Tuesday night I was curled up on the sofa having gotten sucked into the evil vortex of Dance Moms when Dave came home from his beer dinner. I should have been packing for our imminent trip to Rhode Island to celebrate my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary but somehow I had not moved – and had surrendered to making no more progress that evening. I barely turned my gaze to ask how dinner was.
“It was good,” Dave replied. “But I just got a call from Rhode Island Hospital.”
I raised an eyebrow and gave a half smile. “Did your Dad check in?”
Before you recoil in horror, there is a history around my nonchalance. My father-in-law has… what shall we call it….an affinity for hospitals. He has a heart condition that, when acting up, presents itself in a way that one might want to call the good folks over at 911 and take a ride. Thankfully, upon checking in and hooking up, there has never been a cause for major concern. They pump him with fluids and peace of mind and send him on his way. We all know the drill. I was about to make the point that at least it was Tuesday and the party wasn’t until Sunday so he has plenty of time to get back on track and celebrate when Dave said, “It’s not my Dad.”
I took a step up the anxiety ladder. If it was my mother-in-law, that could be worrisome. The woman is a rock and would only be at a hospital if she was visiting someone or something was seriously wrong.
“What’s going on? Who?”
“It’s Elliot. He was hit by a car riding his bike. It’s bad.” I turned off the television.
Elliot is my father-in-law’s best friend. He and his wife Renee are like family, having attended all of our life celebrations for the better part of 40 years. I liked him the moment I met him – probably more than two decades ago when I first visited Rhode Island. If you knew my in-laws, then you knew Elliot. He was easy to talk to, warm and genuine in his interest of others. It was not uncommon to be sitting at breakfast at my in-laws dining room table still in my PJ’s and have Elliot or Renee stop by to say hi. They were the type of people you were always happy to see. Their presence was a comfortable one and we all counted on it, perhaps without even realizing it. We casually kept up on each other’s families. I especially enjoyed following their daughter Ilicia’s life on Facebook – and she would check in here at Mothers of Brothers regularly. The power of our parent’s friendship enveloped us all, creating that unspoken but relaxed bond that comes only with time and affection. Elliot and Renee were on the short list of people we had asked to give toasts at my in-law’s anniversary party and we were looking forward to what they might choose to say…
But Elliott died on Wednesday, leaving us looking at one another and asking “How the hell did this happen?”
And by “this” we didn’t mean the physical accident – but the metaphysical one.
I spend most of my days believing that the Universe has a plan and is executing that plan in our best interest and with the idea that we have something to learn from everything. But not this time. This time I truly think they got the wrong guy. He was meticulous about safety, had a vibrant, meaningful life, and was counted on by so many people. Elliot’s death was an accident in every sense of the word. And everyone is waiting for the do-over – the one where Elliot doesn’t ride his bike on Tuesday, or leaves the house 30 seconds later, or takes a different route. Any of these simple happenstances would have kept him out of harm’s way.
Reason gives us comfort – and Elliot’s death defies all reason.
I don’t own more than a tiny, inconsequential sliver of the enormous sadness that has befallen those closest to Elliot. I am but a tourist on this particular ship that his family, my in-laws, and others will sail over waves of grief in the coming weeks and months. My heart breaks for them. And I hope that light will ultimately shine through the gaping hole that has been punched into their world.
We cancelled the anniversary celebration and re-packed – switching out our party clothes for funeral attire. I stood by and watched on what was scheduled to be a joyous weekend, Elliot’s family, my family, and hundreds of others mourn the unfathomable loss of a wonderful man.
We had let our family members who were traveling from out of town know on Thursday that there would be no anniversary party. But they arrived anyway. And on Saturday night we gathered at my in-laws home where there were no toasts, or photos, or silly poems. We were just “together.” And though it was never spoken, those hours felt far more meaningful than any party – or any other gathering we have held over the years.
When operating from afar, the Universe is but a whisper, gently reminding us that it is in charge. But every now and then it suddenly steps in close and yells, startling the recipients like an angry parent who needs her children to listen immediately.
Ok, Universe. We are paying attention. And we hear you. Life is so very, very fragile.
If only you could have found another way to remind us.