One for Jason

Barbie drives her red convertible around my bedroom. Her fashionable clothing and multiple Ken dolls cover the floor. As an 8-year-old, I spend much of my playtime in Barbie’s dream life.

Fifteen years ago, as Barbie stopped at the mall, or my sister’s bed, I heard sobs from the living room. I hesitated to go downstairs.

I left Barbie and her dream life to walk to the top landing of the staircase and peaked through the banister legs.

“What’s going on?” I asked, my voice shaking slightly at the sight of my sibling’s tears.

“Jason died,” my Mom whispered. “He was hit by a car.”

I ran into her and my father’s arms and cried.

Even though I didn’t really know Jason, I cried. I cried for my Aunt Kathy who would never see her baby boy again. I cried for my cousins, Bethany and Tommy, who would miss their brother. I cried because I knew he was gone.

I decided kisses were money in Heaven that week. I rationalized it in my young mind by asking, “What else could they use if they don’t have dollars?”

I would kiss my hands every night at the end of my prayer and say, “One for Jason.”

He got a kiss from me every night when I was little and if I forgot, he got two the next night.

I know now that kisses aren’t currency, but that doesn’t stop me from sending some now and again when I remember him.

— Pamela Crimbchin

A tear for all

I had only seen my dad cry once before his mom’s funeral; he shed a tear when my miniature Schnauzer died.

My grandma was diagnosed with advanced cancer in late fall. As we learned of her worsening health, my parents decided we would take our yearly trip to visit family early that summer.

Before we left for Pittsburgh, my mom took me shopping for some black skirts and pants — funeral clothes. We packed them at the bottom of our suitcases, just in case.

It turns out we didn’t need them. Not yet. We returned home Sunday afternoon and unpacked. Monday morning, my dad went to work, and I worked on my summer reading assignment.

That afternoon, the phone rang. My mom answered and, moments later, tears started pouring out. It was the death call. My dad left work early, and we spent the rest of the day readying for another trip to Pittsburgh.

Every time my dad and my grandma were in the same room, he blubbered. It made me uncomfortable, especially since I couldn’t cry. Was something wrong with me? Was I a bad person for not crying?

I made it through the final goodbyes and the funeral service with dry eyes. It wasn’t until I was outside church that tears started streaming down my face. My dad found me and pulled me close. We spent the next few minutes hugging and crying.

I cried for my dad, my grandma and for not crying.

On a Saturday morning in 2002 my dad called me over.

“I’ve got to tell you something,” I remember him saying. “Papa passed away last night.”

I didn’t know how to feel, I was only 12 years old. My grandpa — Papa, we called him — had battled Alzheimer’s since I was in second grade.

I never got to know him the way my older cousins did. I only saw him when we visited at the nursing home. He didn’t talk; he couldn’t recognize us.

But every time we went he always liked to throw this ball around with me. It always made him smile, even laugh a little. This was what I thought about when I found out about his death.

The memory of his smile still makes me smile.

— Vince Peluso

On a hot day in July, I came face-to-face with death.

My cousin wasn’t old or sick, but he was on a motorcycle at the wrong time. As I learned at his funeral, death is always on time.

Inside a long room people wearing dress clothes, causal clothes, and leather vests watched my cousin.

There was nothing that could prepare me for how I felt. My cousin was in a casket with a bright blue shirt on and a bright blue hat on his stomach that read “Cleveland”.

He was silent and motionless, almost as if he was asleep. But I knew he wasn’t waking up.

Tears started to roll down my face. The cousin who was a big brother to me was gone.

I tried to read a poem my sister wrote, but I couldn’t. I choked on the words and more tears rolled down my face.

On the drive to the cemetery, my father told me about something his mother told him. Death isn’t a sad time—it’s a celebration of a person’s life. People didn’t come to see my cousin to grieve, but instead they came to celebrate what he did for three decades on Earth.

My cousin is gone, but my memories of him will always be with me. I’ll remember his honesty, his good nature, and the good times I spent with him.

— Nick Walton

I know from the moment my mom walks back into the house that it isn’t good news. Ever had that creeping feeling when you know something awful has happened? It was that kind of news.

