Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Brother Dan

(December 20, 2012 - I wrote this shortly after my brother died.  Forgive the past and present pronouns that I kept messing up.)  I couldn't tell you how long ago that was... me and numbers never got along.  Specially numbers that involve memory.  My sister went to California with me, and I'd love to know her memories too. 

My brother Dan was the "bad kid" in the family - the family scapegoat as we grew up.  We grew up in several different states, but finally settled in Spokane, Washington.  Danny left the area about 25 years ago.  I am the oldest, then Danny, Tommy and Theresa, who lives in Rigby, Idaho.  (Because there are 2 Theresa/Teresa's, my sister will be referred to as Theresa (not Sister Theresa hahaha), and Danny's fiance will be referred to as Teresa Lea)

As some of you know, my brother Tom was killed in a drunk driving accident 6 years ago, and it has been very traumatic for our family.  Not only his death, but it brought all of us back together for the funeral, and the family dysfunctions became very apparent.  I became the black sheep of the family by insisting there was a problem in our family and we needed to address it, because I was just as guilty for looking the other way while my brother Tom drank himself to his death.  As some of you also know, alcoholism and sexual abuse are the dysfunctions I speak of.

Over the  last 25ish years, my parents saw Danny twice (that I knew of) - when my son Jacob, died, and then again when Tommy died.  I've seen him a couple more times because I've traveled to California over the years and he lived in the Disney Land area.  My parents "seemed" to have written him off years ago, because of all the trouble he caused them.  He started using drugs when he was in 6th grade.  He left Spokane, and basically disappeared for years at a time, but he would contact me once in awhile.  If I ever tried to reach him, he'd always have moved on and no one knew where.  He was homeless for years, and lived in his van.  The stories he told served only to make me terrified of California.  The things that supposedly happened to him were always a question in my mind - reality or drugs? Outrageous stories. 

Since my own recovery process, I'd been trying to tell Danny for the last 4 years that it wasn't ALL his fault... he didn't need to be without a family because he thought we were better off without him.  He always believed that he was no good and that he was doing us a favor, when the truth was, the family was the problem, not just him.  I really needed him to help put together the puzzles of my childhood memories, and he needed to be loved and accepted by his family.  I understood my parents "tough love" stance, but unfortunately, it was condemnation, rejection and judgements that he felt, no matter how much he pretended to understand the tough love stance.

He ignored his 14 year old daughter, Stephanie, in Spokane, for the same reasons... she was better off without him.  In some ways, of course, he was right... the drugs controlled him for years.  He left Spokane when she was 2, and saw her once when she was 7, when he came home for my son's funeral and that was the sum of their relationship.  (I may be wrong about the number of visits.)  

While in California, he met a woman  - and had another baby girl, named Heather.  Their relationship was extremely stormy - they both were in and out of jail, supposedly cause they took turns setting each other up in cocaine deals.  I only ever heard his side of the story.  They broke up, and eventually he met Teresa Lea.

I could tell from the phone calls that things were different for him.  He seemed happy, grounded, and his stories weren't so wild.  He called more often, during the holidays, and he didn't seem high whenever he called.  He and Teresa had a baby girl named Danielle (age 13 months at the time of the shooting).  Danny had gained custody of Heather (age 6 at the time of the shooting).  They lived with Teresa's parents, Darrell and Marilyn Siler, and sister Angela.

The heart of this story belongs to these people, because after meeting them and getting to know them for the four days that we were there, it was clear that they cared, accepted and maybe even loved my brother.  They welcomed me and my sister, and it became very clear to me how very different our two families were.  I can't tell you how shocking it was for me to see Darrell pick up his grand-daughters, give them a kiss or hug or cuddle every time they reached for him.  It seemed so natural and innocent.  I can't tell you shocking it was for me to hear them support Teresa Lea in every way they could, telling her how proud of her they were.  They didn't condemn her or judge her or hush her up at all the times she'd break down crying, or when she was having flashbacks of the shooting.  I can't tell you how shocking it was for me to hear Darrell tell me that he was going to postpone his retirement now for another year or two until Teresa got back on her feet - if she needed them to stay in California, instead of moving back to Arkansas.  My experience when my son died was quite different.  My paternal grandmother hasn't spoken to me since, because I didn't sit down in the emergency room with my dead baby and call all the family members - she had to hear it from one of my neighbors, who took it upon herself to look at the last name on my mailbox.  She called down the list of Renz's until she got someone.  My mother thought I was on drugs, because I didn't seem to be "with it".  I was grieving AND going thru a divorce.  My mother didn't know any better - I know that you do the best you can with what you know.  The Siler family seemed so supportive and non-judgemental of each other... it honestly was an interesting dynamic for me to experience, even if just a little in those 4 days we were there.  There was a feeling of safety, and little girls who were still innocent. 

