03 September 2009

For Heppy.

I wrote this on the airplane back to Asia after 10 days in Vancouver to be sent to Heppy and her family. She told me to post it on facebook for our friends and family to read - and now she wants it posted here in the hopes that maybe one person would read it and it could help them if they were considering taking their own life.
It has little to do with travel, but everything to do with me - so here it is.

I really am an adult now.

I first discovered this fact two years ago when my Mum, Uncle Lorne and I were told the shocking news that my 82 year old Grandma had just months to live, that she was stricken with leukemia. Time did this weird combo of slowing down and speeding up and after the initial shock of the diagnosis my mantra became “Keep your head down and get through this. Keep busy. Keep helping and working.”

She was not completely with her faculties – still a firecracker and hilarious, but not quite able to understand what was happening. She just kept asking, “Why am I so tired?”
“Because you're an old broad!” I would say to her, helping her to get dressed. “We're all tired - it's the weather – it's shitty out.”
“Yes.” She would agree. “It IS shitty.” And then we would laugh together.

I became an adult over the three weeks between her first over night stay at Royal Columbian and her death in a hospice a few kilometres away – it just happened. Boom. I was a grown up.

Women are invariably closer to their mothers then men are and my Grandma, who helped to raise me, only felt comfortable with my Mum or I helping her to bathe, get dressed or go to the washroom. My Mum, her only daughter, took on the challenge like a selfless amazing hero, sacrificing everything she had mentally and physically. I was there to provide relief on the weekends and evenings – I would send my Mum home to shower and sleep, and after helping G-ma into bed for a nap S and I would head to Boston Pizza nearby and drink beer and I would cry like a baby, not caring about who saw me redfaced and puffy-eyed. She didn't know, that was the worst part. She didn't know she was dying.

It was horrible.

That – I realized – is what being an adult is. The wrenching/strange mix of responsibility, guilt and sacrifice that occurs in an unwinnable situation when you are trying to protect or help the people that you love. Giving of yourself completely to save your family.

I didn't want to see or talk to my friends. I didn't go online. I downloaded meaningful, important films and stared at them zombie-like, watching one after another like junk food, perfunctorily eating the meals that S plunked down in front of me. I worked. I tried alternately to make myself less or more numb, depending on my mood.

And then it happened. She passed away surrounded by all of her children and eldest grandchildren and our partners, in the hospice she had been moved to days earlier.

It was sad and excruciating – but somehow calm and sort of okay. This was not a bad death. This was the death that people hope for – old age, painless, surrounded by their healthy family. Thank god she did not suffer, we all kept repeating. Thank God.


So what happens when it is a bad death? What do you do then?

I have been best friends with Heppy since I was 14. We met and instantly things with her were different – my Mum and stepdad loved her, she was allowed to stay over on school nights, she was treated like a second daughter. The same went for me over at the Miller/Hepburn house – Joanie always made sure that there was take-out, steaks or antipasti for me even when money was tight.

I'm talking like, 'walk into the other's house, check the fridge and make chocolate milk' kind of comfortable. I was the third honorary Hepburn daughter (along with big sis Heather), making the total four once you counted her brother Evan.

All throughout our teens, early twenties and up until now Heppy has been my BFF. In our mid- twenties, when she came out as a lesbian and started hanging out in different circles we drifted a bit, but still talked weekly and saw each other often – dyke bar, suppers, shopping trips, Buffy-watching. I can say ANYTHING to her. Literally.

She is less a friend than truly a sister to me – the secrets that she knows about me! And what I know about her – well, let's just say we've never been angels. My friends are her friends, my enemies instantly hers. She once told me that if I committed murder she would take the blame, that she would save me – and she was serious. That is friendship. But also like sisters, we bicker with and nitpick at each other, sometimes getting irritated to the point that we drag up decade old conflicts. But its okay – that is what happens when you are family.

She was a shoulder to lean on when my Grandma passed away and it was her face that I stared at when I delivered Mary O's eulogy – she kept me strong even when I could see her face start to break.