My 24-year-old cousin is dead. He committed suicide. The room starts spinning and I lose my breath. I have to sit to regain composure. Never could I have imagined losing someone like this. My mom, through strong tears, hugs my brother and I.

“We’re going to be OK,” she whispers.

I do not feel the same, though, and at that moment, there I stand — heartbroken, angry, sad and upset. Why did he do this? How could he do this to himself. To God. To our family. He needed help but never sought it. I know my family tried with everything in them. It’s just…unimaginable to be here. Unbearable.

Years later and I still haven’t fully recovered. I don’t believe anyone ever can. You can’t come back from something like this, but he’s still my cousin, and I still love him.

— Kim Brown

Great aunt Hazel’s funeral sparked the memory of another aunt’s. But that funeral I couldn’t attend. I was in another country when I learned over the phone of Great Aunt Bonnie’s cancer diagnosis and its quick progression.

In an e-mail with the subject line “Aunt Bonnie,” my parents told me of her death. “Just wanted to let you know that Aunt Bonnie passed away on Tuesday,” it read. “When we saw her Saturday she was sleeping because she was so exhausted. I’m going to assume she passed away in her sleep. She was on so many pain killers – I don’t think she was aware of her surroundings for the past few days – that probably was best.”

No closure from miles away or sending condolences for a relative you met only a few times every other year.

Before I traveled overseas, Bonnie told me about living in Germany while stationed in the military. I visited the country while in Europe but never got to tell her how much I enjoyed it. “She was really looking forward to hearing about your trip,” my dad must’ve told me a dozen times.

Well Aunt Bonnie, I hope you’re listening because here it goes…

Germany was great. We visited Munich and the castle that’s name I can’t possibly pronounce – Neuschwanstein. Someone said it was supposedly the inspiration for the Disney Castle. The countryside we saw from the train was beautiful, with an almost American-like landscape. We also took a trip to the nearby concentration camp, Dachua. It was a bit eerie, feeling like a tourist at a place with such morbid history. Then there was the rainy day we walked around the city, visiting museums and a discount bakery. For dinner, my friends and me ate Leberkase and drank giant glasses of German beer at the Hofbrauhaus. But I’ve got to say, I’d never been particularly proud of being German until I went there. I just wish I could have told you that.

— Kelly Byer

“Your father died this morning.”

The phone call that cold morning in February rocked my world.

It had been a few weeks since I’d last seen Dad. During the drive to Kent he kept his eyes on the road as he grilled me about my classes and reminded me to brainstorm ways to pay for college.

“You’ll be working this summer.”

“At the publishing company,” I replied. The summer after high school I’d lucked into a job at Industrial Publishing Co. in Cleveland, and they’d invited me back. My goal: Get placed with a trade magazine.

“I just want you to love what you’re doing,” Dad said. His job was, simply, a job. Dad climbed poles for Ohio Bell and put in hours of overtime to pay a good portion of my education. My job was to get good grades and contribute a small share each year.

His letter arrived a few days after our chat, and was, like Dad, to the point.

“In the Feb. 8 issue of U.S. News & World Report there is an article on Journalism Major Scholarships ($2,300 worth),” he wrote in his distinctive bold script. “Look it up and see if you’re interested in getting the information.”

The morning I got the news he died, I needed to read the letter again, to be close to Dad.

The tears fell as I opened the letter and read the last line.

“Your father says do it.”

I did, Dad, I did.

— Cheryl Kushner

We drove together into the electric sunset of Las Vegas. I was 10 years old and sandwiched between my father and his father. The three of us sat in the front of a rented brown station wagon that my grandpa got a deal on.

I was never really close to my grandfather. I guess you could say that we never really knew each other, just shared a last name and some DNA.

On this day, however, in bright, neon Las Vegas, riding in the rusty station-wagon, I pulled out a pair of dice from my pocket and gave them to him. They were white with the word “GRANDPA” printed on them, a cheap souvenir from a crummy gift shop.

I remember him taking them from me and giving them a squeeze. He held them as if I’d given him something really special.

