(This is an excerpt from a much longer piece, Fly Away, Fly Away, that I wrote about my brother-in-law’s death in February.)
……Vanessa and Debbie in one vehicle, April and Crystal in another, Carl’s family left Hospice House after 8 p.m. and, despite wind, rain, and threat of tornado, hoped to be at Carl and Debbie’s house in Washington by 9:30. They drove as far as Breeden Road, a few miles south of Bloomington on Highway 45, and were stopped by downed utility poles and lines and tree limbs. So they returned to a friend’s house in Bloomington and spent the night there, then drove home Friday morning in the storm swept freshness of a new day. We wondered if Carl hadn’t been quite ready to let them go back home the night before. If he knew how empty the house would feel without him. If he was playing in those big winds that he’d always loved. You try to make meaning out of every little thing when loss and grief press your hearts to the ground.
March 3, 2014
Yes, I guess Thursday, February 20th, 2014, was, as Carl would say, a phenomenal day to die. And now here I am, with that momentous day behind me: Carl’s fine obituary carefully cut from the paper and tucked away in Bill’s Bible; hours of visitation and hugging family members and old friends adding new images and color to our ongoing family tapestry; the many songs from Carl’s Celebration of Life still playing loops in my mind; the comfort food his home church provided still tasting like kindness in my mouth.
Bill and I have found ourselves in each other’s arms more often than usual this past week, eyes blurred with tears, hearts aching with love and loss. And just like Virginia and Pappy, George, Bob, Clarence, and even little David Lee, Carl will always be in our family circle—he meant too much to too many people to ever be forgotten. I picture him filled with amazement; his ethereal body athletic, strong; his wings big enough, powerful enough, to find his new place in the cosmos. Perhaps he’ll land with the Canada geese on the pond near his and Debbie’s house this summer. Perhaps he’ll tumble and bounce in the trills of Whitney and Luke’s laughter through the days and years to come. Maybe he’ll be the brightest star in the Big Dipper, or the reddest red in the sunrise at Coco Beach where he loved to run and fly kites with his family. As he said, Cancer isn’t a death sentence, it’s a life sentence, and I truly believe Carl Breeden’s life is eternal.
Learning How to Fly—Carl and the Breeden Road Incident
Was Carl playing, dancing in the heavens,
Watching the storm from above, from within?
Did he dip and climb and dip again on the high winds,
Smile to see his family name on the street sign,
Lose control for an instant and
Wreak havoc with utility lines and trees?
He was new at this flying business after all,
It might take him a few hours to get the hang of it—
Directing the power of those unwieldy wings
Was nothing like driving a semi truck.
But if he could drive a semi for lord knows how many years
Without an accident,
Surely he could master this new means of mobilization
Before he barged in where angels had no business treading.
Or perhaps he understood in some godlike way
That Deb wasn’t quite ready to return home without him.
Perhaps he could get her attention at Breeden Road,
Suggest a night of respite—
Away from hospice, away from home.
He hadn’t realized the full potential of his other worldly concern;
Hadn’t meant to twist those poles, snap that wire, break that limb.
He couldn’t get as close to Deb as he wanted to
And yet he could feel her love so strong
That it almost blew his feathers off;
Felt her competence, her woman power
As innate and relentless as the eye of the tornado he was riding.
Joy and enlightenment flooded his being like the raw force
Of that winter storm beneath his broad shouldered wings—
His family was going to be okay.
He let go his need to protect
And got on with the business of learning how to fly.
Glenda for the Poplar Grove Muse