A coming-of-age story, RAISED BY A DEAD MAN begins with the coolest thing ever: an act of violence that quite nearly takes the life of my father, a Mormon small business owner. In my 12-year-old mind, the worst part is all the hugging. But Dad getting shot twelve times in his store and surviving? That’s awesome. It gets even better when my family is featured on national television in the proto-reality show Rescue 911.
In the years following, Dad’s body slowly deteriorates from complications from the shooting and our relationship goes right along with it. A battleground is established on the field of faith and I am forced to find my own answers to life’s biggest questions. Then, just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, a greater and decidedly less awesome tragedy strikes. My understanding of life and its purpose is forever changed.
RAISED BY A DEAD MAN is a memoir about the hope we can have that our suffering is more glorious and less pointless than we think. It is a story writ large with incident, self-loathing, fear, forgiveness and, ultimately, faith.
After the funeral, my family and I were ushered down the long hallway and out through the back of the church to avoid the news cameras out front. For a while we stood silently at the edge of the parking lot, huddled close together less for warmth than for comfort. Mom, in her best black skirt and bright red top, looked down and dried her tears. She smiled faintly and looked almost relieved. This day had been coming for a long time.
I wrapped one arm tightly around her and the other around my two youngest brothers, who stuck close to me. Logan, my third brother, stood as an island unto himself, shivering slightly with arms draped in as much stillness at his sides as he could manage. It was one of those oddly cold, bright days where if you weren’t standing directly in the path of the white and warming sun, you’d freeze. A few cousins, Mom’s parents, Dad’s brother Jim, and Dad’s parents soon joined us. We talked about how nice the service was and not much else.
Grandma, a longtime smoker, could barely breathe and leaned on Grandpa for support. There was a bitterness to her mourning that choked out sentiment, leaving nothing but the sharp anger she displayed up and down her face. She muttered the same refrain she’d been repeating over and over again since Saturday night: “Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children.” No one disagreed with her.
The hearse pulled up and we moved to the nearby trees along the sidewalk surrounding the church to allow room for the casket to be rolled out. We watched as the box and the body were loaded in carefully by the men from the funeral home. They were so solemn and so precise in the way they went about it. They didn’t know Dad; for them, it was a performance—routine and impersonal. Were they thinking about the game later that night? Hatching dinner plans? Digesting breakfast? I hadn’t been able to eat that morning. I was too nervous about my speaking assignment.
The back door to the hearse was lowered and clicked as it locked. The signal given, we all piled into cars to start the long journey out to the cemetery way beyond the edge of town. The news cameras followed us, but only until we were out of sight. Mom, in the front seat, wiped her tears. She turned around to tell me how much the talk I gave during the funeral meant to her, and how impressed she and everyone else had been with the power of my delivery and composure on the stand. Embarrassed and flattered, I thanked my dedicated, proud and delusional mother. She dismissed my modesty as false and said the talk reminded her of a moment she’d had with Dad just a week earlier.
They were sitting on the couch in the living room, talking. It was one of those conversations that meandered from the inane to the consequential, a web of familiar concerns particular to all longstanding couples. Dad, who was not sick, spoke, as he often did, of his impending death and how much he looked forward to the afterlife. It would be wonderful. Glorious. So much to learn and to see.
Mom hit her absolute limit. After years of Dad’s supposedly fatal fatalism, she’d had enough and finally asked him the one question she had wanted to ask for years, but had never before dared:
“Bill, do you want to die?”
Dad fell silent. He took a moment to consider his words carefully. Mom could see by the look on his face that he was desperately trying to craft the correct answer to her very direct question. He didn’t want to hurt her. Finally, he gave his measured response.
“If it weren’t for you… and the boys… yes, I’m ready to go now.”