I’ll never forget driving to the Bay Area from Redding.
Dana had been released from this life.
Mom, Dana’s daughters and I had dealt with the Sheriff’s office for hours – since Dana had been shot in Humboldt county, and since the bullets were still in him when he died, we had to send his body back to Eureka to have the bullets removed and an autopsy performed.
As Dana was a Baha’i, we needed to have him buried without embalming, so within 2-3 days of his passing.
We needed to wash his body in rose water, wrap him in a white shroud, and to have him buried with the Baha’i ring which says, “I came forth from God, and return unto Him, detached from all save Him, holding fast to His Name, the Merciful, the Compassionate”.
We spent hours trying to get his autopsy moved from Humboldt county to Shasta county (- in Redding), so that it could be quicker, then to get Dana to the Bay Area so that he could be buried without embalming. Figuring out a plot to bury him in was also eminent.
We couldn’t shift the place in which the autopsy would be performed, so we switched gears and focused on the pieces related to his burial: the shroud, the ring, the coffin, the plot. A funeral.
Mom and I drove from Redding to the Bay Area
I was driving. Mom was next to me. My 3 kids were in the backseat.
We are absolutely shell shocked.
I remember the feeling of moving through heavy liquid, that time and space seemed like an illusion. The brown grasses that we passed, the water, everything was surreal.
I said that to mom. “This can’t be real, this doesn’t seem real.” She nodded. The kids were quiet.
We were all quiet.
Losing someone you love is always difficult.
But what most people don’t realize – or maybe just what I didn’t realize before it happened to me – is that losing someone you love is immediately so much more than the piece of your heart that is suddenly missing.
Death is also a series of functions, of rituals, of pieces that need to be fitted and placed. It needs funeral programs. It needs suits to be worn to the funeral, planned. It needs shoes on feet that uphold sorrow.
I don’t know how Mom and I did it all, to be honest.
I don’t know how we drove from Redding, I don’t know how – in that shocked state of intense grief we were in, we planned his funeral. I don’t know how we got that program together and had it printed and I don’t know how I managed to find my kid’s suits at Target, my husband’s aloha suit at the Burlington Coat Factory. I do know that as I was trying to get shoes for myself, I hit a brick wall and I couldn’t function all of the sudden, and that was when my dear friend Meredith held me up.
This is another thing about death that I had not known.
That is, I hadn’t known how much it would mean to me as some people emerged from the woodwork and joined us in our grief.
I hadn’t known the grudges I could – and would – keep for those that didn’t.
Dana has been gone for 3 years now.
The first few minutes, hours, days, weeks after he passed were so weighted with shock, the immediate present of that time was simply unbelievable.
With the layering of some time, new images form through the lens of this new reality, the one in which his physical presence is not with us.
I get tired of him being gone and sometimes sigh and sputter, ‘enough already! you’ve been gone and now it’s time to come back.’ But then I remember: HE DIED, so he can’t come back in this time and space, and from here on we need to move forward. I need to learn how to meditate better, open up, communicate in another way.
This hasn’t happened very well yet so… I run loops in with trying to get deeper so I can still have my brother, and then looping around to being tired that he’s gone.
Dana’s headstone is in place now.
Mom handled it all: she found the right stone (- Scandanavian stone, cut in China, perfect representation of him – as he was of Scandanavian descent and spent over 20 years in China).
She initiated dozens of emails, text messages, between me, Dana’s kids, and the headstone engravers.
Back and forth the emails and texts went, so that every word engraved would be perfect and so that, Baha’i style, we would all agree. This was consultation in action, and I know how much Dana would appreciate that, appreciate this.
I’m so grateful to my mom for coordinating that, thinking of how I would feel in her shoes, handling these necessary mundane pieces.
Where there is love, nothing is too much trouble, and there is always time.
That was a Baha’i quote that Dana lived by.
Some people have quotes etched on their arms to remember them, others love something and simply live it.
Dana did the latter, living that quote so fully and completely that for all of us who knew him here and loved him, that quote is synonymous with him.
A myriad of memories flood my mind: Dana driving 8 hours just to attend Micah’s pre-school graduation for a couple of hours, Dana, living off of ramen and having no money to speak of, somehow digging up $1,000 and giving it to me so that I could go and study in Switzerland. Dana, up all night working and still happily dancing with his babies. Dana’s huge hands as he clasped someone else’s, assuring them that all would be well in their world.
Even as I type this, I am crying and I wonder why.
Surely the blessings of having had him in my life for the 43 years that I did outweigh what might have been no brother at all?
But I miss him.
And I’m tired of him being gone.
And so it goes.
It’s true that you see everything differently when someone you love has left.
Rainbows are not just rainbows; they are messages! They are beacons from those who have gone, the bridges between their world and ours.
Feathers, birds, the tangible perfection of a flower: reflections of what his space might be.
The geckos in my house, playing around me and gleefully jumping from the table to my chair remind me of Dana and his zesty joy for life!
I think of how, if he were in physical form again, alive on this earth, how he would sit next to me and laugh at me in my grief – only I know in my gut that Dana would feel a deep sense of compassion for ALL THE SORROW that not only I, but his beloved children, his mother, father, for the countless others who love him so well, have felt in his passing.
I wish it was more clear to me how we could all truly honor the essence of who Dana was, by transforming this grief, this sorrow into something that feels more like him. Because Dana was not a sorrowful person.
I’ll keep chugging along and striving to understand this. I’ll figure it out one day, I’ll get this.
I’ll learn where the butterflies go when it rains, and the secret, silent connection between the stars and flowers. I’ll know where to find Dana and I know we’ll be able to sit companionably once more on some heavenly version of a porch swing and talk.
The Connection Between Flowers and Stars
William Blake wrote once of seeing the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower.
I remember talking to Dana when I was a kid about the former.
Being the Madeline L’Engle junkie that I was, Blake’s poem spoke to me of Charles Wallace and the infinite universe of the body, surely reflected out in our physical world. I’d talk about these things while Dana would dig holes in the sand or play with hermit crabs. Or put the hermit crabs in his holes in the sand!
I find myself thinking of more of the latter part of the poem now as I swim with my kids, my friends, and see the echoes of the celestial realms in the sea. The fluidity and weightlessness below, the color, movement and beauty speaks to me of stars and the oneness of all creation.
We are all made of the same stuff, are we not?
The moon, sun, fish, flowers, tender leaves of new grass. My babies, your babies. We’re all made of stardust, moving forward, evolving, growing, stretching, reaching, being.
Dana is too.
The essential part of who he is, who he always was, the soul core of this bright person, always was and ever shall be.
But he’s moving and growing in this new way, one that is so foreign to me. It’s like my only navigational compass, the only aid that I have in figuring out where he is is my heart and I have to fine tune it to a frequency that I haven’t used before.
I’m trying. I’ll get there.
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.