by Brittney Powers
Death is something a lot of people don’t like to talk about because of its unknown nature. Death is a final ending, but we don’t get to see the ending; we only assume it. All we know is what we can see, in the present.
The first time I saw a dead body it was my fathers. It was green and stiff. The 911 operator literally screamed at me, “don’t you want to save your dads’ life? “
“don’t you want to save your dads’ life? “
First of all, the operator’s response was far from ok… But I couldn’t touch him. I can’t explain why. As I ran down the street in my socks I just remember thinking I must get to my friend’s house, her mom will save my dad, her mom is a nurse. It was too late.I ran back to the house faster than the ambulance that was coming up the hill. When they came inside I guided them into the kitchen where his body was lying. My mother dragged him down onto the floor. To this day I still do not know how, but she did it. I was screaming and crying the entire time. The paramedics came in and used the defibrillator over and over and over, no response. I was in shock for days.
I remember seeing him in the hospital after they told us he had passed. He was laying on a silver table with a white sheet over him. I couldn’t say anything, and I couldn’t feel anything. It wasn’t until the funeral that my emotions began to surface. I saw so many people there, not only to support our family, but the people who he touched in his life. I only got 14 years with my dad and he has been gone 17 years now. I wouldn’t trade those 14 years for the world. He taught me what love of family meant, what tough love and sacrifice meant. He retired when I was very young but went back to work just so my mom and I could continue my life of dance, theatre, modeling and singing. He loved us so much and showed me the true meaning of sacrifice and what it means to work hard for those you provide for.
When I was 21 and serving in Iraq I read an email that changed my life forever. All it said was “my brother, your lover has passed” Of course he told me what happened but that was all I could see in my head as I read the email in an internet café. This was 2006, long before we had WIFI on our phones. This was the time of my space. I just remember looking down at my M203 (grenade launcher) and thinking Robbie is not dead. He is 21. We just got here. We literally just saw each other a month or so before he was killed by an IED. The entire truck was blown up instantly. The military flew me to California to meet his parents for the first time and be there for the funeral. I can’t even explain how comforting it was to meet his family, sleep in his bed, meet his brother and see where he grew up as a child. He loved me like no one will ever love me. He saw something in me that I still don’t even see in myself. It has been 12 years since his death, but that pain will never ease. I just learn to deal with it and make the best of my experience.
“BEN-GAY CREAM – THIS IS NOT TOOTHPASTE, ICE CREAM – FREEZER, PANTRY ITEM – DO NOT REFRIGERATE.”
Then there was my mother. Her dementia had turned to full blown to Alzheimer’s when my children were just toddlers. But I knew I had to be there for her. It started out with me going to her apartment a few times a week to help her pay her bills, clean her messes and make sure she ate food that wasn’t molded. But it quickly turned into me having to label the products around the house, “BEN-GAY CREAM – THIS IS NOT TOOTHPASTE, ICE CREAM – FREEZER, PANTRY ITEM – DO NOT REFRIGERATE.” The poop that I had to clean off the floor was nothing compared to the look on her face when I had to give her the first shower at my house. She was so humiliated and hurt to watch me have to do that for her. I would tell her over and over that it was okay, and I was happy to help her even if it was hard. That is love. The hardest part was the nursing home. Watching her slowly start to fade away. I will never forget the moment she didn’t know who I was. She recognized me but didn’t know I was her daughter or even my name. I would remind her in a sweet voice and she would smile and say, “I know”. Toward the end of all of this I was going through a divorce. I remember sitting on the edge of her bed at the nursing home and just crying. The memories of my dancing or acting on stage and with her always by my side telling me I was the best. I got used to it, at least she was still there. One day I went to visit her on my own. As I was leaving I leaned in to kiss her goodbye, I had just sung one of her favorite songs and out of nowhere she pulled me close and said, “Just because I can’t remember you doesn’t mean I don’t love you”. My heart sank. From that day forward, I kept singing to her and didn’t leave her side until the day she died.
We think that life will last forever in a sense because time can go by so slow. In reality – time is going by fast. One second you are dealing with learning how to write in cursive and in the blink of an eye you are trying to help your ten your old son how to do his math homework. Math homework, Lord help me. I suffer from major depressive disorder and PTSD, which gives me those days where I can fall deep into dark holes and full-blown depression and sickness. I suffer from an auto immune disease called Crohns; which affects the small intestines in my case but can and will spread throughout the body. Did I mention there was no cure? The only treatment for now is steroids and biologics, which are horrible for you. Steroids can literally put you into a manic state and even give you suicidal thoughts. Great treatment plan huh? No bad vibes to doctors, that is all they(doctors) have to treat the disease for now, but for my it affects my mind as much as my body.
I want you to remember that you aren’t alone. When someone you love dies it is not going to be easy or a fun experience. It will be brutal, hurt and often make you physically sick. The secret to it all is to talk to people about it, write about it, cry about it and above all else FEEL IT. Do not hide behind a bottle or a drug; this will only make you worse off in the long run, trust me I know from experience. You must be willing to accept that there will be stages to death and they aren’t the same for everyone. For me, anger and not accepting the reality of death, took 3 to 5 years to dissipate. Especially my dad, because it was so sudden. I still have dreams about Robbie being alive but it another country, as himself, but living a different life. But watching my mom literally dying in front of my eyes was terrible and tragic. It still gives me nightmares. I am willing to deal with that now after 4 years of being sober, no more hiding behind someone else trying to fix their problems and save them. Now the focus is on myself.
Feel it, breathe in the hurt, the pain and the heart ache.
Feel it, breathe in the hurt, the pain and the heart ache. Time will ease most of it. It won’t ever truly go away as you will always feel the pain. But consider this, without suffering and pain there would be no compassion and empathy. I couldn’t write this or relate with you if I didn’t go through it. Death knocked at my door a lot in my short 33 years. Reach out to people. I swear to you the minute you do someone will. It may not be who you want it to be, but the people that care will ease the pain and remind you that you really aren’t alone. No matter how alone you may feel.
I hope that my stories and words help you and inspire you to stand in your pain and experience the loss of a loved one with strength and dignity. For one day you will be helping someone else with your experience. And as I have said before, the circle of life is stronger than any broken heart. I have my three beautiful children to focus on and carry on my family’s legacy. I let my 9-year-old daughter read the story of Robbie and a few days later I found a note she taped to the scrap book I made for him. She wrote on the note “the story of my one true love”. To her it wasn’t a tragedy. To her she felt as if her mom was lucky to have had someone to love her mom that much.
As you grow you will see and feel signs all the time that they are near and never really left you. Their memory and love will stay in your heart as long as you speak of them and share their stories.
Don’t let the pain overcome you and feel like you can’t keep going. Your pain will turn into a fire and a motivation and story to tell so you can help someone else like I hope I have done in writing this.
Love and light and equality to all- dedicated to Jimmy and Joye Power and Robbie Mariano
Love you so much,