…And then there were 10 (revisited)
It was about this time five years ago that my phone rang from my Aunt’s house. Then, it rang again. And again. I knew it could only mean one thing. I excused myself from my desk where I was working at the time. I still remember the next five minutes of my life just as clear now as I did that Monday morning.
What follows is a re-run of a blog that I wrote on another site five years ago. My emotions about what happened were raw.
I lost touch with friends over my reaction to the events of that summer. But, I also gained awareness. I learned of the legacy and love that someone left behind.
Since I wrote this, I learned the autopsy results (which were slightly different from my own suspicions), and another great-grandchild was added to the list. Samantha was born in early 2009. Michael has not remarried. I found out on Saturday he was laid off from the job he’s held for almost a decade. His now 10-year-old son, Zak, unfortunately had to repeat that year of school, understandably, and it took him months to stop calling for his mother at night. His newly-teenaged daughter has had some trouble adjusting to life without her mom, but I’ve also seen her even more attached to her daddy, now.
Mike is the closest I have to a brother. We’re only a few months apart, so I’ve never seen him as a little cousin. He’s just my cousin, disguised as one of my ‘brothers’. Only children sometimes have a tendency to search for a sibling figure. I’m lucky enough to have five of them on my mom’s side of the family. Their children are my nieces and nephews. Their spouses are my in-laws.
I heard accusations of Tammie being selfish, horrible, uncaring, thoughtless, etc. However, I never felt that way about what happened. Tammie told me two years prior that she was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. I understood that her mood swings were uncontrollable. Her depression was unpredictable. I never blamed her for anything that happened due to her BPD.
When she called me a couple months prior to her death and left me a voice mail, I had no idea what was coming. She was looking for someone to talk to. She had been through much that week, but so had I. I was closing on a house, I had bills overdue and my daughter broke her arm the night before we were to move. My own plate was full. I didn’t realize that it would be the last time I would hear her voice. How could I?
Originally written on August 4, 2007
Family is irreplaceable
Growing up, there were six of us grand kids; myself, Eric, Neil, Michael, Tricia and then Joseph ten years later. Neil was the first to marry followed by Eric, Michael, myself and then most recently, Tricia. Joe is too young to marry if you ask me. And so, six became eleven and the eleven of us together have six kids; Vonnie, Lily, Zak, Tommy, Kathryn and Domonic.
It is a gift that we all still talk to each other. Over the past five years or so, it’s been even more frequent. We talk about how lucky we all are to have what we do. We have each others backs in a heartbeat. If one of the six of us need something, another jumps up and does what they can. It’s just how it’s always been. We embrace the rarity of it.
We also have another gift… that of intuition. We all know we have it. Neil just told me last night that he’s just now learning how to use it to his advantage. Myself, I act upon my stronger urges, but the subtle ones I haven’t yet identified as intuition until it’s already too late. Those are more subtle predictions that I have no control over nor yet a way to separate them from everyday mundane thoughts.
Looking back in my blogs from this spring I stated that I had a feeling as to who would leave this world over the summer. I never stated who it was. I didn’t want to make it come true. I suppose you can call me superstitious like that. I thought it would be Mary. Her health hasn’t been perfect and with her strokes, I honestly could see her with us much longer. Naturally, everyone expects it to happen to the older generation first. I was right about one thing from that blog. I would experience at least one death this summer. I was right that it would be a relative. I had hoped that recently learning of Jon’s passing was the last of it. I was wrong.
Back in September, 2005, my cousin Mike and his wife Tammie stayed at our home with their two kids in order to evacuate from Hurricane Rita. Just two days before, I was at my mother’s house making all of her spare beds. My mom thought I was crazy frantically cleaning everything up. “The Hurricane is heading west of Houston. You’re wasting your time”. I told her to trust me “They’re coming..” I said. I went home that night and did the same to my own home. Thirty-six hours later, Rita was fully in the Gulf of Mexico and had turned north. The call came at 7:30 a.m. It was Tammie and she was crying. I told her to come on up. I’d be waiting and that I’d see her as soon as she could get up here. I’d never been so worried about my cousin and his family than during those 36 hours of complete disconnect while they drove here. I held Mike as long as I could when I saw him. The thought of losing him scared the living shit out of me. The aftermath of Katrina was still fresh in our minds and I did not want him (or his family) to be another ‘victim’ of a hurricane.
During their month-long visit to Arkansas, Tammie and I did a lot of talking and got to know each other again. We had several long talks and I told her that so much of what made sense to her and what she’d done in her own life, I’d done myself. I never criticized her for the mistakes she’d made in her life and marriage and I had made similar ones myself. We are all only human and sometimes, we can only learn from our mistakes. It takes a strong person, though, to forgive for them.
When your cousin calls you several times at 8:30 on a Monday morning, you know something is wrong. I was in the middle of a phone call with a customer when the calls came in. I just placed my hand on the phone and looked at my neighbor at work and said “I have to go to Texas now…” I somehow managed to complete my phone call with my customer while barely holding my concentration and called him back. Rusty didn’t answer, but Joe’s friend David gave me news that could have put me on my knees had I not been at work. I fully expected the call to be about Mary.
Tammie Jean Sanders Pitre was dead. At first, I was told it was an overdose. I wasn’t sure exactly what nature it was, but I had to tell what I only knew. I called my mother and made arrangements to take the rest of the day off since there was absolutely no way I was going to hold a conversation of any level with complete strangers.