On August 2nd I was eating in a small backpacker cafe in Jakarta and a mutual friend chatted me on facebook.
“Did you hear about Evan Hepburn?” My heart dropped. It lurched. My stomach knotted instantly.
“No. What happened?” There was a long pause.
“He hanged himself this morning.”
I stood from the table and covered my mouth with both hands, emitting a gasping scream/moan that made every patron of the restaurant look at me with open jaws. I couldn't say anything. I pointed at the screen and made S come and look – his mouth hung agape at the sight of those terrible fucking words.

I called her minutes later, and all we did was sob. She kept repeating “My baby brother, my baby brother,” even though he was older than she. It was the single most heartbreaking moment of my life, making every other concern on my plate seem meaningless and petty.

She wanted to know if I was okay – me, of all people! Over the next 36 hours I cried and cried and cried and finally booked a ticket home to Vancouver. The 2 day journey to get home was surreal and emotional as I choked back tears.

When I landed on Thursday August 9th she and my Mum met me at the gate – and instantly we began to wail, clutching each other like children. For the next 4 days we remained cloistered at her sister's house in Delta, preparing mentally for the memorial and going through every emotion we had.

We drank beers at a Boston Pizza, not so far from the one close to my Grandma's place, not caring who saw us redfaced and puffy-eyed.

I did chores and watched her niece Cydney, remembering the solace humdrum routine gave me when my Grandma was passing. Clean the mirror, take a walk, watch a movie....

But there was no solace to be had. There still isn't.

The day before the service, 6 year old Cydney asked her Mum to lift her up to reach the white board next to the phone. Without any prompting, she grabbed the eraser and wiped out Evan's name and number. “Goodbye Uncle Evan,” she whispered, and started to cry. This is so much bigger than us.

I spoke on behalf of the family at the memorial, and afterward it was me who had a meltdown of tears – probably from a mix of worry, jetlag, fatigue, beer and an ativan I had taken so that I could get through the eulogy without crying. I was embarrassed – I was supposed to be the strong one for the family - I'm supposed to be an adult. But I guess this is what that means.

I can't figure out why I am still so upset – why I can't pick myself up and get back to complete normal. I knew Evan well, but I was not close to him like I am to the Miller/Hepburn women. I know that a large chunk of this nasty feeling is sadness for them, complete and total gutted, heartwrenching sadness. Part of it is worry that Heppy won't be okay. But I think the biggest thing is that I couldn't fix this for them – I had no words of comfort that could help. No amount of cooking or cleaning or crying could help.

We are all powerless. It's broke, and no matter what I do, what anyone does – it's fucked. Heading back to Asia as if nothing has happened makes it even harder.

When someone who seems happy kills themselves, what do we do? What happens when they do it in the most violent, sickening, scary way imaginable? How are we supposed to fix it – to make it okay? A good death has peace and calm and a certain amount of harmony with nature. What does this have?

I don't have a neat and tidy answer.

“Yes. It IS shitty.” Is all I can think to say.

This time we're not laughing.


In Memory of Mary O'Neill and Evan Gordon Hepburn


The Bug said...

You need to have a warning - don't read this at work! I'll have to tell my boss I have allergies...

I don't have any words of comfort - suicide seems so selfish to me that all that anger & grief just roils without any relief... I hope that time can provide it for you...

Sproglet said...

The hardest thing is seeing the pain and questions in those left behind.

Heppy and family are lucky to have someone who loves them as much as you do, it's all you can give at a time like this.

You don't always have to be strong xx

Lauren said...

wow. I probably shouldn't have read this at work as it hits quite close to home. it took me quite some time to recover from a similar occurence in my family, and while I will never be completely healed it does get easier with time and contemplation; I found that I couldn't move forward while attempting to ignore what had happened as opposed to really taking my time to try and come to terms with our loss and all that came with it. so damn hard. and quite brave of you to share. I think that the beauty of your surroundings on your travels will provide you a wonderful space to work things out within yourself. I wish you and your (extended) family the best.

Katie said...

If you can't find the right words than surely I can't, but I'd just like to give my condolences to you and to your friend Heppy and her family.

Just remember that sometimes it's what we don't say that has the most impact. I'm sure your presence meant at this difficult time meant the world to Heppy.

Stay strong.

Anonymous said...

