Thursday, September 04, 2003

Diane

This is a story I have never written down. I find that hard to believe, since it happened six and a half years ago, but it makes sense, really. At first I was too stunned, and anyway, the only people I could bear to talk to knew already. When it happened, I disappeared from my online groups for six months or more. I just couldn’t talk about it, and I couldn’t think of anything else.

So. Here is Diane’s story.

She was born when her parents were still children -- Lisa 16, Mike 18. They managed to stay married for seven years, which was some kind of miracle, and they were both good loving parents to Diane and her younger sister Christy, born two years later.

It was obvious from the beginning that both girls were going to be gorgeous. They inherited their father’s height and build -- tall, slender, athletic. Like Lisa and Mike, they were blue-eyed blondes. And smart, independent, funny, talented -- oh God, so much going for them both.

I was only 14 when Diane was born, and she was like another sister. We were always close, and as she and Christine grew up I provided them with books, friendship, auntly advice. And occasional adventures. My husband and I took Diane to New York City once, and she was enthralled at the Museum of Natural History. She could be just as excited by little things -- like the ten-cent green-haired troll doll she got at a yard sale that weekend.

Imagine this girl with blonde hair flying, long coltish legs, wildly enthusiastic and energetic. She read all the time. She wrote reams. She drew hilarious cartoons. She played killer basketball. She thought Brooks Robinson was the greatest third baseman who ever lived. (I still think it was Mike Schmidt.) Serious Orioles fan. Devout Christian, with a wicked sense of humor and a passion for social justice. Very intense feminist. Vigorous, argumentative, prepared to debate you right down the line on anything she cared passionately about -- and she either cared passionately or not at all. She also sang extraordinarily well; she made it from county chorus to local, regional, even state. Dreamy, impractical, sloppy, loving, and very very bright.

She had severe, almost uncontrollable asthma from the time she was small. Over and over we thought we would lose her -- trips to the ER happened all too often. Like the rest of the family, she had violent allergies.

All through high school, she didn’t really care to date. When she finally settled down to college, though, she met someone wonderful: Chris. Not to be confused with her sister Christy, this was a male Chris: dark, burly, bearded. He was a musician in a rock band and a student at seminary, studying to be a Methodist minister. They got engaged at Thanksgiving of 1996.

Our last pictures of her were taken when she was getting her wedding dress fitted.

I don’t want to bring all the other factors in here, but late January and early February of 1997 were a difficult and chaotic time. On Saturday morning, February 8, my husband went out to go to Home Depot. I stayed home. When Lisa called, I knew someone had to be dead. I’ve never heard her sound that way -- like a terrified child, barely able to speak the words.

"Is Daddy dead?" He had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was a reasonable thought.

"No -- Diane."

She was killed driving in to work on a Saturday morning. The rescue squad was called right away, but they took an hour and a half to cut her out of the car. By then she couldn’t even be an organ donor -- except her corneas. One of the EMTs stole her engagement ring, a family heirloom.

It was icy, and she was a truly lousy driver, but that wasn’t the problem, apparently. Later I walked the accident site, tracing the deep ruts in the wet grass where her car had left the road, gone down the bank, and stopped at a telephone pole. They were absolutely straight. The investigators said she had never swerved nor touched the brakes. In all probability she had fainted or died at the wheel before she hit the phone pole. An aneurysm, maybe; they run in the family. Also, she had fainted a couple of days before, changed some asthma medications. . . . who knows? But still. But still.

She was 22, almost 23. She was buried in what would have been her wedding dress. Her fiancé preached the funeral sermon. Her uncles and a few friends carried her pine coffin out of the church and up the hill to the grave under the oak tree.

Time passes. My father did die of his cancer, after nearly two years of slow, agonized, clawing-at-the-edge struggle for life. Diane’s fiancĂ© met and married someone else; they have a child now. Her sister refused to have a formal wedding, but she got married and had a baby. I divorced my husband and moved to California. Diane’s death was one factor in that. He did not, could not respond to my grief. I needed him desperately and he could not give me support.

I still dream of her. Sometimes she says wise things to me in my sleep. Once she gave me a turtle as a new totem animal. It was very useful -- helped me get through the end of my marriage and the move out here.

The nights when Lisa dreams Diane is alive are the only times she feels like life is normal. Then she wakes up and grieves afresh. She lives a happy life, works hard, enjoys herself, but the grief is always running in the background. You never get over it. None of us will ever get over it.

I can’t go into all the Diane stories, the things she said or did, her irrepressible humor, her occasional outrageousness. I loved her like my own daughter. I miss her always.

2 comments:

Tash said...

Lynn, I'm so terribly sorry to read of Diane's death. I am only now able to be rather unselfish in my grief and see how much the death of my daughter has impacted other family members and friends. Sometimes this "unselfishness" leads to results I'd rather not know about (family members already glossing over the fact that another niece/cousin/granddaughter should be present now), but more often than not, I'm touched by the awareness and closeness others feel to my tragedy and to Maddy herself. You speak as though you were a mother of sorts, and to both of you, it appears you were. I'm also struck by your line that "she couldn't even be an organ donor" -- there's a sense that you don't want her death itself to be a waste, and I *totally* understand that. I wish you, and Diane, peace.

orodemniades said...

Oh Lynn, I'm so sorry for your loss.