Tuesday, August 14th
Jason called at 1:30am. He saw police cars. Greg went outside. A shooting. Later, the news said a teenager had been shot.
7:30am- Dave called. Jane Bass died. Cathy was headed to Hospice.
I hopped in the shower and headed to hospice care. Greg was taking boys to the babysitter and then going to work.
When I arrived, Cathy met me at the break room. We walked together into Jane’s room. A candle was lit outside. Music was playing. I hugged Jon’s neck and walked toward the bed where Jane’s body lay. I don’t think I have ever seen a dead body before it went to the mortician. I thought I’d be scared. I got closer and worried I’d show my fear on my face. Jon touched the body. Cathy kissed her. I couldn’t. I couldn’t touch her. I wanted to. I wanted to touch her because I thought it might be a healing experience for the family. I wanted not to be scared and creeped out. But I was. I’m ashamed of that.
I reached out and placed my hand beside her, on the bed, and said, “We loved you very much, Jane.” What I really meant to say was, “I loved you very much, Jane.” And I did. Jane was just what I needed at the right time. She was blunt and honest, but caring and compassionate. She was spunky and tacky and funny…sometimes not meaning to be. And I liked it. I liked her. I liked how she made me feel loved. I like how she listened and chewed on what I was saying . She let me know that she took seriously what I had to say. I loved that she came to my craft sale and bought some earrings…and those things were so tacky! God love her!
Then, Cathy and I chatted in the room while we waited for the funeral home to get there. She retold some of the stories of their time at the Hospice house. DJ came in and was happy to see me. I was wishing we’d seen each other at a different time. It felt awkward to have a happy reunion in the middle of a death bed scene. At some point, both Cathy and DJ left the room. For that split second of time when I was by myself with Jane, I wanted to go over and say something to her, but didn’t want to at the same time. I was worried I might get too upset and was a little afraid. So, from where I was seated, I looked over at her and whispered, “thank you.” I got choked up with just that little whisper and had to reign myself in. I wanted to tell her that she reminded me of my own grandmother and that I loved that. I loved that she had little to no pretention about her. I loved that she spoke her mind. I loved that she sometimes made people feel uncomfortable because she was so brash. I loved that she hugged me and gave me kisses on the cheek. I loved that she welcomed me in and acted like she wanted me to be there. But, I didn’t say any of these things because…well, I’m not sure why….maybe it is because she wasn’t there to hear them. Maybe it is because I didn’t want to get wrapped up in my own emotions. Maybe it is because I should have said it when she was alive.
The processional that Hospice does in order to move the body to the funeral home is very meaningful. They asked us to leave the room and they moved her body to a stretcher and but her in a body bag. They allowed her face to still show. Then, they came and got us and led us all down the hall. All the staff people were in the hall, standing silently. DJ gave the prayer shawl to Cathy and the “herb of remembrance”, rosemary, to Jon. He said a prayer and we walked the rest of the way with Jane’s body to the vehicle. Music was playing in the hallway.
And then, we went back and got the rest of our things and left. I was in the car getting ready to leave the Hospice house when I called Greg.
I knew Greg was going to tell me who was shot. I’d sort of prepared a list of people who might have been the victim. I was ready, or so I thought. Greg said I needed to stop the car. I did. He said the person who got shot was Khalil and he was dead. I was in a total state of shock. I couldn’t say anything. I hung up the phone and dropped my head on the steering wheel.
This can’t be happening. It just isn’t possible. Khalil isn’t one of the ones who’d be out late at night. He’s not a bad kid. Quite the opposite, in fact. Khalil is a very good kid. He’s happy and playful. He’s compassionate and helpful. He’s friendly and smart. He wanted to go to college. He was getting good grades. He was in our youth group. He took care of me and my boys and all of us. How could this be?
I took a moment and then began to drive home, sobbing the whole way. Groaning in pain. Moaning in agony. What in the deepest hell is going on here? Why was he out at night? Why didn’t we hear the shots? If only I’d heard the shots, I could have been there to hold him, to comfort him. I couldn’t control my own voice. I tears were streaming down and my insides sent growls of anger and pain out that even I didn’t recognize. Oh, I was angry. Why Khalil? What in the world are we doing here if not to save boys like Khalil from dying on our streets? What kind of world do we live in where 13 year olds bleed to death on sidewalk corners? Why does a 16 year old have a gun? Why does anyone have a freakin’ gun!
I drove in the driveway and Greg was on the front porch. I practically crawled out of the car and only made it halfway to the house before stopping. My body shook, my mind turning in circles. What is going on?
Greg met me.
I changed my shoes. We walked up to the corner. Not even 20 steps. Khalil’s blood on the cement. My baby’s blood on the cement. It was true. This is horrible. This is grotesque. This is evil. This is too much.
Shoulders dropped and head hung, we walked in a grey cloud down to Tyler and Felix’ house. We wanted to get to all the youth and talk to them. We gave hugs. We listened to questions. We left. Back at the corner, a large group of family arrived. Flowers marked the grave. A song was sung. Words were spoken. Weeping, wailing.
Neighbors, friends, youth came. We gave hugs. We listened to questions. We cried. Time passed and Khalil was gone.
Myra sobbed. She doubled over in agony. She was so angry and upset. She didn’t want anyone to touch her, but she needed something to hold her in. I pulled her to me. We were hurting, the both of us. She couldn’t stand that his blood was on the sidewalk. Neither could I. I determined I would be the one to wash away the blood.
Bucket, brush, and water in hand. “There is a balm in Gilead…” On hands and knees, I scrubbed the stain from the pavement. “…to heal the sin sick soul…” I felt like one of the women at the tomb. The washing away of the blood felt like a prayer, a release, a commitment,…it felt sacred and pure and holy.
We heated up food and opened up the clubhouse for youth. We put out markers and poster board and a banner and paints. We let them make what they needed to make. We talked and asked questions. We wrote our thoughts. We hung our thoughts on the fence. Others came and added to our creations.
Folks from outside the neighborhood called and came by. They helped take care of children, make food, and stood present with us.
With the youth’s ideas, we organized a vigil. 300 or more came. We listened as folks shared and remembered. We released our prayers into the sky with balloons. I felt like I was being released from Khalil. It was a relief. I had felt like he’d been on my back all day…following me…talking to me…bothering me with his silly annoyances. Letting him go was helpful …and sad.
We will continue to walk with neighbors. We will continue to walk with the Schroeder’s and Jane’s family and friends. This week, we walk the life’s journey all the way to the end, at death, where we are reminded of our Maker, redeemer, and Savior who can wash away the horrors and sins of this world.
Lord, give us your grace.