Four Weeks

Four Weeks

Life as I’ve known it changed 4 weeks ago with a simple eerie knock at the door at midnight by the county sheriff.  Lyle and I went to the door that was lit up by his spotlights.  I immediately thought Arlo and Greyson had gotten into mischief and that because Arlo’s truck is registered in Zafer’s name, that is why the sheriff kept saying Zafer’s name.  I felt myself being Mama Bear and feeling protective of Arlo…as in “you are not waking up my child”.  My body was fanning out to make sure the sheriff didn’t try to wake up Arlo.

He kept saying Zafer’s name and something about bad news.  Again, I knew that he was mistaken and at the same time I could tell something was wrong because Lyle was crumpled over and screaming.  I turned lights on in the kitchen and the sheriff handed me his phone to talk to the Boulder police in Colorado.  Heroin was mentioned.  They asked me if Zafer drank alcohol.  I said not much.  I handed the phone back to the sheriff and he asked if he could leave.

I went into the NIGHT OF HELL.  I asked Lyle not to wake up Arlo.  We went from room to room and he went outside to wail and scream and I got into fetal position in my bed.  I couldn’t understand what was happening and I had no idea what to do.  At one point in the night I looked in the mirror to see if I could figure out what was going on.  My face looked like The Scream painting by Edvard Munch.  Frozen and a look of horror.  I knew that something was extremely wrong.  I knew that the most horrible news I could ever receive had just been delivered, but I couldn’t accept it (and still have not).  The minutes went by like hours, time seemed to stop on this dreadful night.  I just wanted the sun to come up.  Around 3am, Arlo woke up and came out and I sat him down and held him tight as I told him that his beloved brother had died from heroin.  All I wanted to do and all I could do was to protect Lyle and Arlo that night.  I could not cry and I could not say those words again.  I just needed the sun to come up.

I was walking along the road with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.   Edvard Munch

We all three got into bed and held hands and I think they drifted off to sleep around sunrise.  I called my brother in law, Jim to ask him what to do.  “You have to tell people now” he said.  I don’t want to tell anyone.  I don’t want to say those words because that might mean it was true.

As I sat on the porch steps not knowing what to do, a Subaru sped down the driveway like a bat out of hell and out popped Lexie and Gary Thompson…both crying and they encircled me.  Again, how did they know and they were crying.  It gave me a little strength and felt like the cavalry had come.  Friends to help figure out this and guide when my brain was completely gone.  Arlo got up and went to tell Zafer’s second Mom and best friend Greyson.  He got into bed with Kathie while he told her.  Broken hearted she called me and I asked her to get Zafer’s body back here.  “On it” she said.  And what a hard job for her to have to do.  I called my Dad and asked him to drive to Mom’s to tell her in person.  No Grandmother should have to get this news over the phone.  He went immediately.  I called two of my best friends, Melissa and Gary Phillips, and they both got in the car immediately.  Camille brought pharmaceuticals so that I could get through this day without collapse.  Very helpful, indeed.  I’m not a pharma person…but this was appropriate technology.

Alisa who is preparing for the death of her sweet husband, Chris, kept me on the phone as she raced from Pittsboro to our house.  There was some unknown woman walking around the yard in the chaos.  I immediately thought she was a death doula for some reason.  She was from the high school and they had gotten misinformation that Arlo had died and she came over to clarify the news.  Again, how did she get that information so fast?  What the hell was happening?  This is not real.

The news started spreading, the people started coming.  Jess and Kaitlin and Dan started driving south.  People started getting on planes.  Anabel from Paris, Phifer from California, family and roommates from Colorado, from New York, all the Canadians were en route, and high school friends from around the country.  When you get devastating news, you think you are all alone and you don’t understand how it effects your loved ones.  There was a ripple effect of grief that spread.

One of the first things we did was to go up to the trail and look for a place to bury Zafer.  The “Farewell Trail” that Bob named had not yet been started. (We had been talking about the trail for burying Chris just the night before)  A plan was made to get it finished and ready for Zafer’s homecoming.  A beautiful spot was picked out and it somehow felt comforting to know that he would be nearby and in a gorgeous setting that we could visit often.  A work plan was made and heavy equipment came out…Bob and Joe and Trip and Leavitt and others created the trail and burial site.  Lyle and Arlo wanted to dig the hole for Zafer’s coffin with the backhoe.  I can’t imagine the pain.  It needed more help.  My Dad and brother, Michael, finished and it broke the backhoe.  From there, hand digging was necessary to get it ready for the graveside service.  It was done with such care and respect and beauty.  Truly beautiful. I’m grateful

Gary went to get food.  Seems like the southern thing to do and he broke the news to Angelina and others in Pittsboro.  Angelina began cooking and crying into her beautiful, amazing, comforting food and put together huge boxes to be sent home.  People started contributing to the cost.  Most of my kids have worked for her and she did wonders with Zafer.  She is the best mother anyone could ask for.

The rest of the day was a flurry of figuring out what had happened, what was going to happen and The Committee was formed as Lyle and I could not really do much but mumble and I don’t think I even got myself a glass of water for many days…everyone did for us, thank goodness.   Decisions were made for us.  We did have moments of clarity…like how we wanted to honour Zafer and his service.

