"They...They wh--*sob* wh-what...? No...no...oh...no..." These were the words that escaped Dave's lips two Sunday mornings ago almost involuntarily in between sobs as he collapsed onto the side of our bed--his face wet with immediate tears and contorted in agony and grief. His Dad had just called to give him the news that his 27-year-old brother, Bryan, had been found by his faithful home teacher and bishop dead in his apartment that morning and that was all we knew. I was in the middle of waking Remus up for the morning at the time and mentally running through my 3rd hour combined lesson for the day on marriage and pornography for the ward. In a matter of seconds, nothing else existed for me but my husband’s tortured face and his heaving sobs. As soon as I ran to physically support him, he relayed his dad’s message to me and my heart stopped for a few terrifying seconds. I couldn’t breathe and I didn’t know what to do, but I felt my hands instinctively reach for Dave’s and pull him into the strongest embrace I could muster. When the smothering was too much (after just 30 seconds or so), Dave began to pace—fervently. He walked back and forth from the tissue box on my nightstand to Remus, to his phone, looking expectantly at it as if if he looked hard enough, his dad would call back to tell us this was all a horrible mistake and his brother was actually alive and well and we could go back to our happy Sunday without a second thought about our mortality.
But the call never came. I propped myself up against the wall of our bedroom, shaking slightly, aware of silent tears streaming down my cheeks, mindlessly petting Remus, to keep him occupied long enough so he wouldn’t have an accident, as Dave kept pacing the room. Painful thought after painful thought kept intruding and we both spoke them aloud as they came, to no one in particular. “Oh Lysa...She’s alone in Italy, this is going to destroy her.” “That poor home teacher and Bishop…I can’t even imagine.” “Your poor parents…they’ll have to call everyone one by one and relive this conversation so many times today…” “Stasi…Oh Stasi…I don’t even want to think about how she’s feeling.” “Chris is alone in Jersey right now. He doesn’t have anyone to process this with.” And on and on, until we realized it was 8:55 and we needed to decide if we were going to church or not. We decided it wasn’t a good idea to try to handle sunbeams and a lesson about emotional regulation while experiencing major shock and grief with no time to process anything, so while Dave began working on a way to get in touch with Lysa’s mission president for his parents, I began making the calls to let the bishopric and primary presidency know what was happening and we spent the rest of the Sunday just holding each other, crying, and letting ourselves do whatever we needed to do to get through this at home.
* * * * * *
Two weeks later we’ve had time to begin to process and grieve and we feel more stable about the situation, but it wouldn’t be honest to say we’re not still in shock and disbelief. We held the memorial services this weekend in Rigby, Idaho and we were surrounded by family and friends who loved Bryan and love the Rackhams. I sang a song titled “My Little Child”, which was essentially the soundtrack to Merrilie and David’s journey to adopting Stasi and Bryan from Russia so many years ago. It was one of the most difficult performances I’ve ever given, because looking over to find Dave’s father trying with all his might to hold back sobs almost broke my heart right then and there, but with the help of the Spirit, and by some miracle, I actually got all the words out without tears and almost did the song justice for Merrilie. Dave spoke not too long after I sang and he was the picture of emotional vulnerability as he taught about Christ’s beautiful example of mourning with those that mourn how they need to be mourned with through the story of his teaching Martha, and weeping with Mary when their brother Lazarus had passed. It was a beautiful and inspired talk that brought peace (and tears) to us all, I think. I was so proud of him as I watched him proclaim his love for the Savior and his faith in the Savior’s love for Bryan and each of us while standing next to his brother’s earthly remains. What strength and courage.
No father or mother should ever have to bury their son. No brother or sister should ever have to bury their brother at such a young age. But bury him we did yesterday, and I couldn’t help but reflect on how this all has affected me as an in-law of a few years to the family. I was lucky in that my relationship with Bryan was uncomplicated, sweet, and simple. My experiences with him have always been pleasant and he has always been very complimentary and kind to me ever since I joined the family. He struggled with addictions of many kinds, mental health issues, and past traumas from his childhood in Russia that would affect even the healthiest of individuals. I never knew him pre-drugs and alcohol, but what I knew of Bryan was endearing, inspiring, and joyful. The rest of the family was not so lucky. They were with Bryan through the good, the bad, and the ugly of his integration into the family at age 12. There was trauma that Bryan inevitably brought into the family because how could he not? As such, their relationships are a blend of incredibly joyful memories and horribly painful ones, and this makes the grieving process infinitely more difficult, I’m sure.
Yesterday, I missed Bryan, and I was grieving that he was no longer with us, but even more difficult for me was watching my husband shovel a scoop of dirt gently into his brother’s grave as his shoulders heaved with sobs and he looked up to the sky with a face that seemed to plead, “Why?”. More difficult than realizing that I would never see Bryan again was hearing his brothers speculate about what more they could have done and wonder if they had put more effort into the relationship how things would have been different. Watching Dave’s parents wrestle between the pain of losing their son and the relief that his physical suffering had come to an end here on this earth was equal parts heart-breaking and tender.
I titled this post, “And I Thought I Loved You Then…” because I thought I knew what loving Dave was after almost 4 years of marriage, but these last two weeks have taught me that I have more capacity to shoulder my husband’s pain than I ever thought was possible. His contorted face from that first phone call has haunted me every day for two weeks now and it visited us in person again yesterday at the burial, and I couldn’t help but want to run to him and completely take this burden from him. Of course, I could only hold him while we cried together, but there was something comforting in just that small gesture for both of us, even if it didn’t relieve the pain completely. I imagine this is how the Savior feels towards me when I’m struggling to find peace, too—he would rush to me and take the pain away if it would help, but we know that part of this life is to “learn, grow, and come to be”, as my song yesterday said. So as painful as the last few weeks have been for us, I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to love Dave as I’ve never loved before, and to feel his (and his family’s) pain more intimately than I thought was possible, because it has reassured me that I love this man I call my husband more than anyone in the world, and reminded me that I will do anything I can to ease his pain. And in knowing how I felt towards him this weekend, I got a brief glimpse of what he feels for me when I’m in pain (physical or emotional), and I think I got a sliver of the Savior’s unconditional love for me and his perfect empathy for my pain and these are all wonderful things to be feeling as life moves forward.
Rest in peace, Bryan Sergei Rackham, you were so loved and will be sorely missed. <3