He put the dice on a shelf in his kitchen. I looked at them every time I went to his house while we tried to think of something to talk about. We were two men separated by a few decades and a lack of common interest, held together by a pair of cheap plastic dice.

When I was 13, my grandpa died. The day he died,

I didn’t think of his heart being too weak to keep pumping. I didn’t think of a burial. I didn’t think of his phone number belonging to someone else. I thought about that drive through Las Vegas.

I thought about the dice.

— Bobby Makar

It was three weeks before my wife and I were set to get married when my grandfather passed away. Just the day before he had called his baby sister to wish her a happy eighty-fifth birthday.

He was a kind man – quite possibly the most well liked person I have ever been fortunate to know. He never showed dislike for a soul and never burdened anyone with his pain and suffering.

It was March 10 when I heard the news. It was morning. My mother called, and could tell something was wrong by the tone of her speech.

“Grandpa died in his sleep early this morning,” said my mother as she began to cry. I cried, too.

I remembered things I hadn’t thought about for a long time. Peeling lima beans in my grandparent’s basement. Fishing in Mohican River near Loudonville.

Picking fresh tomatoes from the garden.

Then, I thought of what really mattered. My grandpa died in his sleep. If he was in pain he never showed it. He was happy and he died happy.

In honor of my grandfather, we placed a photo of him on the back of our wedding programs. Grandpa had made it to the wedding after all.

— Aaron Fowler

God, sometimes I can’t remember his last name. Morrison. Brent Morrison. He was someone I barely knew. He played bass in Therapists (no “the” so it’s a play on “the rapists”), one of the three other punk bands my old band always played with. There was a summer, back when I was 14 or 15, where it seemed like every weekend the same four bands played in a new order at one of two or three rotating venues. After that summer, things just changed.

A lot of these kids became people whose phone numbers I never got and full names I never knew. And when we parted ways, it was always strange to run into one of them.

Brent was just hanging out, I guess. He didn’t go to school or anything. The last time I saw him alive he was skateboarding outside my high school, his Mohawk at an all-time high, standing near a foot. He hurt himself somehow and got addicted to painkillers. At least, that’s what I heard.

I still don’t really know the circumstances, but at the time I thought I should go to the calling hours. He was 19. His body had this artificial creepiness. It didn’t seem like him. It was like seeing an artificial imitation. Because I know how he looked when he was alive, and it wasn’t like that. It was terrifying. I was 16, and he was dead. He was my friend. I was 16 and tough and punk and all this shit, and I wouldn’t cry. But I think I wanted to. One kid, I’ll never remember who, held in tough guy tears as he held two girls and said what a great place calling hours were to pick up girls. They wanted to laugh, but they just choked on tears.

People really cried. I didn’t say much until a friend and I went to a favorite spot in Crandall Park to smoke cigarettes, beyond a ridge and down a slope so you couldn’t be seen from the street. And there, we talked about death. Not abstract. Real death. Not faint memory death. Not old-person-I-never-met death. Real death.

From that point, death had a face for me. It was not abstract. And ignoring it became that much harder.

— Nick Baker

I met him in my grade eighth math class. I thought he was weird. But he and I both happened to be in choir together, and we soon became friends.

Later that year, we were in the Wizard of Oz together. He played my father and we sang a duet: The Merry Old Land of Oz. Even today, I think of him when I hear that song.

He died on Halloween. I thought it was a joke. Topher was always playing tricks. Maybe this time it had gone too far.

In chapel, everyone was speechless and in tears. Father Bob, our preacher, said a prayer, and we sang Amazing Grace. I couldn’t even get through the first verse.

Topher was only 15 when he died in his sleep. He’d had a seizure. The week after his death was a blur. I remember sitting in the basement with one of my best friends and my boyfriend. We were all in shock. I barely remember the wake. All I can recall is seeing him. But it wasn’t him. It was some sort of waxy replica of him. No color, no joy, just nothing.

His parents asked the choir to sing at his funeral. I told myself I wouldn’t cry because I had already cried too much that week. Besides, I knew Topher wouldn’t be happy if everyone was crying for his sake. I pictured him bursting into the chapel and doing everything he could possibly do to get laughter out of the crowd. I made it through the funeral dry.

— Allison Smith