My sister Becky died last month, and as I sat at her graveside service I couldn’t recall feeling so sad and helpless.
The life-goes-on-stuff isn’t as easy as it looks in the movies.
Before I visited her in April in Logan, Utah, I thought she was too young, 59, too spirited and too stubborn to die. If I learned one thing during her final months, it is that leukemia is a horrifying disease.
Becky didn’t have a chance.
We drove from the cemetery to a hotel ballroom, where dozens of friends and family talked about Becky’s spunk. I wanted to stand behind the microphone and tell the audience about the long-ago day, in the fall of 1970, when she was shot in our kitchen, shot just above the heart by the accidental discharge from a 12-gauge shotgun, and that it was an absolute miracle she didn’t die when she was 15.
But I knew I couldn’t get through the story, telling them about how, as a wannabe duck hunter, I didn’t properly check the guns the night before my dad would take us to the opening day of hunting season.
I drove frantically to the hospital and once the ER crew lifted Becky from my car, I called my dad, who was at a birthday dinner.
“This is going to sound really bad,” I said. “Becky got shot.”
It could’ve been the worst moment of our lives, but it wasn’t because the shotgun pellets missed Becky’s heart by an inch or two. Incredible.
Becky should’ve died on our kitchen floor that night. Instead, she got an extra 44 years, became a wife, a mom, and an unforgettable personality. A higher power must’ve really wanted her to live.
The next day, my dad took our hunting gear to the landfill. He disabled the shotguns and left them to be buried under an acre of garbage.
“Becky’s going to be fine,” he said. “We should always remember how lucky we are to have her.”
As Becky’s friends left the hotel ballroom last month, I sat alone at a table. Why didn’t I visit more often? I missed so much.
My brother Mike left the ballroom early; as the baseball coach at my old high school, he missed the first half of the day’s doubleheader but was in the dugout for the final regular-season game of the season, against the Roy High School Royals.
My mom and I got a blanket and drove to the game. I asked where she wanted to sit.
“Let’s sit in Becky’s seat,” she said.
Becky had become the No. 1 fan of the Logan High Grizzlies over the last few seasons, a regular whenever Mike’s team played at home. Cold? She was there. Rain? That’s why they make umbrellas.
Earlier this season, Mike created a parking space behind his team’s dugout so Becky, desperately sick, could sit in the car and watch the Grizzlies play.
The best player on my old high school team, Jim Laub, was in the bleachers, watching his son play shortstop. I hadn’t seen Jim forever. He is the most well-known person in Logan, a benefactor of such note that he recently donated $9.5 million for Utah State to build a basketball practice facility. The Aggies’ football plant also carries his name.
“We’re going to miss Becky,” he said. “She was always here.”
My high school coach, Rod Tueller, was sitting behind home plate. Tueller hasn’t coached Logan High baseball since the 1970s, but he was in place, as he is every game, watching his grandsons play for the Grizzlies.
“I’m sure Becky is in a better place now,” he said. “She had a lot of friends here.”
The baseball field at Logan High School is like something out of Field of Dreams. With the help of Jim Laub, my brother totally rebuilt the field. He moved home plate to left field, redid the infield, built new dugouts, constructed a first-class fence around the outfield and made high school baseball and summer league baseball in my hometown a thing of pride.
In the last years of her life, Becky was always in the bleachers. Giving the umpires hell, supporting the Grizzlies, making her presence known.
When she called, she would always say, “When are you going to get up here to watch Mike’s team play at their new field?”
“Soon,” I would say. “That’s my favorite place, you know.”
But as I sat in the rain, watching the Royals beat my old team, 10-3, I realized it wasn’t my place at all. Over those last 44 years, it had become Becky’s place.