After I’d hung up with Justin, Don and I couldn’t get to the house fast enough. I don’t know what the urgency was about. If she’d been in a coma or had a concussion and there were still options… but there was nothing. I guess I felt like I had to rush because I was afraid everyone else was going to fall apart. I was scared I was going to fall apart. I spent the drive over holding my stomach and keeping my head out the window. I was sure I was going to be physically sick. My thoughts were scattered. Not chaotic but with lots of space in between. Everything had slowed way down. I was observing everything around me, using all of my senses. Bumper stickers, license plates, buildings, traffic lights, empty fields… how long has all of this been here? “Honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to meet him” what? Oh, I get it. Why aren’t we there yet? Why don’t people move?
When we pulled into the drive, I sat in the passenger seat with my feet out on the concrete. I took a couple of deep breaths before going inside. The first person to greet me was Enid, a close friend of the family and mother to Natalie’s bff, Jessica. She hugged me, hard.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Who found her?”
“Jessica” she told me.
She’d gone over Thursday morning and thought Natalie was sleeping. Until she tried to shake her. She was cold to the touch and turning purple at the fingertips.
“She called me because she didn’t know what to do, I told her to call the police.”
“Drugs then?” I’m not sure why I asked. Hope maybe. Hope that is was anything other than an overdose.
The dining room was full of people and more were on the way.
I hadn’t cried at this point. I was too angry.
“Where is she?” I asked.
“Still at her place, I think. The medical examiner is there and he’s looking things over” someone said.
“I want to see her.”
A couple of minutes later, Jessica called to tell us the police and ME asked for us to come down. They needed to ask us some questions about her history and I wanted to see her before they took her away.
There seemed to be a mix of preferences when it came to seeing Natalie. I had to, Justin couldn’t. Once we got to the apartment complex Downtown, we had to wait. And wait. And wait.
During that time, we talked about the pros and cons of seeing her. A lot of people felt it was a bad idea. “You don’t want to remember her like that”.
When the ME came back, he got some background information and answered our questions. We asked about seeing her and he advised against it. My mom wanted to see her too but it wasn’t up to him, it was up to the police, who were doing their own investigation. After checking with the police, it was decided that only my parents were allowed in.
That’s when I started to break down. I’d wanted to ask them to take a picture of her for me but I knew it would sound (probably) more than a little odd and potentially upsetting so I stayed silent.
It wasn’t until today that I realized how bad I wanted to see her, on Thursday, in her apartment. Before they dissected her, filled her full of formaldehyde and buried her under a ton of makeup. Sometime later Thursday night I called my mom. “Were her eyes open or closed?”
“Closed” she said.
“Did it look like she was sleeping?”
“Yeah, kind of. She looked peaceful. No sign of a struggle, just like she leaned back and floated away.”
That’s how I wanted to see her. I’m confused because Jessica says she is haunted by the image, seeing her like that… maybe it was the unexpectedness of it all. Maybe it was because the ME covered her with a blanket before my parents got upstairs. I don’t know.
Sunday night I found out we could see her Monday. For whatever reason, the funeral home doesn’t do the hair and makeup at the same place as the service is held… (I’m sure it makes sense to someone) but there was talk about me going to sit with her as they did her makeup, to help them get her look right. So, I drove to Minneapolis. I did so gladly. I volunteered. I don’t know why I had the desire so strongly to see her as soon as I could. I’m sure three hours didn’t change anything, except I wanted to spend time alone with her. Shar came with me and it was perfect. She stood close enough to me that I knew she was there yet far enough to where I didn’t feel crowded or any kind of intrusion.
I was scared to go up to the casket. I almost walked into the room but backed off at the last second. Even seeing the casket, open was too much. I started to cry but quickly collected myself and went into the room. The thudding got louder in my ears as I got closer to my sister. When I was standing right next to her, I looked down and went into shock. She didn’t look bad, per se but she didn’t look like Natalie- at all. She looked like a woman in her mid 50’s. The expression on her face was… not one she ever wore in life and her makeup was much too understated. Natalie was bold & brash. She lived out loud. When she entered a room, everyone knew it. But this… this person I stood above, was not Natalie. I searched her face and found her somewhere along the hairline. I touched her forehead as if I was checking for a fever. Her dress wasn’t right It wasn’t the one we’d picked out… We couldn’t use the dress we picked out because of the autopsy. The incisions would’ve been visible in the other outfit.
“God damn it, Natalie. Fuck you. Fuck you for making us see you like this!”
I wanted to tell the funeral director to put the other dress on her, forget about the autopsy cuts. I think it’s appropriate for her to have a big, ugly, fucking Y on her chest. I’ll even bring a sharpie and add an “wh” to the front of it.
Where were the answers? I mean the answers that made it all make sense… and not for the first time since Thursday, I was jealous. I wanted to just lay back and drift away… I didn’t want to deal with any of this. Why couldn’t she be in a coma? Why couldn’t she have gotten another chance? How come she gets off so easy?
I buried her many times before she died. I’ll have to bury her many more after she’s been cremated. Every birthday, hers and mine. Halloween and Christmas (every holiday but these in particular). Each time someone is telling a story and her name comes up, the smile turning to tears, she’ll go in the ground again. And for that, I am angry.
I lost it at Saver’s yesterday. We had to buy clothes for the funeral. Tayla needed a dress and she wasn’t with us. We picked out three and figured she could choose. After the cashier had if we found everything we were looking for, I asked her about the return policy.
“We do exchanges. Usually I tell people to try on before they buy…”
First of all, thanks for thinking I could even possibly get more than one limb into any of these options and two, are you fuckin kidding me? What I said was:
“Well, my stupid sister killed herself and we have to buy a funeral dress for our 13-year-old who will be spending a good chunk of her birthday in a mortuary.”
She suddenly got real interested in the register, the floor, my husband… but before we left, she told me to have a ‘great rest of my day’. Never have I ever wanted to punch someone more.
Then I remember how much pain she must’ve been in to keep doing this to herself. What was she running from? Why didn’t she tell anyone?
It was heartbreaking to find her list of gratitudes:
- My life
- My health
- My family and friends
Another entry reveals her hopes to start a family of her own and dreams that God had better plans in store for her.
And so, I sign off with something my brother said. In talking about how to deal with people offering their condolences. “Whenever someone says I’m sorry for your loss, I just tell them the same thing. Because they lost her too. She touched so many lives… we’re all grieving.”