Over 40 days have passed since Brett died. Over twenty days have passed since I spent a day remembering him. 7 hours translated into approximately 2 hours of audiotape, 17.5 longhand pages of word for word transcription, 3 hours of editing and word processing, and approximately 7 typed single-spaced pages. What follows is an edited transcript of that day.
The morning of June 1, 2007. I will be spending the day memorializing Brett. Brett was born December 17, 1972 and passed away the morning of May 9, 2007. He was a good friend, teacher, coach at SLz High and C. College. He was a good man who lost his five month battle with liver cancer.
I hope to spend the day as if it were the first day I found out about this loss. I plan to spend some time in a Catholic church in front of the Blessed Sacrament, doing a rosary in Brett’s honor. For the Morning Prayer, I plan to do the Office of the Dead and do some praying before the altar I have here at home, to pray for the repose of his soul. I’m going to tour important spots in Brett’s life in Hayward. I hope to do some ceremony. I may have lunch at Val’s and/or have a drink in his honor at Buffalo Bill’s.
I’m always going to remember the good times and the times when I’d go to his classroom for moral support, whether I was upset at work or in my personal life. He was always there for me. It’s difficult to accept he’s gone. I counted on him. He was a constant. He was someone who got birthday and Christmas gifts from me. We didn’t spend a lot of time together because he was your typically busy Sagittarius. He meant a lot to me. Besides my brother and the guys from Cal, he was the only male in my circle that I truly trusted 100% and pulled into my confidence. I called him Play Brother, Cutie Pie, my cousin, my homie. This loss is huge and has left a hole in my heart.
I found out about Brett’s death on the morning of May 9th. I had gone to work as usual. I was coming off a high from the wonderful day before, when I had gone into the City to hear Don Cheadle, one of my favorite actors, speak out about Darfur. I was excited and motivated. It was a Facing History and Ourselves event which got me back in touch with my roots as a teacher and activist. I had finished a great phone conversation with Soldier in which I told him I’d be visiting Nashville in early June. The weather was beautiful and I had walked all the way up Nob Hill. I felt so happy with everything. I felt untouchable, invincible, healed. I have been struggling with depression since January and that particular Tuesday, May 8th, I felt 100% better. When I went to work the next day, I was oblivious because I was loving life.
At about 8am, my Principal called me on the Nextel. I had already begun the AP in Calculus and I didn’t want to be interrupted. I felt wary. We had been dealing with difficult situations the day before. I’m always nervous when she calls because I’m a new assistant principal and I make mistakes. In my heart, I knew why she was calling. Why else would she interrupt this important examination? She insisted on sending a counselor who came down in a few minutes. I walked outside and the Athletic Director was there. At the time, I thought it was a coincidence but I now believe she asked him to be present. I said, “I don’t know why she is calling me. I hope I’m not in trouble.”
“Everything’s going to be all right.”
“I’m really scared because you know exactly what I’m thinking. I always think the worst.” Around this time, Brett had already taken a turn for the worse so we had not been able to see him and were giving each other updates on his status. We knew he was dying but just did not know when. He repeated himself and walked me up to the office. I walked in, ready to close the door behind me. Instead, he followed. She looked at me and said, “I need you to sit down.”
“No, that’s okay.” I tried to keep things casual because I knew full well what was about to happen.
“No, I need you to sit down.” She put her hand on my shoulder when I was seated. The Athletic Director put his hand on my other shoulder. I knew.
“I’m really sorry to have to tell you this…”
“But Brett died this morning.”
“No, no” probably exactly how I’m saying it now. It was one of the saddest moments of my life. I have not felt a death so acutely. I lost my godfather to leukemia. I lost my grandfather to old age(which was very hard on my father.) I lost my uncle to emphysema. I lost a friend to AIDS. I lost a friend to gang violence. But this is a situation in which I went through the process of watching someone get ill, get worse, and then to have to be told they had passed. It was awful. I broke down crying and sobbed.
“I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”
My boss cried with me. Then we pulled ourselves together. She said I had permission to go home and I said I wanted to stay for the AP exam. The kids needed me. They were worried and had jokingly said, “Oh my God, you’re in trouble.” I wanted to be there for them. I knew they would help me.
