My brother died a year ago. Or was it a little more than a year ago? Or a little less?
All we know for sure is that the police, responding to a welfare check requested by my sister, broke down his kitchen door on Halloween Day and followed the smell to his bedroom, where he’d been lying dead for weeks. As long as a month, the police surmised, but judging from the recollections of friends who last spoke to him, probably longer.
What I know for sure is that he failed to send me a birthday card on September 25. It was not like him to forget a birthday, and he usually sent one of the cards that various wildlife organizations had sent him as thanks for his generous donations.
I thought of calling, but then worried that it would sound rude: “Where’s my birthday card?” A few weeks passed before I sent him a newsy email without mentioning the birthday he had missed. No answer.
So it wasn’t until Halloween, when my sister called from Portland to tell me the results of the welfare check she had requested, that I learned that David Paul Hauser, my little brother, had died all alone in his secluded rural home.
A few years earlier, before my move to Indiana, he and I had gone hiking along the Columbia River. As we trudged along he casually asked if I would serve as his executor. At age 72, he thought it was time he made a will. He also told me he would name me as a beneficiary.
So, a few months after his body was discovered, I flew to Portland to attend his memorial, to meet with the lawyer and tour David’s house with a Realtor. The house, ready to be sold, bore no evidence that my brother’s decomposing body earlier had lain in the back bedroom.
David was a very caring and generous man but when it came to his own health, he was negligent. He had recently been diagnosed with diabetes, but he told my sister he had trouble changing his lifestyle. From all appearances, he did not watch his diet or take prescribed meds. The last people who talked to him said he sounded confused and disoriented. Apparently, as he began to slip into a diabetic coma, he lay down on his bed, never to rise again.
After David’s memorial, my son, Cory, and I took possession of David’s truck in order to drive it to our home in Indiana. Entrusted to me were his cremains, the several pounds of bone fragments remaining after his body was cremated. My sister had already poured some of them into the soil at his home in Amboy, Washington. Cory and I decided to take the rest of David on a final road trip (an activity he loved), leaving parts of him in different locations along the way.
Our first David deposit was in Washington State, on the east side of the Columbia River after it turns northward. Next we scattered some of the cremains on a snow bank in the mountains of Idaho. In Montana a meadowlark sang as we left David in a field near the town of Rosebud. Early one morning, in sub-zero weather, we left a bit of David in Fargo, North Dakota.
We hurried to get back home, never stopping to continue our task in either Minnesota, Wisconsin or Illinois, arriving late that afternoon in Chesterton, Indiana. I took home with me the rest of David, promising to find a perfect spot for the remains of the cremains.
I didn’t attend to it until after David’s estate had been closed this July. I had many months earlier requested that the post office forward all his mail to me, so I had been getting almost daily reminders that he needed a final resting place in the form of scores of solicitation letters from the many organizations he had supported. The letters requested that he buy a heifer for a village in Africa, that he pay for an indigent person’s Thanksgiving meal, that he pay vet bills for abused pets, that he continue to support the Democratic Party, Planned Parenthood and other liberal causes, and of course to continue his subscriptions to magazines supporting wildlife, national parks, birds, etc. The oddest request, I thought, was for him to sponsor Holocaust survivors. I can’t imagine there are too many left to sponsor, but I assume David gladly contributed to that cause too.
On a clear and sunny summer day I leashed my dogs, placed the bag of cremains in my back pack and drove the five miles from Chesterton to Indiana Dunes State Park. After a short hike, bearing my brother on my back, I found a high dune overlooking Lake Michigan. I thought David would have loved the view. The dogs rested in the cool sand as I furtively dug a hole and then dumped the small amount of cremains into the embrace of a sand dune.
Thinking of my brother now lying in various places along two-thirds of the width of the nation, a line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet comes to mind, as Juliet wishes that after Romeo’s death he will become a multitude of stars and shine down from above.
Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow’d night, Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night And pay no worship to the garish sun.
Dear David is now mixed, not with stars, but with soil and sand, so that he will make the face of earth so fine . . .