I'll never quite know what it was stirring in him that night. Intuition? A sixth sense, maybe?
I'll never know.
Maybe someone whispered in his ear, "Answer, Derek. Answer."
Because he did.
Completely out of character, in the middle of the night, my husband answered the worst call he would ever receive.
He hurled his chest to his knees in a panic.
I was startled.
My head lifted from the pillow as I quietly begged him to tell me what was wrong.
I couldn't see the phone in his hand. I thought maybe he had been dreaming and found himself in the grasps of a night terrorizer.
How I wish that had been the case.
Finally, he cried out:
Only, that couldn't have been what he said. Wasn't that Brian's voice I heard on the other end? I must have heard him wrong in my tired state.
I asked again.
"What did you say? What's going on?"
His cry grew louder.
"BRIAN! HE DIED."
The bed was trembling from our combined shaking, as his father spoke on the other end of the phone about Brian's last moments on this earth.
The crash had killed him instantly on impact. He was unreservedly, absolutely, gone.
My husbands cries grew to an aching howl—like a wolf mourning his liter mate.
I cradled him in my arms until he noticed his vulnerable position and stood up. He went to the bathroom and returned to bed, but I could feel something missing. His body still curved perfectly into the dips of the mattress, but there was an emptiness in the air.
Brian's soul went to heaven that night, and a piece of my husband's went with him.
The rest of him? Well, the rest of him went to work. He began to work on everything, on anything—and it was immediate.
The morning after the accident he went to his scheduled meeting as if nothing had happened. As if his world hadn't just shattered beneath his feet.
He found new projects to keep his mind busy. He rearranged his garage. Made a loft bed for our toddler. Got a tattoo—a beautiful Phoenix with the name "Bri Bri" underneath it.
He even created a custom shadow box to fill with trinkets and memories of Brian. He decorated it with photos of them as little kids—photos of them as adults. He even went to the crash site and recovered broken pieces of Brian's motorcycle to add to his collection.
Every day, he would come home from work and head straight to that shadow box. Extend his index finger to adjust a photo by a few degrees, or brush off the dust that hadn't been collected yet.
To everyone else, he appeared to be coping almost unnaturally well. His spirit resembled piping hot metal. It was fluid, and mesmerizing, and vibrant, somehow. His body—the everlasting mold that faithfully formed the melted liquid of his soul into a perfect frame. Melt him down and he just formed right back into his flawless self again. He was a Phoenix, rising from the ashes of sorrow, just as his newly tattooed skin would suggest. People whispered about his strength—his tough as steel aura that was sure to carry him through.
But in the quiet corners of the house, I could hear him weeping. Sometimes I would approach him gently and ask if he wanted to talk about it, but most of the time I tried to give him the space he needed to survive. Because at that point, I knew his life was no longer about living—it was merely about surviving.
He was still somehow the most attentive father I have ever met. He was still a loving husband. But a piece of his joy had been stolen from his chest the night Brian died, and I missed it. It was the piece that believed in people. The piece that loved to dance large and laugh loud. The piece that never looked at any task as too big. The piece that saw his own worth and importance on this earth. It was one of the very best parts of him.
I had lost my husband to grief. The most vibrant parts of him decided to pull up a stool next to Brian in Heaven's Pub and stay past last call. I pictured him throwing his head back with laughter at one of Brian's outrageous stories. Patting his back in the "atta boy" way I had seen him do so many times, before taking another gulp of his beer. Yelling back something about the Steelers being better than the Redskins.
I couldn't take him from that place. That sacred world where brotherhood was immortal and knew no bounds. The place where he could feel whole again. I couldn't take him from that place, but I also couldn't lose him to it.
And so I set out on a secret quest to find him again.
I filled up my heart with all of the supplies I would need for the mission—Patience, grace, determination, strength, love. More patience. Coffee for the hard days. Wine for the harder days.
I knew what my first move was. I needed to reevaluate my definition of love. If I ever wanted to find my husband again, I needed to first find myself. I had been so wrapped up in his grief that I had been ignoring my own. I found myself deep in the trenches of postpartum depression—grieving the loss of my dear friend Brian, grieving the loss of my husband, grieving the loss of myself.
The tattered reflection in the mirror was one I didn't recognize anymore. Her freckles were painted to mimic mine, her strong nose and chin chiseled with the same likeness. But her eyes were hollow. She was a shell of a woman, but when I cracked her open, all I found was dust.
I was startled.
It was as if my soul was flying over my body, preparing for landing after an extended vacation.
How long had I been gone?
Once I had returned to myself, I needed to get over worrying about how many people noticed I had been gone. I felt a strong urge to explain myself, to justify my absence that they no doubt, noticed. I mean, they had to notice, right?
After I extended patience, grace, determination, strength, and love to myself, it was time to reach out to my husband.
I chose a long car ride. We were surrounded by the California drought. Death covered the hills around us that once housed magnificent fields of wildflowers and lush grassroots. We gossiped about those mountains and their makeunder—wondering when, if ever, we would get to see their full beauty again.
The car fell silent as we pressed on through the brown scenery. The children were dreaming in the backseat and I could see my husband was visiting with Brian again.
I broke the silence with a whisper.
“I miss you.”
He couldn't hear me. After all, he wasn't really with me. So I spoke a little louder.
“I miss you.”
He returned to me and chuckled.
"I'm right here."
“I know your body is here, but your soul is somewhere else. It's been with Brian for quite some time now.”
We spent the next two hours opening up to one another about everything since that tragic evening. We cried. Laughed a little, even. Shared our favorite memories and our fears of this life without him. And for the first time in almost a year and a half, I felt like we finally started to heal.
Slowly, things began to change. They didn't go back to the way they had been before. No, we could never get back there. We had come too far, suffered too much—we were not the same people anymore. But these two new souls navigating a life together? Well, they were even better than the originals. They had a new respect for this world. They played harder, laughed louder, and loved with every fiber of their beings. Brian taught us that. His death planted seeds deep into the soil of our hearts. And as the roots began to cling to the dirt and the water began to flow, we grew.
Today, as we drove past a hillside, we marveled at its colors. California finally got the rain it had been needing, and the once parched mountains are now covered in glorious fields of wildflowers and lush green grassroots. We commented on how we finally recognized this home of ours again. The one we had known and loved for so long. The one that people fly thousands of miles to see.
"I can't even remember it ever being this beautiful!" We remarked.
And maybe that's because it never was as beautiful as it is now. Maybe the strong winds from the rain storms brought in new life, new seeds that hadn't been there before.
My husband's soul still visits Brian at Heaven's Pub from time to time. Sometimes I won't even notice he's been gone until he returns. Tiptoeing back into a conversation ever so gently, as if he never left.
But I don't mind. I couldn't take him from that place. That sacred world where brotherhood is immortal and knows no bounds. The place where he can feel whole again. I could never take that place from him. I would never want to.
You can read more from Andi over on her blog, Lend Me Your Kite.