I am trying desperately to make sense of this, at least on a cerebral level. This uncle lived over an hour away from us and I did not see a great deal of him. He had a large family with several sons who were close to my age but I do not pretend to have had a deep personal relationship with them. Still, he was my uncle, my mother's older brother. His children are my counsins and I love them.
Before the autopsy report was in, my mother and most of my other family members seemed confident that he did not drown. The pictures showed very little water in the ditch he was found in. He had some health issues. Everyone seemed to assume that he had had a heath attack. Though I did not give voice to my thoughts, something deep within me prepared me for the reality of drowning. I hoped and prayed all day that my feeling was wrong. I know that in the grand scheme of things the "how" of death is quite insignificant. I have not talked to any of his children and I suspect that they probably have not fully processed all that has taken place. I know also, that the circumstances here are dramatically different than in Laynee's case. Yet, at the core of my being is the awareness that to have someone you love experience death by drowning is a really tough one to have to live with.
All of this has triggered a rush of memories, many of which I'd given very little thought to since Laynee's accident. Ironically, though my uncle was not from this area, he died in the same county that Laynee died in. This means that the same coroner performed both autopsies. The 4 conversations that I had with her have played, like a broken record, in my mind all day today. I recall with startling clarity, every word that she spoke to me. The tone of her voice echoes through my mind. She was very kind but in my mind she is akin to the grim reaper. In the hospital, as we were saying our goodbyes to Laynee and feeling as though our hearts were being torn from our chests, a nurse pulled me aside and placed a phone in my hand, telling me I needed to talk to the coroner. The coroner gently told me that she was sending someone to get Laynee, they needed full body xrays and she would perform an autopsy in the morning. The day after, when she called, I stepped outside because our house seemed to be busting at the seams with people. As I stood on our front walk, the coroner spoke these words "Mrs Holmes, this is the Peoria County Coroner, I have completed the autopsy on your daughter and wanted you to know that I have determined the cause of death to be lack of oxygen to the brain. In other words, Jalayne drowned." I remember thinking "how do I respond to this?" and out of habit, I gave her a feeble "Okay, thank you." This news did not come as a surprise to us but those words are hideous words for a mother to hear.
Several weeks later I received a phone call, once again, from the coroner. She informed me that she had requested a coroner's inquest in which a jury would be selected to make the final verdict in regards to Jalayne's death, she told me the date of the inquest and again I thanked her. Finally, on the date of the inquest, about 10 minutes after the time it was scheduled, my phone rang and I answered once again to her voice. I recall my legs trembling and holding onto the wall for support in the kitchen area of my coffee shop as she spoke these words. "Mrs Holmes, the jury has determined the cause of Jalayne's death to be 'accidental death by drowning' Jalayne's case will be closed now. Her death certificate will be sent to you mortician, you can pick it up there." Again I thanked her. She and I had four telephone conversations and the only words she heard me speak were "Okay, thank you." They were words spoken strictly for the sake of courtesy or perhaps only by habit. They were words meant to fill the void left by the knowledge that not a single word was befitting.
I cannot recall if I picked up her death certificate or if my brother in law, who works at the mortuary brought it to me. However, I remember reading it. There was her birthdate, her beautiful name and then like I punch to the midsection the words jumped off the page at me "ACCIDENTAL DEATH BY DROWNING." These words drove me to the floor in agony. I hated these words then and I hate them today. I hated them in reference to my child and I hate them in reference to my uncle. Now, after the events of the past 24 hours, these words pulsate through my head like a mantra.
My heart aches for my cousins and their children as, suddenly and unexpectedly, they bid farewell to their father and grandfather. In the coming days they will share many beautiful memories along with their sorrow. I know without a shadow of doubt that he would say "God is good and God does good...........all the time. I have to chuckle a little thinking that heaven will never be the same now that he is there, the other saints are probably wondering what happened. I smile also at the thought of the reunion there must have been when my grandparents welcomed him. I know that there was ALOT of talking at this reunion. Of course, I cannot think of anyone being in heaven without my Laynee dancing around them. You were and are and will forever be loved, Uncle Donald.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes
and there shall be no more death
neither sorrow, nor crying
neither shall their be anymore pain
for the former things are passed away.