On October 31st, 2010, my best friend Jason Ryan Schippers a.k.a. Fish passed away due to surgery complications. It’s been difficult to come to terms with this, but on the 2nd anniversary of the events, I wanted to let my thoughts and emotions out via this blog. Each posting will coincide with an occurrence from that date two years ago. This is not going to be easy to write, post or read. This is my view and emotions from this. I don’t know what this will accomplish, but telling this story is something I feel compelled to do.
Part IV: The Visitation
I worked a half day on Friday, November 5th. I knew that I needed to try and mentally prepare for what I was about to see and face later that evening. I drove home listening to music that no one could imagine speaking to me, Taylor Swift. That was probably the first laugh you’ve had reading this series, but honestly, that album had songs that spoke to me while I was suffering. Between her and Stone Sour, I had a soundtrack of sorts leading me through certain situations. (Coincidentally both Stone Sour and Taylor Swift released albums last week.) Believe me; it’s better than listening to the Murderdolls, which I had been doing non-stop for about two weeks prior. Let’s move on.
I got home and started pacing around my house. I was alone with music playing softly in the background. I didn’t know what to expect. I was about to face a litany of things that I wasn’t sure I could. I was going to confront one of my biggest fears…death. I would have to face Jason’s family, who knew how close we had once been but I treated their son poorly for the last year. I have a ton of love and respect for his parents, Marla and Ralph, and I was worried my presence would be an unwelcome distraction in a situation that was already bad enough. I was also going to stare my biggest regret in the face, and know I could do nothing to fix it. I didn’t know how I would react, physically and emotionally.
|Jamel, Jason and I|
Rachel, Marshall and I headed to the funeral home a little after 4:30 that day. I don’t recall saying much on the way but my pulse was racing as we inched closer. When we parked the car and got out, the first people I saw in the parking lot were Jamel’s parents. It was good to see them and they were happy to meet Marshall. We all walked in together and got into, what had already developed into a huge line. I was blown away by how many people were already there, and would continue to be as more and more arrived. Being in line with a one year old can be a challenge, which only complicates the anxiety that was building up in me. There was a fountain in the lobby area with fish (I noticed that immediately) swimming in. As Marshall noticed this, he ran over to look in. As I followed, I glanced in to the room that was in the distance to see Jason in his casket. I almost ran. I was overcome momentarily by sadness, fear, anxiety and guilt. I turned to Rachel and said, “He’s in there.” I don’t think she, nor anyone else around me, noticed how tumultuous I was inside but I felt like I was about to explode. I handed Marshall off to Rachel and excused myself to the restroom. I just needed a minute to compose myself. It took a little bit but I took some time to breathe, splash water on my face and get composed as best I could. I still had not cried throughout this entire week, fighting it off at every turn but I didn’t know how much longer it would last. When I returned, I noticed some people smiling a bit as they were leaving. Wondering internally about their smile, I looked over to see my son pushing the handicap button on the door to open for people leaving. While so much pain and sorrow was in the air, for just a moment, people were captured by this little boy helping them out. He didn’t realize what he was doing, he’s just having fun and being polite opening a door, but he gave people a moment to smile and exhale. I could not have been more proud of him at that moment.
|Marshall was an angel for me|
As we reached the front of line, my emotions were racing. There was a table with a guestbook, adorned with a classic picture of Jason taken by Rachel. I now have an 8 x 10 of this framed in our house. At the front of the line greeting people before entering the room was Angie and her husband Jon. I was so amazed at how well she was keeping herself together, maybe just numb from hearing the same things over and over or maybe just not allowing everything to fully sink in. I don’t know, but it was amazing. That is, until I walked up there. The moment she saw me, we dove right in to a massive hug while she cried. I withheld tears because I wanted her to be weak, for just a minute, and let out some of what was held in. Seeing her sad, Marshall started to cry to which she smiled a bit and gave him a big hug. We talked briefly before moving into the room where Marla and Ralph were waiting to greet everyone. The room had about 10 rows of chairs that a few small groups had congregated to sharing stories. Next to Ralph was a television scrolling through pictures as music played in the background. Marla could not have been more welcoming to me, which was a worry of mine. I think that despite all Jason and I had been through, she knew the core and root of our friendship. It was pure, genuine and so filled with love that this minor blip would not be the lasting legacy of us. She told me how he always spoke in such regard of me and how he always considered me a friend/brother. It didn’t hit me like it would later, but she was comforting me. Her comfort would also come the next day, which I’ll delve into later, but is one of the most amazing moments I can recall from this entire time. We stood and chatted with them both, introducing Marshall and trying to put on a strong exterior, all while the pain was around us. It was awkward with Marla and Ralph at first, for me. I believed in my heart that I should have been there for him and I wasn’t. I had abandoned him at a time of his life where he probably needed me. I know he had great people around him, but our bond was tight. It was the type of bond where nothing was off limits. I wanted to talk to them, but just never knew what words to say. I almost didn’t feel worthy of the love and support they gave to me. Read that again; the love and support they gave to me. It was just so much for me to take in. We still haven’t talked in depth about everything. I just didn’t know how to say anything. I also didn’t want to burden them with the weight from my shoulders. They were going through enough and I desperately didn’t want to add to it. I know they knew I cared and would do anything to help. It’s just that nothing I can do will ever take away their pain. They deserve to have him here; we all do.