I got the news about Danny about 10:30 Monday morning (December 20, 1992) (?).  I ran to the shop to tell Tucker, and called my sister from the shop.  The news at that time was that he'd been shot at 8pm the previous nite.  My parents had been called in Richland, Washington, about 2am, and were told that it'd be a miracle if he survived the next 2 hours, and that there was no sense in hurrying, since he wasn't going to survive.  In making the decision to go or not, I told my sister it wasn't up to strangers to tell us what to do or not do, and that I was going.

My sister and I caught the 1:00pm flight out of Idaho Falls, knowing that he had survived the night, but that he could go at any moment.  We got to the hospital in California at 5:20pm Monday evening.  We were being told by the doctors that they didn't know why he wasn't dead already, it wasn't good, and that there really no hope, except for the fact that he was still alive for some reason.  They had opened him up, and his liver, spleen, and kidneys were mush - there was nothing they could repair.  They repaired the hole in his heart and his lung, and used 50 units of blood.  His mattress was saturated and dripping blood at the corners, because they couldn't stop the bleeding.  As we talked with the doctors, the monitors were steady and regular, but weak.  At the time, all I could see from where we were standing, was his hand, and I felt that he wasn't in his body.  We went in and Theresa gave him a pep talk, the"hang in there, you can't make it" speech. The monitors stayed regular and steady.  I held his hand, which was as cold and dead as could be.  Because of my dead son, I knew what dead really looked and felt like.  I felt like his body was there, but his spirit had left it, but was still in the room?  I thought - I didn't speak it, but I told him if he needed to go, it was okay to do so, and that I would try to keep track of his daughters.  I told him to go find Tommy, and to take care of my baby, Jacob, and to come back and haunt me anytime.

Within seconds, the monitor flat-lined, and his blood pressure dropped tremendously.   I thought "Shit... I'm not even sure how many kids he has!". They pushed us out of the room, and tried to push me into the hall, but I told them that I would not leave him, because for the first time in a very long time, he was going to know that family came thru for him, and I WAS NOT GOING TO LEAVE HIM.  The social worker was quite concerned and quite insistent.  I am just grateful that I had changed enough in the last 4 years of counseling that I didn't have to bow down to "authority" - instead, I did what was best for me and Danny, not what I was told.  I watched them try to revive him very calmly, because I  felt that he had chosen to go.  Even tho they got a heartbeat again, it was extremely weak and they pronounced him dead.  I went to find Teresa, his fiance... it was the first time I'd met her, and I had to tell her that she needed to go say goodbye to him.  She made me go with her, and she started to give him the pep talk, how much she needed him, and the babies needed him.  I took her hand and said "Teresa, look at him.  He can't stay".  She looked at me, at him, at the ceiling, in the corners and said "Okay", and kissed him.  Then she ran out of the room.  I stayed with him until the monitor went completely flat.  He had been pronounced dead at 6:00pm, but they unplugged everything at 6:30pm.

My mom later told me that she felt that he had died at 6:30, as they had reached Salem, Oregon, driving from Richland, Washington.  They called for an update.  We told them he was dead.  They decided to not drive down to California, and turned right, heading for the ocean instead, with our blessing.  To have to go thru burying another son... not fair.  I also didn't really want my overly touchy feely father around, based on his behavior at Tommy's funeral. 

When the doctors and nurses were trying to revive him, I had asked one of the nurses to be sure to tell him that his parents were on the way and she very rudely asked why, so I told her that he'd been estranged from his family for years, and I wanted him to know that his parents, I was glad he knew they were on the way, and once he got to heaven, he would supposedly have perfect understanding when he looked down and saw them at the ocean. 

Something very spiritual had happened, but I haven't quite sorted it out yet, because when my son died 10 years ago, I pretty much lost faith in ... anything and everything.

As for the shooting:  Dan and Teresa had been coming home from dinner when the car behind him kept flashing his headlight at him.  Danny stopped the car and got out - according to Teresa, he thought they were trying to tell him that something was wrong with his taillights or something.  He walked towards the car and was shot in the stomach.  Danny got back into his car and drove the 1/2 mile back home to the Siler's.  Teresa ran in to call 911 and he walked over the lawn, said "it hurts", and "he couldn't breathe" and fell into her father's arms.  He lost consciousness and never regained it.  That's what we were told. 

