Military stories from past to present, both wars.

Death Deux

April 8th, 2011 Posted in The SandGram v1.0

My sister’s death was still very fresh in my mind and I was going through the many stages of grief that one experiences in this situation.  My saving grace was that I had my roommate Miller around constantly, another Sig Ep Fraternity brother named Loose and then Parker who I went to high school with, then College and later the Marines.  You can say that I circled the wagons and found solace in their friendship as I tried to push through the pain of my sister’s loss.

 That year I took a job selling spring break packages for some travel company and had earned enough points to pay for not only my spring break package to Key West, but my sister’s as well since UVA had the same time off as James Madison University.  I had already made the decision to skip this trip and was pondering even going back to school.  This was stuff that I really hadn’t discussed with my parents but was weighing heavily on my mind.  

 Miller drove up to our house from Madison to visit me and he talked me into not only coming back to College, but that I should continue on with him and Loose to Key West to get some guy time and take my mind off of things.  With that pep talk, I packed my things and returned to campus thinking it would be ok, I could handle it.  The next couple of weeks before the trip were filled with attempting to get back into the swing of classes which wasn’t easy.  People treated me differently.  There would be the hushed conversations, a finger pointing followed by intense discussions about “That’s the guy whose sister was run over by a train.”  It was difficult trying to blend in and every day I went back to my room, curled up in my bed with intense sobbing as I pondered all the things that had happened.  There was the guilt that perhaps God had heard me say “I don’t know what I would do if she died” maybe he decided to test me, so I continually pondered “what could I have done differently to prevent her death?” 

 These things went through my mind on a daily basis.  A week after my sister died, a member of Sig Ep, a fraternity next door to my sister’s Sorority house at UVA was drunk and while attempting to get into his locked room, he climbed out onto the ledge of the room next door to slide over to his unlocked window.  There was ice on the ledge, he slipped and fell to his death in the ally way below.  The proponents of making college a dry campus had a field day with this and used these two drinking related deaths as proof that alcohol should be banned from college life.  They tried to get my parents involved in a campaign to ban drinking but my parents understood that it was part of growing up in college did not take part in it. 

 We made the long trek to Key West for Spring break and there were days of mindless beach time and I was always in the company of my two “brothers” who took it upon themselves to lift my spirits.  As hard as they tried, it was difficult to shield me from the topic of conversation when it dealt with my sister’s death. 

 One night, we were at a local bar and these two guys from UVA were sitting next to us.  They were drunk and being a bit too loud as they discussed the possibilities of having a dry campus.  One of them said “Can you believe just because some drunk bitch falls off the JPA bridge, they’re going to tell me that I can’t drink?”

 It was a knife through my heart to hear my sister discussed in those terms and I started to get up to leave.  Miller who was Captain of the Swim team and built like a P90X pro, along with Loose (both Philly boys who could handle themselves very well) turned to these two guys, grabbed the loudmouth and said “Hey dipshit, that girl who fell off the bridge was a friend of mine and her brother is sitting right here, so you will apologize to him right now or I will toss your sorry ass out that window and UVA will lose another student.” 

 He was stumbling over himself to apologize and left in a big hurry.  I couldn’t have dealt with times like that without the support of these two great guys. 

 During the rest of that year I attempted to push her existence back into the recesses of my mind and continue on with my life plans attending the second half of Marine OCS.  Miller, Parker and Loose kept in constant communication with me through the summer and we started up the new school year that fall.

 By senior year, Susan’s death was OBE and wasn’t brought up much which was fine with me.   The topic of “Hey do you have any brothers or sisters” would come up and I had to decide wither or not to mention my sister because that invites the story of her death, so a lot of the time I would just say, “No, just me,  an only child” and the subject would end.

 Loose had graduated already and Miller became my brother over our time as roommates often do.  We did everything together and I never had to apologize if he came into our room with me over a bout of grief, red eyed, sniffling from the gut wrenching sobs into my pillow before he arrived.  He understood having lost his mother to cancer all the feelings I had those dark days.

