When you lose a loved one unexpectedly, and find yourself in a whole new world, you immediately take on new roles, perhaps even a new identity. Some changes are immediate and obvious, others are transitional, becoming exposed over time. It was one of my brother’s best friends, Dave, who called me on the evening of October 4th to tell me Bob was gone. A frightening phone call to say the least and one I will never forget. I was then the person responsible for calling my parents to tell them their son had died. It was a role no one wants to experience and a role I never thought I’d ever have to assume, obviously. Who wants to call their parents and be the bearer of the absolute worst news of their lives?
In the days following (from what I can remember— because this was a time of overwhelming confusion, absolute denial, and devoid of genuine thoughts) I found myself taking on roles I didn’t want but were absolutely necessary. Decisions had to be made and it was only my dad, my mom, and I to make them. We instantly became a different family. All of a sudden I didn’t have a brother and my parents became parents who had lost a child. My dad realized he had to handle Bob’s finances— bills, mortgages, credit cards, his company obligations (because my brother was a self-employed potter). While at Twiford’s Funeral Home on the Outer Banks, I took on the role of writing my brother’s obituary. How do you summarize someone’s life in a few paragraphs? You can’t. The three of us made the decision for Bob to be cremated which we knew was his wish anyway. We also decided not to see his body at the funeral home. These are decisions you have to make immediately after you find out your loved one has died. Here we were, in another reality, making decisions and talking about things so foreign and absurd. Where are we? What are we doing? Is this even real right now? I then helped my parents contact friends and family and organize memorial plans. Everything happens so quickly you have no time to even think clearly. We were on auto-pilot, on a plane bound for territory unknown, for lack of a better description.
My parents became responsible for selling Bob’s house which was eventually sold after much heartache and turmoil due to a contractor taking advantage of my family during such a fragile time—a disaster too painful to explain right now. Mom and dad also became new parents of my brother’s dog, Kona, a loving, hyper yellow lab mix puppy. I became the owner of most of Bob’s possessions, an experience I will share in another entry.
Family roles have shifted. We've become each other's psychiatrist, listening, understanding, and helping each other along the grief process. It's brought us closer if that was even possible. Another role I’ve taken on is now being the only child. I am the sole caretaker of my parents when they get to that point of not being able to care for themselves. I am the sole inheritor as well. And I instantly became the end of the line for the Hathaway name. It’s a lonely feeling. I wasn’t really thinking to have a child but should I reconsider? If I get married, should I keep my last name? These questions will be answered in due time, I suppose.
For now, just 2 1/2 years after my life was turned upside down, I’m still assuming new roles and learning how to adjust, feeling the weight of uncovered responsibility. Moreover, I realize my entire self has taken on a new identity. It may not be apparent from the outside, but deep in my core everything has drastically changed, every cell in my body has been altered.