A couple of weeks ago, my twenty-nine year-old sister-in-law died in her sleep. My brother-in-law and their nine year-old son were home at the time, playing video games and napping in the living room. After checking on her for the third time since going to bed the night before, my brother-in-law found her not breathing and attempted to perform life-saving measures with emergency responders on the phone, but were ultimately unsuccessful. When the paramedics arrived she had been gone much too long, and the only thing they could do was take her body to the medical examiner. An official of some sort took my brother-in-law outside, away from her body, and questioned him for two hours to eliminate the possibility of foul play.
A crisis worker arrived and encouraged my brother-in-law to call her family. After many attempts to different members he left a voicemail for her grandmother and received a call back a short while later. The news quickly spread through her family after that with the grandmother doing the calling. After repeated encouragement from the crisis worker, my brother-in-law finally called his own sister, my wife Becky. At this point, I believe just three hours had passed since she was found.
We were sitting at home; me finishing up a raid in World of Warcraft, Becky watching TV. As soon as she got the call, we dropped everything and rushed over to my brother-in-law's house. When we got there, my sister-in-law's mother and grandmother were there, along with an aunt and a few other people I wasn't sure about. Someone had taken their son out to Taco Bell for lunch, away from all the crying and distraught people.
To say I didn't know what to do or say would be an understatement (I imagine my brother-in-law felt this multiplied by many thousands). I was at a complete loss for words and actions so I just stood there while Becky hugged and cried with various people. I've never seen my brother-in-law cry (no one has, really) and I've never been at ground zero immediately after someone died. We tried to broach the subject of how events had played out as delicately as possible, eventually putting the whole picture together as we stood around and talked. No one felt like sitting down for hours.
Eventually their son returned from Taco Bell, where his aunt had told him his mother died. He's always been really young for his age, and it obviously hadn't hit him at all. He was really happy to see us when he came in and laughed at everyone crying. He continually asked why everyone was sad, and pointed out how puffy and red their faces was. I don't blame him in the slightest, but it was really hard and awkward, bordering on offensive at points. I mostly felt terribly bad for him, especially considering how many people told him his mom was a spirit now, or an angel, or asked him if he knew how to pray to god for comfort. His mother was an atheist, and he was not raised being familiar or comfortable with these ideas. The poor kid was so confused by so many people and their religious beliefs that just sounded like fantasy to his mind. I just wished people didn't press their beliefs on him, and I mean no offense by that.
We ended up staying extremely late that night with more of my in-laws coming over. Both Becky and I called in and got work off the next day. We took my brother-in-law's son home with us for the next two nights to give him a chance to wrestle with everything he was dealing with. I can't comprehend or even imagine what he is still going through. We returned the next three days and I spent many many hours at his house, talking, sitting in silence, or playing video games to pass the time. We've never been close, but in that environment, under those circumstances it didn't matter. I was surprised and gratified that he trusted me enough to tell me some of the very difficult and personal things he was feeling.
We attended an initial planning meeting the very next day regarding the funeral so my brother-in-law wouldn't have to be there alone, and while not much was completed at that particular time, it was important. Becky volunteered to create a slideshow for the viewing and wake, paired with some music my sister-in-law liked. It was interesting and desperately sad to watch her family try to figure out what their daughter/niece would have wanted out of a funeral, seeing as she'd never planned for it.
Through those first couple of days, I never felt the urge to cry, though I definitely empathized and shared the feelings of sadness and shock. I might have returned to work too soon, but on the Wednesday after, alone in the office, I inexplicably found myself crying. I had to tell my boss's wife I needed a break and fled to my car outside. I suppose it was the stress of being away from home for so many days coupled with being surrounded by grieving people and feeling some financial strain, but my body physically demanded that I cry at least once. I went back inside after 15 minutes and felt a little better.
The funeral itself was small, but nice, just a viewing prior to cremation. People talked and laughed when they weren't crying, and there weren't any hymns or prayers, which I appreciated (though a few songs were played on a cheap boombox that I might have vetoed had I been in the position). The wake was the next day and we ate food and people drank. It was a nice send-off, in my opinion.
Though she wasn't in my immediate family/social circle, my sister-in-law is the closest death I've yet experienced, even more so than my grandparents and various uncles, who I consider partially estranged. I've chatted with her socially many times over the years, been to family dinners with her, and she even came to multiple shows when I was in my band (something my own immediate family never even did with the exception of one brother). She bought merch afterward for goodness sake. I can't overemphasize how important that was to me.
Needless to say, my brain case has been full the last couple of weeks. Thoughts about death and life, unexpected accidents or tragedies, that sort of thing. I've felt scared by the suddenness and how it could happen to me or Becky, but grateful it hasn't. Focus on work or writing has been hard, and World of Warcraft has provided something I can fall into and forget everything for a time. Things are still uncertain with their son, and my brother-in-law probably feels like it barely happened no matter how much time passes. It's hard having someone young die so suddenly, cliche as it sounds to say it.
I have no grand thoughts about it, just a lot of questions and stupid feels that won't go away.