It was an April Tuesday morning in New England when early spring makes everything possible. The phone rang; it was Paul in Miami. Paul was the partner of my brother’s former boyfriend, Russell. My beloved older brother had died in 1990 from AIDS. Paul’s voice suddenly broke down into short sobs, “Karen, Russell’s missing. He left Sunday night and hasn’t come back.” My insides went cold; my voice shrill, “What do you mean he’s missing?”
Paul explained that the previous weekend when they went to Puerto Rico, Russell was obviously self-medicating. Although AIDS-positive for a decade, Russell had been healthy until a few years ago when he developed a genetically predisposed cancer. Each surgery caused painful scar tissue and the doctors were bleak about more surgery. Russell was sick and in far more pain during the last six months than I had realized. That weekend in Puerto Rico Russell wanted to end his life in a beautiful waterfall.
On the return flight, Paul thought he had convinced Russell to see a therapist Monday morning. Sunday evening when Paul went to shower, Russell left. Paul found two notes, and Russell’s wallet without his driver’s license. I knew Russell wasn’t just missing; he wouldn’t play that kind of game; he was gone. But I too wanted to hope like Paul.
Alone in my apartment I cried and paced from room to room. Russell was the most positive and generous human being I knew, sharing his home, humor, and passion for the arts. But sharing his pain was a struggle. Russell was like another older brother. I adored this man as did many, many others. His life was all about friendship and love; if Russell had killed himself and died alone, this would be so tragic and ironic. Maybe at the last moment, he questioned going through with it. Maybe he was sitting someplace right now, thinking it through.
I sat on the couch cross legged and closed my eyes. I opened my heart to Russell to let him know I was thinking of him, that I loved him deeply and wanted him to be safe. I wanted to know where he was.
The quiet and late morning light in the apartment were soothing as I entered a meditative state. A few minutes into it, there was a huge crash down the hall. I jumped up and followed the sound. A large heavy glass jar full of seashells and sea glass I had collected over the years had fallen on the bathroom floor. None had broken. I gathered them up and put them back. There was no explanation for a jar this heavy and in place for so long suddenly moving itself. I understood the message. I wasn’t even sure it was Russell who sent it, but the force behind it was love. Maybe it was my brother… One month later they found Russell’s body in the ocean along the shore.
Once in a dream I was warned of my father’s sickness; as he was dying I heard him say good bye to me although we were miles apart; I saw and felt my mother heal me years after her death. I’ve witnessed an eagle shape shifter. Like the seashell jar, all of these were answers to my questions and longings, surprise gifts sent with compassion. I looked out my apartment window. It was early spring and anything was possible.