After a few brief minutes with them it was time to give our respects to Jason. I was almost frozen in fear. I am terrified of death, and truth be told, Jason was only the second body I had ever seen. That was the least of my fears, though. I was about to confront the mistakes I had made over the past year, all while reliving the great moments we shared over the years. Rachel held Marshall so I could walk up to Jason alone. I had the eulogy/letter tucked in my pocket, clutching it in my hand as I approached. I started to shake uncontrollably, losing feeling in my legs and almost collapsed right in front of him. I completely broke down the closer I got. Every tear that I had held in up to that point started rushing out of me and, right before collapsing to the ground Jamel’s Mom ran in to hold me up. I don’t know how she got there so fast, maybe she saw me start breaking with every step I inched closer, but she completely held me as I shattered in a rush of emotion I had never felt. I ended up mailing her a thank you card a week after. She held me up in my weakest moment and I could not have been more appreciative of that.
Up to that point I just didn’t believe it. I hadn’t seen him in a year or so. In my mind, he was still in Denver and we just hadn’t talked. He wasn’t really gone. When I saw him lying there, Superman t-shirt and Green Lantern ring on, it all hit me. I would never have the chance to not only make up, but to have any more amazing memories. Marshall would never get the pleasure of knowing Jason, and vice versa. It was just too much at that moment.
After a few moments being held together, I finally regained my strength and stood on my own power. Rachel gave me Marshall while she paid her respects. I will never forget the next few moments I shared with my son. As I held my little buddy, as I call him, he was looking over at Jason. He was only a touch over one so he had no idea what was going on. In an effort to not expose him to this type of sadness at such a young age, we had the following interaction:
“That’s Jason. He’s sleeping.”Marshall, extending his hand and waving said “Night, night.”
It’s a something I couldn’t have anticipated. Marshall, in his infinite sweetness just gave me the most touching yet heartbreaking moment of my life. In a total moment of weakness and vulnerability, Marshall saying something so simple helped me. While I will always have a hard time saying goodbye, that moment symbolized the ending of one level of my friendship with Jason and opened up a new one. I knew, deep inside, that a change was occurring within me. It kicked off a lot of introspection and soul searching, things that I really needed at that time. Together, Jason and Marshall gave me the power to change for the better.
|Jason and a great group of guys|
I stood outside the room, always within eyesight of Jason, and talked with friends. I got the feeling that the eulogy/letter needed to be given to Jason. I didn’t know the etiquette of putting something in a casket, so I just held on to it alone. Rachel, allowing me to do whatever I felt I needed to do, tended to Marshall. I decided that I needed to find Erika, Jason’s new girlfriend, who I had been e-mailing on Facebook. She had been so warm and helpful during a time of mass sadness and confusion. The moment I introduced myself she gave me a huge hug and we started talking like we had known each other for years. In that brief moment, I could see how great her and Jason were together. We went up to him together while talking about anything that came to mind. She helped me with the letter and then we parted for a bit. Despite my fear of death, I sat at the very front of the funeral home as close to Jason as I could. I just couldn’t pull myself away from him. I wanted to be in his presence, knowing I didn’t want him to be gone.
By this time the visitation had ended and people were just standing around talking. There was a group of friends heading to get some dinner downtown. Rachel decided to take Marshall home so that I could spend time with my friends, which I completely appreciated. She really supported me in every way during this. Believe me, I wasn’t the most open about everything and she probably was confused some days, but never did she lash out. I think she always understood I had a lot of things to deal with. It’s one of the reasons I love her more each day; she knows how to deal with my unpredictable ways and moods and that’s not easy.
I went out to dinner with a large group and just enjoyed the company, all of whom were sharing great Jason stories. I didn’t talk much, more enjoying the happiness he brought others but also beating myself up internally. I had a difficult time balancing everything in my head, the good and the bad. I was focusing on the negative far more than the positive at this point. I got a ride from my friend Dickey, who is really similar to me in that we don’t talk about our feelings much. The funny thing is, the more him and I drink, the more we’re open to stuff like that. We’ve had some really deep talks, but after many a drink had been consumed. Guys just aren’t good with feelings and emotions. He dropped me off at home and as he drove away, I went inside and sat on the stairs. I knew that this day was the worst I had ever had in my life. I didn’t know what tomorrow held, but I knew the funeral would be brutal. I walked upstairs and watched Marshall sleep for a time. I needed his positive sweetness at that moment or I would have lost it again.