Witness to War

My parents never came.

If they had come, things would have been different.

My mother would take up her spot next to the kitchen sink. She would stand with her arms folded and a dish towel over her shoulder, the smoke from her cigarette friendly like a tiny campfire in a dark forest.

My father would drink coffee from a cup with a saucer and read the paper, his man weight ballast for our crippled ship.

Yes, things would have been different. My parents were experienced. They had already had people die. My mother’s sister, dead at 26, from a blood clot that traveled somewhere in her body that was fatal. She was movie star beautiful with hair that rolled in curls, one of those remarkable people with no sense of their own perfection. We were in the kitchen when the call came. “That’s a damn shame,” my father said to the person on the phone. “A damn shame.” My mother leaned on the sink.

If my parents had come after my sister’s ex-husband died, after he crashed his car into a tree and died so badly that they had to gather him up for burial, well, if they had come, things would have been different.

They would have led us through it.

But they didn’t come. They never said why.

I tried to do what I thought my parents would do, casting back to my five-year old self sitting on a vinyl covered chair at the kitchen table watching my father on the phone and my mother’s great heaved sigh as she settled against the sink.  What should happen next? What should I do now? What do grownups do when there is a death in the family? What are the steps?

But the sea was too rough, the going too chaotic to think about anything in steps as if one carefully planned action would lead to another. Everything led nowhere except to a giant wall of grief until the wall of grief disappeared and anger took its place. My sister and her teenage sons were awash with blame and mean questions. We called a family meeting, something I’d never done before or even seen done, but it seemed an adult thing to do. I tried to get everyone to calmly state their issues but the table erupted in yelling and accusations. Fierce talk, like things could get broken.

It scared me. I had never been at the center of so much yelling, of such sharp, dangerous pain. I could do nothing but run from it, retreat into the room I shared with my sister, close the door and listen to voices in the hallway, echoes of accusations bouncing from wall to wall. No one can blame me, I thought. I just came to help.


Please see Witness to a Broken Heart.


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