ASK THE STORY
I listened to the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) tell another bad Dad joke as I finished getting ready for our next surgery. I always wondered if his sometimes bad or dark humor, he vacillated between the two, was his natural personality or if the death of his brother many years ago flavored him like it does my own. Ever since a few years earlier when he had told me he had lost his brother in a tragic accident and that his mother had never fully recovered, I felt a weird kindred spirit to him because somehow he, John the CRNA just got it.
I was having a normal day. It wasn’t a day I regretted going to work, something that plagued me ever since the loss of my own daughter, I wasn’t lost in the sea of grief that day nor was inflamed with my weird autoimmune issues, and I was working with people I could stand so all and all a decent day. The thing was I always tell people to share their stories but how can people share their stories if we are afraid to ask them?
I have had the. worst short-term and even long-term memory loss since I lost Mikenna. I was afraid to ask something he might have told me before but I thought what the hell… “Hey John, did you lose your brother in a similar way I lost my daughter,” I asked. There are so many wrong ways to ask someone about suicide and I can tell you as a mom, don’t ask how, it’s not your business unless it’s part of their healing journey…anyway he says, “no it was on the way to climb Kilimanjaro.” Here was the little synopsis he gave.
John’s brother was into traveling, bucket-list kinds of things, and at the top of his list was Kilimanjaro. He traveled all the way to the other side of the world, packing, and all to Tanzania in Africa. He was on a travel bus, sightseeing with other tourists from different countries on a two-lane road. A short way down the road and around the bend a semi-truck in a hurry to get where he was going came across a herd of goats meandering across the road. The truck driver most likely going too fast to stop plowed through and massacred a group of goats. In Africa, the laws require the driver to pay for the damaged property to the owner and he now owed a large sum to whoever the owner was, most likely not too far off.
To avoid paying the large sum the semi-truck driver kept going speedily away from the scene of the goat crime. As he rounded the bend he hit the curve of the street too fast and swerved into the oncoming traffic hitting the tour bus and killing every person on the small tour bus except one man from Norway who lost his entire family traveling with him. John’s entire family flew out to Africa with the tragic news of the loss of their brother and son.
At this point in the story, I imagine the man from Norway, the phone calls being received for twenty other mothers, fathers sisters, and brothers. I remember my own, the sound of my husband’s voice, “Mikenna died.” the only words he croaked out to me over the phone as I stood in the tiny locker room of the Peruvian hospital. I heard a scream and later realized it was my own. I knew the mother’s vulnerability. To be thousands of miles away and feel helpless. Then John told me about their synchronicities and I knew I needed to hear the rest of the story.
The people in the part of Africa where the tour bus sat are very poor. To say they didn’t have much is an understatement. As soon as the bus sat there unattended, the personal belongings of the accident were looted. Everything that could be grabbed or used, sold, or repurposed was taken. The amazing part was John’s brother’s camera and SD card more specifically were left behind. All his travels and the beautiful pictures of his thrill-seeking adventures were saved and were a treasure to his family. The family resolutely set out to sprinkle the ashes of John’s brother atop Kilimanjaro.
Halfway to the top John’s mother, desperate to fulfill her son’s goal, came down with altitude sickness. She was not able to go on. John and the rest of his family had to go on without mom, who sadly waited now at the bottom expecting the ashes to spread without her. They made it to the top but didn’t want their mom to miss out on the experience so they chose to take the ashes back down with them and take their brother on Safari with them where they can all be together and release the ashes.
As they drove out on Safari they listened to the guide as he described each animal in the landscape and knew the area like he had taken groups on Safari many, maybe hundreds of times. The family found a time and area and decided to spread the ashes. As the ashes spread and before the silent reverence could fall the sound of thunder came from all around them. Wildebeests big, small, prehistoric-looking stampeded and dust flew as something out of Jurassic Park flashed before their eyes. 45 minutes they came and ran, back and forth. At that exact moment, they had released the ashes. The experienced tour guide explained in shock that had never happened before and never had that many Wildebeests for that long. I imagine mom smiling through tears and the knowing feeling that her son had wanted to give them one last adventure smiling back at them.
As I listened to the quick little story, I could see the stampede, I could see the dust, I could feel the awe of the group and I could feel the love and the knowledge, especially from the mamma. I heard the story and I knew there was another mamma out there that shared the pain 5, 10, and 15 years later of smiling and pretending they were fine so that her other children didn’t worry. I was guessing she also wanted to be ok for them but hurting sometimes for no reason at all. Like today I saw my daughter’s pillowcase and started to cry, but I then pictured the wildebeests, tried to visualize and imagine the sound that must have been deafening and my heart doesn’t hurt quite as bad.