 I graduated that spring, was commissioned into the Marine Corps as a 2ndLt.  While waiting for my class at The Basic School, my aunt and her soon to be husband invited me to spend some time with them in L.A. in an awesome house on Venice Beach.  I got a job working at a place called Music Plus where you could buy C.D.’s or rent movies.  The manager was a bit of a pill and not well liked by the employee’s but it was something to do.  One night, in the middle of my shift, she called me over to her office. 

“Your AUNT (thinking my young Aunt who was only a few years older than me was really my girlfriend and trying to get me off work) is on the phone, after you talk to her, clock out and go home.”  I answered the phone and Rach says “Come home, I need to see you.”  I’m not really getting it, why would she need me to come home, and then all the emotions start welling up inside of me again.  I asked her what this was about, it was a busy night here and they were short staffed.  She again said “Just come home and I’ll tell you there.”  With that she said goodbye and hung up the phone.

 Now I’m thinking my parents have died, the manager saw my face, the tears in my eyes and understood that this wasn’t a ploy to get out of work.  I demanded that she tell me what Rach had said but she shook her head and said “no, just clock out and go home.”

You could imagine what was going through my head on the ten minute drive home and when I arrived, Rach was waiting for me in the driveway.  She hugged me and said “I have bad news; I don’t know how to tell you this, but your roommate Miller died today.” 

Once again, the shock of losing my closest friend stung me hard; all the old feelings that I had buried began to surface again.  It was a long plane ride home to attend his funeral outside of Philly on the main line by Valley Forge.

 Miller had gotten into a brief altercation with another guy outside of a bar in Philly when he was driving home with Loose.  This guy hit Miller in the head, connecting with his temple and giving him an unknown irreversible brain hemorrhage.  Loose wanted to take him to the ER, Miller convinced him it was a sucker punch and he was alright.  He later died in his sleep.

 Once again, you have another young soul plucked from life too early.  The funeral was widely attended since he was such a great guy and full of life.  They had a local guitarist play “Wish you were here” by Pink Floyd on his twelve string and the words have never had more truth.  “How I wish, how I wish you were here. We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year.” 

 Another coating of Teflon was added to my already broken soul as I mourned the loss of a great friend and true brother.

I started TBS a few weeks later and had to push the death of another friend deep into another locked box in my mind’s eye so that I could concentrate on being a Marine.  I probably wasn’t the greatest of friends with the guys there because I truly felt that maybe I had a jinx and if I got close to anyone, they too would die.  Stupid to think but after having two losses in less than a year and a half, it was definitely on my mind.

 I remember a Mormon buddy talking to me about death one night out in the field on an exercise as I pondered the meaning of God and why he would allow such things to happen.  Bill told me a story that helped a lot and that I could relate to.  He said once there was this pilot flying over the mountains of N.C. in his little Cessna. He was looking down at the winding road below him and saw a little red sports car racing down the hill at a high speed weaving into the oncoming lane of traffic as he took the curves too fast.  On the other side of the hill, there was a family station wagon with a travel camper on the top slowly climbing the hill.  The pilot could tell that in moments there would be a collision and he was right.  The sports car rounded the curve too wide and hit the station wagon head on causing them both to tumble off the side of the mountain.  He screamed and shouted but there was nothing he could do, it happened.  Bill said, “God is like that pilot, he sees what is happening but sometimes is helpless to change the outcome.”  I don’t know why, but that helped me in my search for meaning into my own experiences. 

In retrospect, my parents tried to get me to see a counselor at school but since she had never experienced a personal death, I didn’t think she had the insight to help me.  If you have a certain someone who has experienced what I have, I suggest you find a grief counselor with the background in loss who has also personally dealt with it.  That will really help.

 I know this topic is hard to read or understand and I apologize if this comes off as a “Pity Party” but it’s not.  As I grow older in age and wisdom, I fully recognize the true meaning of life and how short it truly is as more friends die or their children pass on.  I want you to take from this, my limited insight that we must all be aware how fragile life is and not to take for granted our relationships with friends and loved ones.  If you have a brother or sister or crazy Aunt out there, let them know that you love them because you may never get that chance to do it again when they are gone.  Life is too short to be petty.

Semper Fi,


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