On March 11th, 2010, I was sitting in the back of our car. The car was parked in a car park near Ridgedale in Minnesota. I was listening to the anguished cries of my step-son’s mother as she yelled down the phone at the coroner’s office.
“You will not touch my son!” She exclaimed. “He is my son and I don’t give you permission! When can I see him?” Not satisfied with the reply, she got angrier and angrier, completely engulfed in her distress and grief.
Eventually, she hung up. She gave my husband my cell phone. “You call them,” she cried. “Don’t let them touch him!”. My husband was gentle with her, reaching beyond his own grief, to comfort her and help her with her pain. “They have to. It’s the law.” He said gently. “I’ll find out when we can see him”.
He dialed the number on the cell phone. “Hi, this is Sonny Wren, Lohr’s dad. Yes, he was brought in last night. When will we be able to see him? Yes, I understand. You need to know the undertaker we want to use? Okay, I will get back to you on that as soon as possible.”
Lohr’s mum grabbed the phone. “You will not cut up my son!” She cried. “I forbid it!” She slammed the phone shut.
My heart ached for them. I would feel the same way about my child. I reached out to touch their shoulders. “I know that this is hard for you. We need to find an undertaker so that you can see Lohr as soon as possible.” I said. ‘Do you have any preferences?’
Lohr’s mum thrust a piece of paper into my hand. “A friend recommended this one”, she said.
“Okay,” I said. “Sonny, I can make this call if you want me to, but they may not speak to me. Do you feel up to making it?” My husband, through his tears, nodded his head. I read out the number on the paper as my husband spoke with the coroner’s office. After he had finished, I called the undertakers to find out where they were located and asked them to call me when my step-son’s body arrived.
Lohr’s mum, Annette, was engaged with my husband, turning her grief onto other subjects where she got angry about how people with homosexuality were treated. As my husband listened, I wondered if the coroner received phone calls with parents and other loved ones like the one he had received from Annette on a daily basis. How hard for them to be dealing with the anger of heartache and despair of people in grief.
My husband had woken me up at 11 p.m the night before. “Penelope, wake up. Lohr is dead”. I shot up from the bed.
“What? What did you say?”
“Lohr is dead. The police have just left”.
I pulled my husband into my arms. “I’m so so sorry, honey.” My husband broke down and wailed. I held him for a long time.
“How long were the police here? Why didn’t you wake me up?” I asked after awhile.
“They were here for about an hour?” He said. “I told them to contact Lohr’s mum. They are going there now.”
“Are you up to calling her?” I asked. He nodded. “I will in a minute. Let’s give them time to get there and then I’ll call”.
“Do you know what happened?” I asked.
“He jumped. He finally did it and jumped”.
Lohr had attempted suicide several times before. He had tried pills and he had often wandered to the top of the car park at the Mall of America in Minnesota. When he had felt like he was going to jump before, he would call his Aunt and she would talk him down. He had done this several times. This time, his Aunt was unavailable as she had had a stroke and suffered from aphasia. Lohr had been visibly shaken by his aunt’s downward spiral of health. She was like another mother to him.
Lohr had been admitted to the hospital about a month earlier. He was severely depressed. After a week there, he was unable to get out of bed. As he was over eighteen we couldn’t consult with the hospital staff about his treatment. This was the worst that I had ever seen him. I sat by his bed and just stroked his hair. After visiting with him, I went to speak with the staff and said “He’s really, really depressed. I haven’t seen him this bad before. Whatever meds you have him on are not working. I’m very concerned.” I felt like I was talking into thin air. Of course, they knew he was depressed. His dad and I were so frustrated that we didn’t know what was going on.
Lohr was discharged from the hospital at the end of the following week. I was surprised that they released him so early. He had been committed again, so it is not like he had a choice in the matter. Lohr lived in a half-way home as he was on probation from his several attempts at suicide. This was a measure to try and keep him safe. Lohr had suffered from bipolar since he was about ten years old. He also had a suspected diagnosis of schizophrenia.
I was brought back to the present as Lohr’s mother accelerated in her barrage of words. She was highly distressed. She also was bipolar and had not taken her meds and was roaring away in a torrent of understandable mania as she grappled with this unfathomable loss. I could see my husband waning under the onslaught.
“I know you guys aren’t up to this right now,” I interrupted, “but why don’t we go to the undertakers and assess what we need to do there – choose a coffin, decide on clothes, etc. Then everything will be ready for when Lohr arrives.”
Doing something practical seem to help them to move on through this moment. Annette left the car and went back to her car. I got out the back and slid into the driver’s seat. We found the mortuary and went inside. I introduced us to the staff and they put us in a room where we could talk. The lady who was helping us went through the procedures and the choices of service, coffins, etc. She then left us to decide. Sonny and Annette were distraught and unable to focus for longer than a few minutes.
Annette said that she would sell one of her paintings to pay for the coffin and the funeral services at the mortuary. I asked them gently if they would prefer to have the service at our church or whether they would prefer it at the mortuary. Annette expressed a strong desire to have the funeral at the mortuary and Sonny was okay with her request. “But I want him to wear white”, he said. Annette conceded to his wishes. I will order the trousers and shirt tonight, I said. I can hem them as well. I will just need a pair of Lohr’s trousers to get the right length. They very quickly decided on a nice but moderately priced coffin. My husband decided that Lohr would be buried near his dad in St. Paul.
I managed to get them to plan out the services – what hymns they wanted and who would speak. They both wanted to speak and would have our Bishop speak. We worked out the obituary for the mortuary to get out in the paper and online. It took awhile as their grief worked against their focus.
We had just finished, when the undertaker came in to tell us that Lohr had arrived. They said it might be better to see him later when they had time to work with him, but both Annette and Sonny wanted to see him as soon as they could. Annette wanted to go in first and alone. About forty minutes later, she left and went home, after letting Sonny know that she had his blood-stained clothes.
Sonny wanted me to come in with him. I was nervous; I didn’t know what shape he would be in. I hoped that I would know how to support my husband as he got his first taste of the physical reality of the situation.
We walked in. My husband made an audible gasp. I held his hand as he went over to his son and rubbed his back as the tears flowed down his face. He caressed his son’s chest and wept. He spoke to his son and wept some more. One of Lohr’s eyes was not completely shut and I hoped my husband didn’t notice and feel more pain. I gave my husband some space. After a long while, he indicated to me that he was ready to go. He kissed his son and we left the room. I let the staff know that we were leaving and thanked them for their kindness. We would be back tomorrow.
When we arrived back at our house, there was a meal for us on our doorstep. Our Bishop came over later that night and talked with my husband and I. He gave him a blessing. I let the Bishop know the details of the service on Friday and he said that he would take care of the programme and let the members of our congregation know. He said that he would arrange for a meal for our immediate family after the service and the burial.
My husband soon fell asleep as he stared at the television that night. I got a blanket and covered him up. I went into the bedroom and got ready for bed. I climbed into bed. The events of the day caught up with me and, now that I was alone and didn’t have to be strong for anyone, I laid down and sobbed.