bruce and me had stolen the small details of our life. I remembered the painful things, but I couldn’t always recall the good.

Carlene’s project was under my skin and had become way more personal than I expected or wanted. By the time the final response came in late winter, I was off the DASH diet and on an antidepressant. I had too many feelings and not enough space in my head. I couldn’t stand the nights of crying and days of sleeping. I got stuck when I tried to break away from the memories and put them in perspective, all the while trying to nurture my real-life relationship. I still loved Bruce and I felt like I was betraying Larry by crying over a ghost.

14 comments:

  1. Hi, Lynn. Haven't written to you in a while. Very busy. Your writings are so soulful. And of course, so tragic and sad. I hope someday you can reach a place of peace and tranquility in your grieving. I know you will fathom through the sadness and may have already reached a point where you can live with it. Having lost many in my 62 years, I know how hard this is to do. I remember the good times and try everyday to let the grief go. I know my loved ones would not want me to suffer so. I hope you find that peace. Thank you for sharing this part of your life. Pat from Oregon

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lynn, don't worry about us teary eyed fans. Just keep putting it all out there. You are such a good writer and I hang on to every word. Not many writers can hold my attention like you do. I know it has to help you in your healing process. Your story has helped me. When my brother died in an auto accident, I chose not to go see him. I didn't want to remember him like that. Not a day goes by without me thinking of him. I saw footage of his accident on the news and I remember seeing them wheeling the stretcher to the ambulance and I saw his gym shoes....and I lost it. That image is still with me. I lost so much respect for the media that day. I think it was the callous way they referred to him as a "trucker" and how the accident had backed up traffic for miles. ...As if he meant to cause such a backup and inconvenience people. I know people in the news just do their job, but when they're covering a story about someone you love so much and do it without feeling or sympathy, it saddens me. Sorry, I'm longwinded here, I just know when you saw that picture, how you felt.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Lynn - I can't imagine going through an experience such as yours - and still, of course, trying to cope with the kinds of images that return. You are so strong to face your pain head on and move forward with so much purpose through your grief. You display incredible courage to write about the very tragic and difficult parts of your life.I send you blessings.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for sharing your life, Lynn. I am sure it will be a blessing to a great many people.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Not seeing his body must've been hard for you. This isn't the same thing, but I remember when my grandfather died, I didn't get to see him and there was always a part of me that wondered if he was really gone.

    ReplyDelete
  6. OMG! I'm still trying to imagine why this ended up on the cutting room floor! Now, I can't wait to read your book even more.

    I'm so sorry you had to go through that Lynn, but please find comfort in knowing that you are in my thoughts and prayers. Carlene as well. :o)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi guys. Pat, I'm doing just fine. This project happened several years ago and I've done a lot of solid healing since then. I'm in a good place now, so no worries. It's just still sad to think back on that time in my life and I imagine it always will be.

    {{rhonda}} I'm so sorry about your brother and the circumstances around his death. What a powerful story you have, too. Thank you for sharing that with me. I sometimes feel like I'm alone in that aspect of grief.

    thank you so much for all your support. I promise a happier post in a few days (Or probably tomorrow since I'm laid up with a bum knee. That's a blog in itself.)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Lynn I do love your writing, like Rhonda said I also hang on every word you write. I can't wait to read your book.

    I'm glad that Carlene's project could give you such healing even if it caused you such grief first. It sounds like it was super special to her too.

    Sorry to hear about your knee, I have two bum ones myself. Hope it gets to feeling better.

    I look forward to reading your happier post soon.

    Happy Thanksgiving!!!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am glad that you're well and have healed. My husband's brother committed suicide many years ago. They never found his body. Even tho I never met him, I always felt his presence in the family. I think that it was because there was no closure there. My husband had another brother who died of a brain tumor before my husband was born, but my inlaws had closure and so it didn't feel like he was coming back. These many years later there is still a sadness when my husband talks about his brother who he was so close to.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Lynn,
    Thank you for sharing....your story reminds me of my cousin, her husband died in a single car accident about 9 years ago. She was 6 months pregnant with their son and she was driving home (they lived in a rural area) and she was the first to come across him. It was so hard on her finiding him dead that she lost alot of the fluid around her son and although he is beautiful and heaven sent he has had a lot of medical problems. Thank you for sharing. As I read your story I thought of you and your loss and relived me cousins also.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us. Seeing it through your writing is so touching.

    Mara
    http://24stepstogo.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  12. Lynn,

    Thank you for sharing this. It is terribly tragic and sad. The fact that you have been able to heal is very important to me. Death of a loved one is a horrific thing to endure and sometimes I wonder if I will ever heal from my own losses, but seeing that you have been able to heal from something so devestating... well, it just gives me hope.

    Be well.

    ReplyDelete
  13. And the really amazing part is that you were only 19, with a newborn, while I at 19 was whining about college classes and drinking too many margaritas.

    I love these deleted parts.

    Happy Thanksgiving, pal!

    ReplyDelete