It’s been 6 weeks since you died. In any other matter, this amount of time seems extensive. When applied to your death, this feels abrupt. The pain of your absence is still so raw, like an open wound that aches at the touch and won’t stop bleeding no matter how much pressure is applied. It doesn’t help I can’t stop picking off any scab that tries to form. A disgusting habit, I know.

It’s been 6 weeks and we still don’t know your official cause of death. The death certificate that serves as a bookmark in my “A Time to Grieve” pamphlet on the bedside table reads “pending”. How can someone so healthy and full of life just randomly drop dead? How can an autopsy take so long to be finalized? Dad and I are still in agony trying to make sense of why it was you who had to leave us. I’m sure everyone you loved feels the same way too. This pending news give us something to hold onto but at the end of the day we simply just want to know how to try and make sense of why

I’ve heard the story multiple times. First, the version the police officers told Dad the night they tracked him down from an un-cashed check in your wallet. I bet this was your Christmas present; Dad has such a way with thoughtful gifts. I heard the opinion of Dr. Kassir the morning of the 31st when Dad demanded I still go see him about a bleeding mole despite the horrible night we’d had just the night before. This exchange was actually comical. You would have thought so too. Dr. Kassir was caught off guard by the sight of Mom and Dad in the same room. Once he realized we were all crying, he wasn’t sure how to handle us. I laughed through tears at his discomfort. I heard Nicky retell the story of your time together starting with you arriving in Houston all the way up to the time he had to pack up your bag and drive your car back to Dallas. This account is the one that plays in my head most often. I love knowing your last hours were spent eating steak, drinking heavily yet responsibly, playing air guitar to Ledd Zepplin on raised surfaces, and playing with fireworks because you couldn’t wait one more night until the New Year to set them off. If there was a time and place for you to die, that sure was it. What does Glenn Fry think of you on the air guitar? 

It’s been 6 weeks since you died and I still haven’t had a dream about you. I pray, hard, every night that if God can’t give you back to this earthly realm could he please lend you to my dreams. I close my eyes and you run through my mind. I often picture you two summers ago on our Great American Road Trip. It was the best of times. My plans to visit you in Houston were cancelled, thanks to Hurricane Harvey, and you came to Dallas to see me instead. We knew we had struck gold when we decided we should drive your new car to Mount Rushmore instead of staying in Dallas for the week. High fives until our palms hurt. Laughter despite Dad hissing, “keep it down” while he was on his business call.

You wrote up an itinerary. I decorated it with every marker I could find in the apartment. We took Sprinkles cupcakes over to Carter’s in an effort to convince her to sign the ‘legally binding’ itinerary. We left the following day. I have so many memories from this trip. The general memory that plays in my head of this time is one of you wearing your goofy gas station sunglasses, dip in lip, singing along to the radio while your left hand is out the window.

I rode shotgun the entire trip. You loved giving me a daily award for “worst navigator of the day.” We clapped and cheered enthusiastically when it came time for the daily awards ceremony. “Wow! What an honor. I wish I had prepared a speech.” I have videos of some of these precious moments. In one, you’re singing at an open highway, like an emotional pre-teen, and look directly at the camera while you sing the climax of “The Climb.” It breaks my heart in a good way to watch. In the other video, you’re standing below Mount Rushmore. You strut down to the park’s stage and perform your infamous summersault to an almost-empty crowd. Carter and I erupt in applause just as the video ends. You sent this video to all your loyal snapchat friends. The other tourists thought we were insane. We didn’t care. They judged us. We loved it. That trip was supposed to be The Great American Road Trip: Part 1. Part 2 would come summer 2019 when we set out on the road, again, to conquer the Grand Canyon. You had already purchased the tickets for Havasupai Falls. How can we go without you?

I often picture you strumming a broom and singing to the best of your ability. You always sang loud and proud, like you could actually hold a note. Yeah I know, you totally could. Ha. I often see you wearing a suit in your office and looking at me, disappointedly, through the Facetime camera because my history paper wasn’t up to your standards. I know I know, I use way too many commas and write like a tabloid journalist. Sue me. These memories only play when willingly called upon while I’m awake. Even in my dreams, you refuse to come back to life. I just want to see you alive again, even if it is a pigment of my imagination. I wake up frustrated when I realize another night has gone by without dreaming of you then notice the sun creeping up outside my window. The days won’t stop coming. I wish I could stop time. I wish it was still 2018. I wish Carter was still 27. I wish I could be closer to the time when you were alive because each passing day is another 24 hours I have to go through without you here to brighten my life up. 