I later pieced together bits of descriptions of what happened and I believe she died due to internal injuries following a car accident she had on Friday. She wasn’t aware of her injuries until Sunday night as she assumed the cramping she experienced was ‘normal’ considering the time of month.
I had just lost not only a cousin-in-law, but I lost a friend as well as a ‘sister in law’ in my eyes since, after so much loss in my family and such closeness, I’ve come to consider my cousins to be like my siblings. I was an only child and we’ve always fought, spited and cared for each other like siblings. If one needs help, the other five are there one way or another. It’s just the way it’s always been.
I think the part that hurt me the most is the knowledge that Michael was hurting. It was the knowledge that the loss he was feeling was more profound than any I have experienced. There was nothing I could do to help him. I can’t make it go away. He feels the same pain his mother did twelve years ago. His son feels the same loss Joey did. I saw Michael when I got to the funeral home on Wednesday night and again, didn’t want to let go. This was not something that was supposed to happen to my generation yet. Nobody can prepare for something like this. I kissed him on the cheek and said “I love you”. My heart sank when he told me he was glad to see me. It sank even further when reality started hitting.
I never saw Michael cry at any of the funerals we’ve attended. Not his even his father’s (in 1995). I saw he had been crying on Thursday and again, it hurt me. I mouthed “I love you again” and checked one more time to make sure he was OK.
The funeral was a fantastic tribute to her and her interests. The procession consisted of perhaps a hundred Harleys in the lead. In the back of the Limo, Mike sat with my Aunt Mary, their kids sandwiched in the middle. Kathryn, at the age of 3, climbed into the limo before I could stop her, over Mike and over Zak. She must have known something was wrong with Von and so, she reached over and gave her a big toddler hug. Then, she climbed back out and rejoined me alongside the limo.
Pay it forward
Tammie believed in helping people to the best of her own ability. If she saw someone in need, she’d walk on water to help them out. When they were here, we spent out last penny to fill our home with groceries. She knew we had nothing left and replenished our checkbook to get us through the week. She bought us porch chairs. We gave them a safe place to stay. She watched Kaci for a couple of days. We watched theirs while they went home to straighten things out following the storm. We cooked each other dinner and provided each other with company and memories that will be embedded.
Unfortunately, going to Texas this week has cancelled our upcoming trip to Minnesota. For me, family always comes first and always will. We’re sad that we can’t make it, but there’s always next spring.
While on my way to Tammie’s wake, I received a message from a friend of mine in Illinois. The 35W bridge going over the Mississippi had collapsed. That Interstate is a main thoroughfare from the northern to southern suburbs of Minneapolis and it was on our agenda to travel over that bridge multiple times during the trip. I called George and told him. “I think someone is trying to tell us that the Minnesota trip is not a good idea after all”.
Had I not been at Tammie’s funeral, we would have gone up there in a few days. Maybe it’s better that I was in Texas after all.
On my way back to Arkansas yesterday, I was at a park in Center, Tx eating lunch with my mother and daughter. I looked right, towards the parking lot for the Center Library and saw a blue pickup back into a gray Lincoln Towncar. The truck had no intention of stopping. I broke into a run and chased down the truck to get the plate. Luckily, the truck paused at the stop sign and I was able to get a partial ID on the plate.
I went into the library and found the owner of the Lincoln. I explained what I witnessed, wrote down the partial plate, my information and my phone number for the man. I introduced myself to him and that’s when he finally told me his name; Albert W. Sanders.
That was Tammie’s maiden name. I took some photos for Mr. Sanders since I had my camera with me and obtained his email address so that I could send them on to him. Mr Sanders thanked me for my good Samaritan act and wished me a beautiful life.
I got back in the car, looked at my mother and she and I agreed that we would look for the truck since the officer that arrived did not seem interested in Mr. Sanders’ unfortunate afternoon.
I told her to go to WalMart. I had strong feelings this time about going there much like I did when I told George some years ago that I HAD to go to the Mall of America because I just KNEW I’d find Johanna there as she was visiting from Dublin, Ire.
We did two circles around the parking lot at WalMart and gave up. We started to leave and just then, our little hit and run culprit pulled in. We turned the car around and followed it in order to view the plate. Sure enough, the plate number matched what I could remember. I called the Center PD, advised them that I found the woman that hit Mr. Sanders and they said thank you and disconnected. We waited another 10 minutes for the police, and as I suspected, they never showed. I took photos of Ms. H&R’s truck and saved them to send to Mr. Sanders in that email.
I don’t know if Mr. Sanders was related to Tammie, but somehow, in the spirit of her memory, I like to think that he was and that I did someone a small favor in her memory because, if it weren’t for me going to her funeral, I’d be in Minnesota.
It will take months, if not years for me to heal after all I’ve seen, heard, felt and have had to absorb this summer. I predicted that it would be a rough one. I was right. Just as Kathryn will know about her Uncle Jerome, she’ll know who her Aunt Tammie was. So far, I’ve only been able to make her understand that everyone was sad because Aunt Tammie, Vonnie’s mommy wasn’t coming home again. I plan to call Mike and talk to him as much as I can. I want to be there for him… somehow. Even if it’s just a voice.