Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Remembering Scottie

My brother and I sat in the backseat of the car as my family headed to Wisconsin for Scottie's wake.  Mom read a few stories she'd written down to be shared at the funeral the next day.  Her voice wavered as she recounted what Scottie meant to her.  Family and friends were asked to contribute their favorite memories but I was at a loss of what to share.  While I dearly loved Scottie, I didn't think people would want to hear my anecdotes about eating more mashed potatoes than he did the past Thanksgiving. 

We arrived at the funeral home too soon for comfort.  Greeted family there for the private viewing.  Stayed on the other side of the room from the casket.  I could not go over there.  If I saw that Scottie was in the casket, it would be real.  He would be really dead. 

My aunt Linda, Scottie's mom, came over and said she had something for me.  She returned with this picture of me and Scottie.  She'd come across it while gathering pictures for the funeral and wanted me to have it.  I'd never seen it before.  We looked like we were having so much fun!  It became something of a shield for me that day.  I could look at the picture and think of happier times. It was reassurance that at one point in our lives, my cousin and I had really known each other, no matter how our lives had diverged since then.
I mingled with different family members, our conversations centering around our shock and sadness.  My cousin Jon arrived, warily eying the casket.  Another aunt asked us if we'd gone over yet and we admitted we hadn't.  She firmly yet gently led Jon and I over to the casket.  Time to rip the band-aid off.  It was Scottie but it wasn't.  I kept expecting him to sit up and laugh.  He would explain it was a big joke and we'd be mad at him but grateful he was alive.  He never sat up though.  I huddled with Jon and Sue, fat tears dripping on to my dress, the carpet, them.  He was really gone.

Again I was surprised by the intensity of my emotions.  While I loved my cousin in the way that one loves all family, we weren't necessarily friends.  Maybe that was part of the reason for my tears.

When I think about Scottie's wake and funeral, I remember how tons and tons of his friends showed up.  He always tended to be quieter at family gatherings but when he did speak up, it was worth hearing.  These friends had seen a different side of Scottie.  They knew his quick wit, his ability to bring people together, and his willingness to let life's troubles slide off his back.  His favorite music played in the background, especially Bob Marley.  Pictures, drawings, and more were scattered about the funeral home. 

I also remember how God was with us during that time.  I don't know what Scottie believed.  My extended family, with a few notable exceptions such as my grandparents, are nominally Catholic.  Did he ever come to faith in Christ?  It may be false hope but I cling to the idea that we don't know what happens in a person's final moments.  Could someone come to faith when they have one foot on earth and one foot in eternity?  I believe so.

A few weeks before Scottie died, Jon's wife Heather had experienced some losses of her own.  She had asked me if there were any books that might be helpful.  Working at a Christian bookstore had the perk of borrowing books so I had started reading a few books on grief and Max Lucado's Traveling Light, which unpacked the 23rd Psalm.  I was about halfway through and already appreciated his insights.

When I read the funeral bulletin, I saw with shock that my aunt and uncle had chosen Psalm 23 for the service.  The verses had even more special meaning to me because of Lucado's book, one of God's tender mercies.  A deacon presided over the service at the funeral home, instead of a traditional Mass.  Pat and his best friend read the stories submitted by friends and family.  My Grandpa took a turn reading something he wrote about Scott. 

There was no graveside service, as Scott was cremated.  We went to the luncheon and then everyone went their separate ways.  Yet, God was with us.  There's no way to explain how He meets us in our time of need.  I can point to the friends who rallied around me, the bright moments of clarity, the realization that the pain was a little less each day.

Sometimes I wondered why Scottie had died and not me.  We were the same age, after all.  What made me more deserving to live?  This was the dark side of grief.  My idea of bargaining.  If I had died, then my family would still be in pain.  There was no getting around it.  I eventually accepted that there would be no answer.

The first few family gatherings after his funeral were strange.  We all expected he would walk in the door.  He'd always, always arrived last.  I finally composed a letter to Scottie and mailed it to my aunt and uncle.  The things I wished I had said to him while he was alive and the lessons he unknowingly taught me.  Adam, Jon, and I all got different tattoos in tribute to Scottie. 

Eight years later, his presence is still missed.  It was heightened when my grandma died three years ago.  The week she was dying I finally asked Pat what it had been like for him to lose his brother.  Even though Pat and I have always been close and even though I'm a hospice and bereavement expert, it's not a topic to bring up lightly.  My family tends not to mention our lost loved ones at the risk of causing each other pain; this is a tendency I have intentionally fought against the past few years.  We miss them, to be sure, but as the years progress, it becomes more internalized than shared.  Pat shared very openly with me.  It prepared us as best as it could to say goodbye to Grandma a few days later.  Scottie was honored during her services.  The urn holding his ashes was placed in her casket and buried with her, at Grandpa's request.  Our family is incomplete from these losses.

What I take from Scottie's life is this.  His girlfriend Char shared that one time she had been arguing with him about something and he wasn't bothered by it.  She finally asked him why he wasn't upset.  He told her, "Because life's not about that."  Five simple words that have stuck with me ever since.  He didn't sweat the small stuff and he tried to enjoy life to the fullest.  I take that message with me, whether I'm working for hospice, in pediatrics, complaining about the weather, or navigating heartbreak. 


  1. Oh, Leigh. This is a beautiful tribute to Scottie, but it also has shown me so much about you. I hate to learn that you've lost so many and even that your family doesn't talk about it. But I love that you are willing to share with us and let us (me) get to know you a bit better. Thank you.

  2. This is a sweet, sad and lovely story - and so familiar to me. I, too, lost a cousin in my 20's and 2 more in my 30's and 40's. None of them were close to me, either geographically or emotionally - but, their deaths have left definite holes in our family fabric. And absolutely hang onto the hope that your cousin said 'yes' to Jesus - thankfully, it's not up to us to decide/guess/know what happens in the last moments of anyone's life. We rely, as for everything else of value in this life, on the grace and wisdom of God alone. Another really good book when dealing with hard stuff is one by Gerald Sittser called: "A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss." In my pastoral life, I've probably given away about 3 dozen copies of that one - definitely helpful. And true.


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