I need to know the exact diagnosis of your death to fully wrap my head around the fact that you, my big brother, have died. The one who was supposed to be there through everything has left me in this world. As I search for you in the past, historical stories have provided me concrete grounding to occupy my mind while it’s wired on study meds. For example, I read into the funeral oration Johannes Bugenhagen gave at the funeral for Martin Luther. I found an article on the topic sitting on a library printer and decided it was fate. The article now belonged to me. I owe somebody a couple printer credits, but I’m not sorry.

Bugenhagen’s oration was delivered on behalf of the Reformed Church and proved crucial in defense of the malice that the Catholic Church was trying to spread in the wake of Luther’s death. The way in which one died in this period was extremely important as it was a testimony to the truth and reality of one’s faith or lack thereof. Bugenhagen stated that Luther went to heaven as boldly as Jesus did, as his last moments were filled with prayer, scripture, and the recitation of John 3:16. The oration discusses Luther’s physicality, large appetite, and love of good German beer, which are as much a part of Luther as his theological prowess and powerful preaching. The oration went on to establish a template for those wishing to eulogize Luther as a Protestant hero and to become a significant document to be read by the Reformed Church into modernity.

This information was stimulating to me as I saw parallels between Luther’s legacy and the way we will forever speak of you. Through every bit of networking done since your passing, we’ve painted you as hardworking and dedicated individual you were but still emphasized the goofy, fun-loving, and mischievous aspects that made you whole. This set the precedent for how you’ll be remembered by anyone who was paying attention. I bet you arrived up to Heaven, bold as Hell, looking like an absolute rockstar. I hope you’ll be waiting for me with a “congrats on your release from prison” sign, like the one you made for Carter two summers ago, when I get there too. 

We recently discussed Freud in my Art History class, focusing primarily on his opinions on death in light of the Aids Epidemic. I know right, a very happy lecture to hold on Valentine’s Day. We discussed how when one encounters a traumatic experience we often revisit that experience. I do this, often. I close my eyes and see your blue shoes walking away from me that final time, the look on Dad’s face when he muttered “Ikey Died”, and your cold, vacant body laying in a coffin. It’s a vicious loop that won’t turn off. These visions increase my heart rate more than a Juul rip first thing in the morning. To me, these events bare equal weight in both my past and present. In line with Freudian Theory, I’ve attached my love for you to the items of yours that I claimed as my own. Apparently, these items will lose value over time, as I combat your grief and learn to let you go, but, for now, and for the foreseeable future, they remain my favorite possessions. My class discussed how Freud believes we each have a distinct pressure towards death, one that overrides our instincts to survive, procreate, and satisfy desires. The intensity of his theories seem rash but I sure am far less scared to die because I know you’ll be there to take care of me again once I do. In Freud’s opinion, that the goal of all life is death, you are a huge success. 

Although stories of your death, memories of you, and historical analysis occupies my mind, nothing can mask the absence of you and your cause of death. There is always a subtle longing for you with every new investigation I begin. I need you to be here to give me your opinions. I need you to inspire more research. I need to know how you died. I need to know if you were in more pain than you were letting on. I know your neck bothered you for years but on paper you were the healthiest person I knew. You worked out like most people brush their teeth, like it was something you knew you had to do first thing in the morning and never thought twice about. You ate vegetables (most of the time) and even let me convince you that becoming vegetarian may very well be the best thing for our bodies and the planet. “Maybe, I’ll be vegetarian in 2019,” you said. I wish you got the chance. You never forgot to stop and take care of yourself when it was necessary. You had no shame in staying in because you were tired. You were a genuinely happy person. You powered through hard days and smiled through the bad. I need to know why you died.

