Late Sunday evening, at my home in Washington D.C., I received a telephone call. "This is Kayo. We lost Cody."
"Cody? Cody!" I knew my sister meant her young son had died, but that didn't seem possible. I braced myself for the explanation.
Cody had gone with his dad that afternoon to do some mechanical work. When the brakes failed and everyone jumped out, Cody fell under the rear wheel and died instantly.
Kayo and I discussed the burial and agreed it should be in the family plot our parents purchased several years earlier. Kayo told me she planned to spend the evening picking up Cody's things and putting them in boxes while she could still function. She also had other telephone calls to make. Her main fear was how she would feel when reality hit. She and I were both surprised by her calmness. But then, neither of us knew how someone was supposed to act in a situation like this.
I cried until 3 AM. In the morning I went to work undecided about whether to go home for the funeral. I didn't want to go, to see my family grieve, but I knew my presence would be expected.
Cody was only five years old, the youngest member of our family. He always called me "My Diane" and wondered when I was coming for my next visit. He once asked Kayo at the airport if the other people there were waiting for their Dianes, too.
The next morning I started crying when my boss greeted me, and I told him my nephew had died. He informed his administrative assistant, Irene, who rushed to my office. She got me through the day. She canceled my arrangements for the next week, including my trip to Tennessee.
On the day I had intended to run a forty-mile ultra-marathon, I would instead be attending my nephew's funeral.
As soon as it got late enough in San Diego, I called Kayo. Her first words were, "Yes, it's real."
I said, "I was hoping you'd say it wasn't true -- that I'd had a bad dream."
When I went home and packed my suitcase, I decided my funeral outfit would be a black skirt and black jacket for mourning, and a bright-colored blouse for Cody.
Irene took me to the airport Tuesday morning and stayed with me until my flight was called. On the trip home to South Dakota, I started drafting Cody's eulogy. My older brother, Keith, set up the basic funeral arrangements, and I finalized them.
Cody was flown to South Dakota Wednesday night, before his family left California.
Kayo told me Cody always cared that their house was watched when they were away. He'd say, "I'll stay home and watch the house." Or, "Is Kellen (his brother) watching the house?" Or, "Lucky (their dog) will watch the house." Two nights before Cody's death, Kayo was amazed to see his jacket hanging from a hook in the living room ceiling. She asked Cody how it got there, and he described in detail how he used the back of the sofa as a starting point for his climb. Until they move again, that jacket will serve as a visible sign that Cody is watching the house.
The funeral director called Thursday morning to say I could see Cody before they did anything to prepare him for the funeral. Ron, my youngest brother, went with me, and we decided to have the casket open for viewing. A bandage would cover the damage to Cody's head. I told the funeral director to leave the grease under Cody's fingernails because it showed he had been working with his dad. Kayo later thanked me for that.
Cody had the prettiest casket I've ever seen. It was covered with white brocade fabric, a perfect complement for the colorful bouquets of flowers surrounding it. Keith and I picked pasqueflowers to add a touch of country. The little purple mayflowers sat on the altar during the funeral, and bloomed for several days on Cody's grave.
Friday was visitation day, and I came to understand why some religions have wakes. I wanted to stay with Cody because it just didn't feel right to leave him alone -- I visited him four times that day.
When my sister and her husband arrived, I pushed them to go to the funeral home to
say good-bye. I thought they would regret it later if they didn't. Although they initially said they wanted to remember him alive, they opened the casket and had a tearful farewell. It was a healing experience, and I was relieved to know the visit had been a good idea.
I've given eulogies for sailors who worked for me, but I never expected to do one for a member of my family. And the youngest member, at that.
The words "beautiful" and "love" were part of his daily vocabulary. He sprinkled I-love-yous on everyone he cared about. Kayo asked his kindergarten class to write farewell letters, and it's amazing how many "best friends" he had. Many of the children drew pictures, usually including a figure with yellow hair.
My three brothers and I were pallbearers. We carried the small white brocade-covered casket to the hearse after the service. My great fear was how it would feel to leave Cody alone at the cemetery after the interment service. I was surprised to find it didn't hurt. I think those extra hours in the afternoon helped.
Sunday morning brought my final attempt to get my sister's family to do what I thought they needed to do -- go to church with Dad and me. I wore a white skirt and purple blouse to celebrate resurrection, but I didn't tell anyone that.
Singing the hymn "I Was There To Hear Your Borning Cry," I wondered if the minister chose it especially for us.
Tuesday I went to Clear Lake to say good-bye to Cody before flying back to Virginia the next day. I sat on his grave and cried for forty-five minutes, feeling alone and unappreciated. No one seemed to understand how difficult being in charge had been. I wanted a man to hold me while I sobbed out my sorrow and frustration, but I had no one.
Shortly after I returned to the farm, the telephone rang. It was a familiar voice, but not one I expected to hear in South Dakota. Just as the realization hit me that this was my Detailer, he said, "Congratulations! You're a captain."
I'd been waiting three months for the Navy to announce promotions to the rank of captain. During the return flight to Washington National Airport, my thoughts alternated between the loss of Cody and the thrill of my promotion.
Returning to work the next day, I was greeted by a sign on my office door that said, "Congratulations, Captain Diane Diekman." The poster depicted a set of silver eagles and a set of shoulder boards with four gold stripes -- the two types of rank insignia I would be wearing within a year.
Walking into my office, I noticed a bouquet of flowers on my desk. I had to look at the card to find out whether it represented condolences or congratulations. It was a "With Deepest Sympathy" card.
That evening I went home to find four yellow roses on my doorstep, delivered by my landlord's daughter, with a note that said, "One rose for each stripe on your arm."
Bio: Diane Diekman lives in Los Angeles, California, USA. She's a
South Dakota farm girl who became a U.S. Navy officer and freelance
nonfiction writer. Diane is the author of "A Farm in the Hidewood" and
"Navy Greenshirt." Currently she is researching and writing the biography of
Faron Young (1932-1996). Tentative publication is February 2007, his 75th
birthday. Her next project, after completing Faron's biography, will be a
series of Young Adult nonfiction books about U.S. Special Operations Forces.
She invites you to visit her web-site -- http://ddiekman.tripod.com/ She can
be reached at email@example.com