July 1st was our 37th anniversary. On the same day Stephanie, one of my wife's nieces, downed a few pills, slit her wrists, and shuffled off this mortal coil lying on her bed. She was about 40, the oldest child of one of my brothers-in-law.
Her body was discovered by her sixteen-year-old son. He called his dad and asked if he could come live with him. He was pretty sure his mom was dead because there was blood and she wouldn't wake up. He is a disturbed and disturbing child, but that's another story.
My wife Jo and I went out to dinner that night. What else was there for us to do? We celebrated our relationship, which is ongoing and strong. We celebrated our love. We celebrated our kids. These observances allow us to pause and reflect on the ups and downs of our lives together over a good meal.
The obituary for Stephanie, the now departed niece, was perhaps the briefest such notice I've ever seen. It stated her name, her age, the date of her death, and that services were pending.
I knew little of Stephanie. I had known her since before Jo and I married. But thinking back, I doubt that I had exchanged a hundred words with her in that time — mostly just "Hi. How are ya?" We rarely paused for the answer.
She and her husband had divorced a couple of years before. Her health had been bad, as I now have been informed. She nearly died owing to complications from the birth of her sixteen-year-old. She suffered from lupus. She had a number of bad vertebrae which caused her significant pain. She had suffered at least three strokes. She had recently been informed of a spot on a breast. Shortly after her divorce she took to drinking heavily. She had a continually stormy relationship with her father. She was, in a word, depressed. She was in a downward spiral into a black hole. Given all that, her opting out seems almost inevitable.
Some are angry with her for committing the deed in such a way that it was almost certain that her son would be the one to discover her. That was unfortunate. Perhaps the "hole" was so black and so deep that she couldn't see beyond it.
Fingers are now being pointed and recriminations tossed back and forth among her father, her mother (the two divorced several years ago), her ex, her siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. The bottom line is that everyone missed the signs, whatever they may have been. She tumbled away between the cracks.
What did her life count for? Consider the ongoing 24/7 coverage of Michael Jackson's death. Weigh the two. It's strange, isn't it, that two people, both born in Indiana, about a decade apart, could have such disparate lives. Jackson's life and death will continue to be scrutinized for weeks to come. Stephanie got a line in the obit section. I suppose one could note that millions of people have lived and died without even that.
Stephanie will receive the standard treatment: visitation Sunday evening at a well-appointed neighborhood funeral home, a Catholic mass, and burial amongst others in the family who have gone before. The family and her smattering of friends will take note of her loss. Prayers will be uttered. Some tears will be shed. That is in the end more than many will ever get.
My wife and I are now working on our 38th year together.
Stephanie lived. Now she is gone.