I need to know if there was something secretly wrong that went on without symptoms, perhaps something genetic that could deprive me of yet another family member. I can’t lose another family member. Not for a while. Not while we are all still shattered from losing you. I need to know if there was something that could have been done that night to save you. Could someone be to blame? Did someone make a mistake somewhere between Nicky’s ranch and the hospital that ultimately led to your death? I know blaming someone won’t help anything but my mind is tempted with the idea that I could have a place to focus my anger. I need to know if there is anything I could have done to stop this or whether it was a random accident, orchestrated by God, as part to some larger plan. People telling me “only the good die young” simply does not suffice either. I know this people. Give your greeting card condolence a rest. 

I need to know why and how you died but I am also appreciating knowing that we are not done doing things for you quite yet. The pending status on your death certificate reminds me that there are still parts of your puzzle missing. It allows me to hold onto this initial pain a bit longer. It reminds me that I don’t have to get over you just yet because there is impending information that is coming our way. This information is required to really bring a stop to your life. I mean the parts of life that no one ever thinks of when someone dies unless you are the one dealing with it. The little things like draining and closing your bank accounts, cancelling your internet and TV accounts, cancelling various memberships, closing down a life insurance policy, and, the one I dread the most, the cancelling of your phone plan and the reallocation of your phone number. I say this like I am the one dealing with all these painful logistics but you know Dad wouldn’t let anyone else handle the final organization of your life. I am merely the one asking the questions and pushing him forward whenever he wants to slow down. I keep pressing on him, pragmatically, like I know you would do if it were me who died. Sometimes, I wish it was.

When I do hear the news, it will be another set of undeniable emotions but it will also mean that it is time to finally mark your death certificate in my head and in my heart. It will finally be time to calm the storm of confusion in my mind and let the next few stages of grief commence. I still call your phone whenever I need to hear your voice, which is more often than I’d like you to be aware of. I am still in shock that you’re gone. I still have to leave the library in tears because a reading is reminding me of you and it breaks my heart to know that I’ll never again be able to discuss any matter with the poignant intelligence you always brought to the table. I would do anything to hear your answers to my constant questions. What is it like in Heaven? Did you go there immediately or were there some things you had to take care of first? Have you seen our grandparents? Have you talked to the Loncars? Can you see me from up there? Is there any way you could come back? Why are you no longer here to answer me?

Since we are still unaware of your cause of death, your possessions are still being held in Kerrville County as evidence. Your cellphone is turned off somewhere in a plastic bag with your wallet and whatever else you had in your pockets. Probably some dip, a pack of gum, and a lighter, if I had to guess. It feels so wrong to label your personal possessions as evidence of death. They are evidence to a life that was lived, loved, and brutally left behind without any earthly explanation. Yet. Carter and I are anxiously anticipating the return of these items so we can go through your phone and relive the many memories you had documented. I can still hear your voice saying, “haha okay, we’ve got to take a picture,” “Cammi, get this pose,” or, the urgent, “airdrop me that right now. Not in a second. I mean right now.” I need to see your phone background of you, me, and Carter standing patriotically underneath Abraham Lincoln’s head. It’s wrong to think the police labeled Nicky’s ranch a crime scene. Let’s be real, it was always a bit of a crime scene. You would go there, imbibe freely, and cause as much trouble as you could thousands of acres away from anyone who could stop you. I only know this from the hilarious media you curated for the masses while you were there. “Here’s what it would look like if Hawkins and I adopted a baby.” It was a crime scene for rules, the death of expectation, and the end to social restraint. The ranch was never supposed to be a crime scene for a death, especially not yours.

Weeks ago over dinner, Alyson told me that when someone dies bits of their soul go to those who are missing them. She said that you were with me and would remain with me through the hardest parts of grief, holding me from a million realms away and making sure I was okay. She knows this because apparently that is what happened when she lost her mom. One morning, she woke up and knew her mom had gone on to a place galaxies away. At this point, Alyson was ready to go on without her. She had gotten over the shock of grief, the pain in the months to follow, and had accepted the fact that there was nothing she could do to change the past. She knew her mom had gone to live fully in Heaven and would always be taking care of her but now it would be from a much further distance. Don’t you dare leave me yet. I am not ready. I am nowhere near ready for you to go on. I still need to think that you are with me, even though I can’t see you like I want to. Please don’t leave me for a long, long while. I love you so much. I miss you so much. I am not ready for you to be any farther away.