The Process of Dying

I haven’t had it in me to write about my brother and the experiences that surround his passing since my last post.  I am the queen of avoidance coping, what can I say?  I feel like the record needs to be set straight; however, regarding the details of his death.  Some of the things we thought we knew were incorrect.  The fact that there really isn’t a whole lot that we do know remains the same.

In my previous post I stated that my brother died in a public restroom.  We have, since I posted, found that this is not the case.  Not that the location changes the fact that he is gone or that he was an addict and that his addiction is was likely the cause of his death.  We are still awaiting the toxicology report to confirm this.  They say it could take approximately six months for the results to be returned to us.  Or, actually, for us to be able to find the results online.  Death has become so impersonal.  Is this just because of the type of death?  The location?  The fact that it was a junkie who died?

The experiences that surround the death of a loved one can seem… .surreal.   I have heard the phrase “I can’t believe I’m doing this” on repeat inside my head for the past month.

Talking to the coroner’s office after being told about his death was not all that enlightening, but necessary.  The investigator on the other end of the line did a quick run-down of what they knew and didn’t know: he was found with drug paraphernalia around him.  His death was reported by someone we don’t even know (strangers to us, apparently not to him).  Where his remains were located.  She asked a few questions about him: how long had it been since we’d seen each other?  What was his drug of choice?  I took notes and answered the questions as if on auto-pilot.  Some of the conversation I remember.  Some I do not.

After that conversation it was time to make arrangements for his remains. It was a strange process arranging for his body to be cremated over the phone.  Bizarre that I was, so easily, able to complete the “transactions” necessary without even seeing anyone’s face.  I received email documents, filled them out, faxed them back, paid for their services and voila.  Done and done.

My sister and mom and I decided to drive to Arizona to recover his cremains after they were processed and ready for release.   Strangely, we all looked forward to the trip together, regardless of the circumstance.  We were looking forward to the temporary escape from reality when we all knew that reality would slap us in the face in a day’s time.  And yet, we went.  We listened to music.  We stopped at various places to eat or take pictures or sneak a smoke in before hitting the road again.  We laughed.  Surreal.

On the evening before we were scheduled to pick him up, my sister got a phone call from the detective on the case.  He said he had a few minutes and would come by our hotel room to talk to us about what he knew (and didn’t know).  He brought an un-redacted copy of the police report filed by the officer on scene.  He read the report to us (he was brand new to the case and didn’t know any more than was written by the original officer).  He answered as many questions as he could (mostly with an “I’m sorry I don’t have answer for that” or “I really don’t know”).  Sitting in a strange room, in our pajamas, listening to a detective talk about how and when and where your brother died (all the while trying not to stare at the gun on his hip) is… well, it’s certainly not like anything I’ve ever experienced before.  But we did learn something new.  And we were left with even more questions.  Hopefully time will sort it all out.  Probably not.

The next morning we drove to the cremation center to pick him up.   It was a non-descript building in an industrial area of Mesa.  Not what I expected.  I suppose I expected some sort of… overly-manicured, lush paradise of death.  You know the kind… it’s the same at any other funeral home or cemetery you might have the displeasure of “visiting”.  Alas, this was no funeral home or cemetery.  It was, quite simply, a crematorium.  The last stop for earthly remains.  I suppose the setting was appropriate in this case.

The girl that finally opened the door to let us in had no idea what she was doing.  She didn’t appear to even know where she was.  Not that it was her fault.  She was new to the location and the company had recently gone through some intern adjustments.  Not the point.  The point is that this stranger, this lady who was completely not prepared for us, this person who had to struggle to remain “connected”, tactful and professional was now suppose to guide us through the final steps of this process.  I felt so bad for her.  She was awkward and apologetic and felt the need to keep chattering while she awaited the necessary paperwork to arrive from “right down the road.  It’s only about 5 minutes down the road”.  I suppose somehow her discomfort made ours easier to bear.

We have my brother’s urn strapped into the seat belt in the back seat of my Kia and we’re on our way… to Las Vegas.  Yes, we decided to take a detour to Sin City.  My brother loved Las Vegas.  And we needed a break (even though 90% of the trip had already been “a break”).  We needed to decompress from the morning’s affairs.  So we did.  We gambled a bit, had a few drinks, checked out the strip (or a very small portion of it) and just… spent time together.  I wish my brother could’ve experienced his time in Vegas like this.

On our way home we must’ve stopped a million times for bathroom breaks, smokes, snacks, gas or just to stretch our legs and shake off the road-wearies.  Eventually, we made it back to Northern California and went our separate ways; back to our “normals”.  Sadly, we’ll each have to find a “new normal” in the aftermath of my brother’s death and all the questions (answered and unanswered) that come with it.

In time.


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