There were several witnesses to the shooting and they caught the guy and he's sitting in jail.  The first story The Killer told was that Danny had cut him off in traffic, and forced him off the road, that Danny had got out of his car, and it scared this guy, who'd been shot himself recently.  So, being paranoid, he'd borrowed a gun, and used it.  Since it is now a murder charge, his story is changing quite a bit, and now there's rumors that an ex-girlfriend may have had something to do with it, because Danny had won custody of their girl, and the mother was supposedly mixed up with the Mexican Mafia.  I didn't know what to think, because it reminded me of his wild stories, and who wants to believe stuff like that?  Again, this is what we were being told. 

His oldest daughter, Stephanie, came down from Spokane with her mother, Renee, for the funeral.  She read a letter for his memorial service about how angry and bitter she'd always felt about her "bad guy" father, but that she was glad she had come to the funeral because she could see that according to other people, he wasn't a bad guy, and she was going to work on forgiving him, and saying goodbye, when she never even had the chance to say hello.

Teresa Lea's song for him during the service was "Desperado" by the Eagles.  Pretty appropriate and beautiful and heart-breaking.  Then I got up and spoke up for him - something I hadn't planned on definitely doing until I had heard what Stephanie said.

This is what I said for the service: 

"When I or anybody else thinks of Danny, we think "trouble".  Even as a baby, he banged his head against the crib and the crib would bounce across the floor from wall to wall.  He even used to blame the dog for wetting his diapers.  I don't remember much of our growing up years, but I remember that he was always in trouble and our parents were always upset with him.  At the time, I didn't mind... it took the focus off me.  I've spent the last several years trying to help him see that our family had a "family" problem - not a "Danny" problem, and lately, it seemed like he was finally hearing and maybe even believing it.  But he was in the honeymoon stage, and wanting to skip the working it out part, and jump right into forgiving and forgetting part. 

Maybe it's good that he was feeling the "forgiving" part.  He seemed to have come to some sort of peace with his past even tho I didn't think it could be possible.  Maybe he knew his time was limited, and he had to skip over all the stuff that I had been working on myself for the last 4 years.  He had removed himself from our family and his daughter, Stephanie, because he truly believed he was bad for our family, and if he'd just disappear, all would be well.  

Stephanie, I know it's hard for you to hear all these strangers tell you that he loved you and showed off your pictures all the time, when you hadn't experienced it for yourself from him.  But every time your father and I talked, we'd talk about you.  He was always hungry for news of you, and was so disappointed if I didn't have something new to tell him.  He never once blamed your mother, nor did he made any excuses for himself.  because he knew how wrong and guilty he was.  He didn't believe in himself to make things right tho.  He thought he didn't deserve anybody's love, or that anybody could love him.  I think that was changing from what I've seen with Teresa Lea and her family.  And maybe, if there had been more time for him, he would have come thru for you as a father.  As it is, I think that he was able to be a good daddy to Heather and Danielle, because he knew what he had missed with you.  Maybe that can be of some comfort for you, as weirdly unfair as that seems.  And believe me... I do think it's weirdly unfair. 

Darrell and Marilyn seemed to accept him, as does Teresa Lea.  Even tho... he had told Darrell that he was a Vietnam Vet...  ?   Ummm, evidently he didn't know how old Danny was, or maybe because he knew his daughter loved Danny.... maybe he looked the other way?  I could tell there was the difference in my brother and what he needed in order to believe in himself and their loving, non-judgmental acceptance of him was the difference, something he hadn't had from us in a very long time.  I'm glad he found some happiness.  I could hear it over the  phone whenever we talked in the last  year and a half of his life. 

Danny was a hero by getting Teresa Lea home safely before giving in the the pain of the bullet.  She could have been in danger too, if he had given up in the street.  I shall be forever grateful to him for waiting for me and my sister to get here, because I didn't get the chance to say good-bye  to my baby when he died, nor when our brother Tom died 6 years ago."

I had requested for "The Dance" by Garth Brooks to be played.   I didn't realize how appropriate it was until I really listened to the words - I picked it only because it was a popular funeral song.   While the song played, 13 month old Danielle wouldn't stay quiet or still for anybody but Teresa Lea, so she had to stand up and rock her in order to keep her quiet.  Unconsciously, she started to dance to the song with the baby in her arms ... it was so sooo touching.  The woman he loved, and the baby he adored danced him away, and the church was absolutely silent.  It was wonderful and awesome and a perfect send-off.

And thank God for Facebook cause I'm in touch with all his daughters!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Cheer or jeer me on...