It was March 10, 2002 — a Sunday morning. I was at work, shelving a cart in the corner of the store where the history, biography, & social sciences sections were kept. I had paused for a moment to read the inside flap on the book.  I had taken entirely too much time looking decided to place it on hold for myself so I could look at it later. I took it to the front and placed it on the employee hold shelf. Bettina announced that I had a phone call. I knew it would be my parents and it irritated me that they could never figure out to not call me before we open.

When I answered the phone, it was my dad. There were no pleasantries; he simply said I needed to leave work and drive to Stillwater immediately. Not really catching on to the tone, I informed him that I couldn’t leave work, but wanted to know what was going on. “Mimi has been taken to the hospital and is probably not going to make it.” That still breaks my heart. My brain went numb and my eyes blurry. I said I would leave and be there as soon as possible. As soon as I hung up, I went back to the office, told Bettina I needed to go, and fell apart. She comforted me, telling me not to worry about work and instructing me to do what I needed to do. I left work, went home to let Justin (who was my roommate at the time) know where I’d be, and rushed to Stillwater. On the way, my cousin Becky called to make sure I knew what was going on.

I arrived in Stillwater about an hour and a half after the initial phone call. As I walked in, I was met by my mom, who was bawling. The entire tone of the house was energetic and sad — each family member’s arrival starting the tears over again.

“Mimi” is my mom’s mom, Bonita Christine “Chris” Tucker. She was the matriarch of our family; the force that connected us all and kept us together. She orchestrated every event that brought us together, reminded us to connect with one another, and nagged us all mercilessly. Mimi was an extremely confident woman who knew who she was. She was totally devoted to her husband, her God, & the other members of her church. She was generous with her money and her time, but was never afraid to tell you her opinion on what you were doing. Evidently, there wasn’t enough money to be made as a writer to justify her supporting it. I cherished talking to her. I would sit with her and talk about people for hours… she knew absolutely everything going on in Stillwater. But it never seemed like gossip. Mimi was a very good-hearted person.

By the time I arrived in Stillwater, she had passed away. After the watery greetings from my mom and aunt, I settled in with my brothers and cousin — those I always hang out with when everyone is together. Star, my grandparents’ cat, was the hero of this story. Even though he was unable to save her, he did what he could. Apparently, he went to my grandpa (Papa), woke him up, and led him to where Mimi had fallen. We suspect either a massive heart attack, stroke, or aneurysm, as her arms were still by her side and she hadn’t tried to stop her fall.

on viewing my Mimi’s body

She looks perfect,
her familiar red dress matched
beautifully with the soft pink lining,
the red heart draped around her neck.
As if she’d just come in
from church for a nap —
a lazy Sunday afternoon,
shy lay resting — calm, peaceful.
Tears stream down my grandpa’s
too often stoic face.
His wife — the woman he
devoted his entire life to —
his best friend.
“She really is a beautiful lady.”

Brian Fuchs 3.12.2002

That week was surreal. I still don’t remember much of it. Of course, it culminated in a beautiful funeral. I had gone back home to Tulsa to get some clothes and for the funeral I chose the shirt she had just given me for Christmas. The shirt was a gold knit with a collar. I wore khaki pants. I wouldn’t have felt right in dark colors and I really wanted to celebrate life. The funeral was made that much more difficult when I discovered that my cousins’ nanny was sitting with them and I couldn’t sit with my immediate family because of it. Furthermore, I ended up next to my mom’s friend, who had apparently not figured out that I was an adult and kept talking to me as if I were a child.

When the funeral was over, my two best friends came up to me and asked if I was okay. I had really been fine all week, only crying on Sunday morning. I shook my head no and buried myself in their arms and cried. I felt like the world had just ended. A few days later, I left on a trip with them, where I was able to sort through things slowly throughout the next week. Which isn’t to say I felt any better about it all.

untitled (‘100 days’)

It’s been one hundred days
and if feels like it all happened
just this morning.
I’m starting to realize she’s gone —
finally missing her and ultimately
knowing I can never see her again.

I hate that morning —
when Mimi died.
Loneliness overtook me and
pain was invited in.
All I needed was a hug
from Bettina, JD, Travis, Becky,
Mom — but they weren’t there.
I’m cold inside and sad.
I miss her.

Brian Fuchs 6.18.2002

It took a long time to accept that Mimi was gone. I imagine I will have that hole in my heart for the rest of my life. I haven’t even been able to return to her house for any length of time and feel comfortable. That always makes me feel guilty because I do want to visit Papa, who is remarried, but there is too much history in that place. But it is also important to remember that I got to know Mimi. I had the amazing opportunity to be a member of a family with her at the head.

That is when I first realized my life had become about death. It had only been 447 days since my grandma Fuchs (“G”) had passed away. Since then, I have lost 2 friends and 2 great-grandmothers. I am ready to have my life defined by something else; be defined by love or friendship or family. I have felt rather selfish about these deaths over these past 6 years. They are important to me, but moving on is much more important.

21 March 2007

Images: photo of Christine Tucker; vintage illustration of child dressed as a cardinal

Featured Image Art: photo of Christine Tucker

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