The Classroom of Bereavement
I’m in a different sort of classroom this week, the classroom of bereavement. There are no rules here. Anything goes. The student may do pretty much as he or she pleases, so it pleases me to write about my brother’s death, and to try to make some sense out of what appears to have been a completely senseless act.
My sister was the first to break the news to me. She said that her son had received a phone call from one of his cousins, saying that her father was dead; my nephew then passed the news along to his mother. When she told me, I said, “What if it wasn’t J? What if it was some homeless person and J paid the coroner to keep quiet? What if this is all a scam so he can assume a new identity?”
If you knew our brother, you’d know that the scenario I imagined was not at all farfetched. Indeed, when I talked to the deputy coroner this morning, he told me that a number of people had called his office, concerned that J had faked his death.
But as I listened to the deputy coroner’s story unfold, I became more convinced that it was the truth—especially when I heard that J’s body had been positively identified by his ex-wife’s current husband, a law-enforcement officer.
There is so much more that I want to know, so many questions that I’d like to ask my brother: Did you really kill yourself, as the coroner has ruled, or did you underestimate the power of the two drugs you took at the same time, one an anti-depressant, the other an antihistamine? You tried, dramatically and unsuccessfully, to kill yourself on two separate occasions many years ago, once by slitting your wrists, and once by cutting your throat, so why “go gentle into that good night” with a mere overdose of drugs?
My brother will never answer my questions, of course. But as every good teacher knows, asking questions does not necessarily presuppose that there are easy (or any) answers. Teachers pose questions to stimulate thought. In fact, when my students don’t know the answer to a question I’ve asked, I don’t permit them to shrug their shoulders and say, “I don’t know.” Instead, I invite them to probe deeper by saying, “I’m not sure, but I think….”
I’m not sure about so many issues surrounding my brother’s death, but I think that if I keep listening to the Spirit of truth, one day I will see some good come out of this tragedy.