I could feel an intense energy and power growing in all of us.  Like never before.  Never.

Lyle and Arlo and I are so very lucky to be surrounded by this community and to also have an amazing and strong family.  Yes, I just take that for granted.  But not anymore.  Someone asked me if we really had this storybook family and adventures and I thought about it…yes…we do…I kind of thought everyone had that.  We certainly bicker, have stress and have major disagreements AND we have so much fun and laughter.  Zafer’s wit and sense of humor is something I hope to channel.  Something I will deeply deeply miss.  His siblings laugh so much together.  There is and always has been a deep love for each other.

A 7 day wake happened at our house…20 + people living at our place…it was like a small village of eating, planning, crying, drinking, welcoming, music playing, story telling, massage, pedicures for men, singing and holding each other up.   Hundreds of people came through the week bringing gifts for the altar, food for the mourning, words of comfort and hugs and kisses.  The young and the old together and all chipping in to clean and live and celebrate.   The best gift was all the stories of how Zafer had impacted people’s lives.  How he had helped them out of depression, made them go the extra mile, his hilarious sense of humor and appreciation of “dress up”.  His opinions about life, his new revelations.  I got to know my son better that week in some ways than I ever could with him being physically present.

The Committee was a force to be reckoned with.  “Did The Committee approve this?” Uh, oh….did The Committee see this?  We had the honour of about 20 women and men who formed spontaneously, had spreadsheets, conference calls and who got it done.  Many took time off from their day jobs to help the effort.  They put on a week long wake and a service for 500, they dealt with the death logistics of flying Zafer home, the legal issues, the minute details, a graveside service and then the aftermath of cleaning up.  We are in complete awe of the way they came together in crisis and the comradery that formed.  Hilarious stories came out of this event that will be with all of us forever.  We’ve been in community together for years and know how powerful that is, and Zafer’s death brought out the best in everyone.

That story is big and for another blog to be told by someone else. 

The family and friends left on Sunday.  And that is when, exhausted, we started having to face a new reality.  That Zafer is not here in physical form anymore.  And that is what I’m working on everyday.  Putting together a construct in my brain that makes sense of this, that includes his spirit and my spirit together.  I’m working on how to develop a new relationship with him even though I can’t see, hear, touch or smell him.  I’m working on developing my own belief system of where he is, what he is doing, why this happened, why it happened to me and my family, why he can’t smell honeysuckle anymore (or maybe he can), why I can’t see him grow and mature.  Why I have to feel the worst pain a parent can ever feel.  Why I feel like I’m drowning some days.

I also can see the gifts and the beauty that is coming out of this.  Everything I look at now is different.  The trees are more beautiful, the flowers are brighter, the air is sweeter.  Zafer has connected hundreds of people.  Zafer has made people stop in their tracks and reconsider their life paths, and the meaning and importance in their life.  Zafer has made people think about love.  Possibly the most important and eternal thing there is.  Love.  We have love and that is a huge gift.

Thank you Zafer, my love.

zafer everglades

About tamischwerin

I run a non-profit (Abundance NC) that builds community resilience including health of the earth, our bodies and our spirits. I also am active in creating an Eco-Industrial Park community in Pittsboro NC.

14 responses »

  1. Thank you dear Tami for sharing your grief and love and life with us all. Zafer’s passing has indeed made the sky bluer and the moments with my kids sweeter, more gracious and profound. Your loss is our loss, your pain our pain, we all want to turn back time. Big Love, Laura


  2. My beautiful friend,

    I’m humbled by your honesty and clarity. There is no glossing over the awful truth here. Thank you for being genuine, for showing me how to deal with the unimaginable.

    Love, Cookie


  3. Words are so important to write when you’ve been blown off your ground. The collection of events, feelings, ideas, days, times… All are significant but lose order in the chaos.
    Thank you for your beautiful words and sharing your story. Your stories are so open and raw. Over the years I’ve known other woman that have lost a child. Your story told once again always hurts. Life changes forever. Love stays.
    I love you and your family!
    Where are we after death?
    My dad taught me that… how we are remembered is our afterlife.
    Z is in heaven!


  4. Thank you for continuing to open up your heart and share your deepest thoughts which helps this community to deepen and grow closer. We can’t see the wisdom behind each blade of grass and each movement of the wind but there is a magic to the unfolding of life and death that is such a gift and by sharing this you are healing all of us who are each going through our own crisis and our own tragedy.


  5. Thanks for writing this. It brings me back to the awful truth. Lives are forever changed. I cry again.

    Strength comes from asking “what would Z want us to do?”.



  6. I am so sorry! And I thank you – for your words, and your gift of honesty – to speak about Zafer’s death is hard enough but to acknowledge the circumstances … You and Lyle may have saved other children from experimenting with heroine. So thank you – we as a community are blessed to have you and your family with us, guiding us and showing us what love truly is! My heart is with you!


  7. Tami…this day is even more beautiful and poignant after reading this. Thank you for reminding me of what an amazing gift of living this life truly is. I honour you, bow down to your insight, courage and so much more


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