This really helped me. I had the same sister figure that you have and instead of her brother, it was her. The 1 year anniversary is this Monday and I am trying to find ways to cope still. Thanks for this.

Cheryl said...

Beautifully said, Violet. Being a grownup can suck; it can be hard. But it can also give you the perspective to treat each day as a gift. Because it is. And you are demonstrating that through your actions and words. All the best.

An Open Heart said...

I am sorry for your loss. For the loss of your friend and for the loss his family suffers.

Your post is a beautiful tribute to your relationship to Evan and his family....that you would feel the loss as acutely as they surely do.

I agree, it's shitty....


Sam said...

Much love from our end, too, Dear. Unfortunately, we just went through the same thing, but Gramma is here on the mantle waiting for Sean to come home so we can say goodbye together. People hate to hear "I know how you feel," but maybe through S you already know that we actually do. We took care of gramma the same way you did, though it was taking care of our mother through multiple surgeries that really made us grow up.

I don't know if S remembers, but our friend Alia's little brother died a few years ago. We were good friends, but not as close as you are to Heppy. When her brother died (a boat capsized and he was the only one who didn't get out in time), it was much the same. I heard through my mom, it'd been a story on the news for a day or so and I came home from work one night to find mom out on the porch as I came down the driveway telling me they finally had announced names. Alia found me while I was working a few days later so I went off with her and had a good cry in the middle of the mall.

As much as similar stories don't make anyone feel better, they help. And, if you'll allow it, there's a Boston Pizza right here by our house, and when you and S come for gramma's funeral, well, I'll buy the beer.

wanderingwacky said...

You are a wonderful writer...
And yes, I hope it saves just one life.

wanderingwacky said...

um, I meant to say that I'd be so glad if it saved just one life.

Pat said...

I am so, so sorry for your losses. When someone elderly dies, it is hard, but you can say that they lived a long life. That kind of helps the grief, somewhat. But when someone young dies, takes their life, no less, there are no words, are there? To think this young man had so much pain that he couldn't go on. And usually that's the way it is - nobody around even knows that person is in pain - they disguise it so well. We don't really know what goes through that person's mind. I would recommend that family gets some kind of therapy to help them through this god-awful time. I'm sure the family really appreciated your being there to shoulder the burden of their grief, and to speak at the funeral. Your pain is as real as theirs. Again, I am sorry for the loss of both your Grandma and your friend.

We've had a lot of deaths in our family over the last 15 years - both my parents, 2 brother-in-laws, a sister-in-law, and my mother-in-law. Then on 7/30/09, one of my closest friends died unexpectedly. Very hard to swallow, but life goes on. Just take each day one at a time, I guess. I'm a firm believer that I will see everyone again in heaven. That keeps me going on.

Peckish said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your losses. My thoughts are with you, and all your loved ones.

Reading this is a reminder that sometimes we can never tell our whole story because it just isn't that simple, or know another's story in its entirety because it is just too hard...

But you shared this story with the world and that is a brave and powerful thing.

J.Me. said...

I am SO sorry. I don't have any comforting words either. My neighbors' son just killed himself with pills and alcohol. I thought he was fine. Apparently he wasn't. I'm sure the Hepburns are eternally grateful for your strength. My deepest condolences for you and your Heppy.

Anonymous said...

My condolences to you, your family, Heppy and her family.

These situations are never easy. Two years ago, my childhood friend's father hung himself in the shed and was found by his schizophrenic son. The managed to get him to the hospital, but he died. I had known him all my life, and he was in fact my dad's childhood friend. I was in Japan when everything happened, and sometimes I feel like he's not really dead. Maybe it'll hit me when I go back home...

Heppy said...

Thanks bud. Yr the bestest bff a person could ask for. I know it'll always be hard. It will always hurt so much, but it's people like you in my life that make it tolerable.

Sarah said...

This left me gutted and teary-eyed...

Well-written, relatable, and emotionally evocative. While I have never personally experienced a loss through suicide, I have known those who have, and you're right. It lacks the "harmony with nature" comfort. It's open-ended...

So sad... so sorry for both of your losses, and the accompanying pain you will experience for awhile.