I went back for a few difficult hours. My boss made a beautiful announcement about Brett’s life. I was able to talk to the kids about his cancer and the times I had visited him. I carried on until the test ended. As more adults came to check on me, I got very angry. I wasn’t ready for my anger and resentment. As I headed back to the main building, I saw my colleague approaching and I didn’t want to see him. Two other colleagues and a former secretary, who was visiting from out of state for my boss’s retirement, also came. I was so mad. Q, our student assistant, had come to the AP exam to get my materials and give me a hug. He was the only person I allowed to comfort me. Everyone else kept offering support but my response was, “I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to talk about it.” With Q, I could. He was in front of me, carrying my testing materials box, and I said, “I can’t do this. I have to leave right now.” When I saw all those adults, I became another person. My colleague offered to buy me lunch or a drink but I replied that I didn’t want anything. My former secretary gave me a hug but I recoiled. She said, “Honey, I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“I don’t walk to talk about it.” I walked away.
Mingles walked by and said “How you hanging in there?”
“I don’t want to talk about it!” I walked away. I was a wreck. I went to the Main Office, told the Office Manager I would be leaving, and went to my office to try to wrap up. I told my secretaries I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. At one point, one of them entered and gave me a Reese’s Pieces.
“I didn’t want to see anybody! What are you doing in here?” I was full of rage.
I went home for the rest of the day. I wept, felt angry, processed, and contacted my loved ones so they would know. I had told my brother, my sister in law, Ade, Lisa, and my mom in the morning. I called Fernando and he called me back later. Everyone I’m close to was there for me that day.
I feel like all I gave was half a day. I went right back to work. I went back to it all, the numbness and other emotions. But I feel like I haven’t been dealing with my grief.
In addition to the other plans, I want to leave time in the day to do some writing, probably longhand, some kind of eulogy in which I honor him, and eventually put it on my blog. This is not the best day to go online so I won’t.
I’m going to begin with a prayer service. On my altar, there’s incense (smells like cinnamon), a rock my Puente kids gave me as a reminder of Schindler’s List and strength in the face of adversity, a heart I got at an Angeles Arrien retreat that says “humility” which Brett exemplified. The Serenity Prayer: serenity, courage, and wisdom are qualities my friend had. A Vatican rosary which reminds me of John Paul II, whom I also mourned. Seven candles: white, blue, Virgin de Guadalupe, St. Jude, a Chinese candle, Christ at the Resurrection, one large white votive and one small white votive. Seven is an important number in most Judeo-Christian religions. It is the number of the Lord. Figurines of the Virgen de Guadalupe and St. Martin de Porres. Pictures of Jesus as the Divine Mercy and Jesus with the Sacred Heart. An origami bird and a butterfly which I think is appropriate because it represents new life. No fresh flowers but a silk sunflower and daisies and a small American flag. For today, I’ve added the incense holder and the only picture I have of Brett in the house. My framed picture is at work. It watches over me. This picture is a school portrait, when he had shaved all his hair off, which he loved to do. He had beautiful hair but he always did that. I’m going to light all the candles.
I’ve lit sage, a sacred herb for Native peoples, which cleanses and lets spirits know peace. I’ve made the Sign of the Cross and I’m also going to bow to the four directions in honor of my own heritage as part Native and Hayward’s heritage as part Native. The Ohlones lived in Hayward. Brett was a Hayward native, born, raised, and stayed all of his life.
I ask you Lord to look out for my friend, Brett. I’ve prayed for the repose of his soul and offered prayers but today is special as I will not be able to do this on Sunday. My friend was not religious but he did believe in God. He valued my faith. The last few times I saw him, I shared with him that I had been praying the rosary(that’s when I was still with the Legion of Mary) and that my church friends had also been praying for him. He said he felt our prayers and that they meant a lot to him.
We open these prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(Reading from Joyce Rupp prayer pamphlet)
I come before you today, Lord, to offer a prayer for my friend Brett that he may be resting in you, that he may have strength, youth, and happiness once again, that he may be free of pain wherever he is.
(Easter reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John)
I’m now going to offer an allocutio (brief talk.)
It’s fitting that my friend passed during Easter. It is my belief and the belief of my faith that Easter commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the cornerstone of my faith that death is beautiful, not the end of life but the beginning of a new life in the Resurrection. My friend became ill during Advent as we awaited the birth of Our Lord, suffered during Lent along with the passion of Our Lord, and was taken away to the Lord during the Easter season. My friend has become like Christ.
He would probably laugh at that because he didn’t believe in organized religion. If he had had to choose, and he wouldn’t have because he didn’t like commitment, he probably would have been Christian, given he was part Irish, had Catholic friends, and had a lot of respect for Catholics and for all faiths.
In his death, he is like Christ because he has helped all of us come to a greater understanding of what it means to be a good human being. Hundreds of people have said beautiful things about my friend, what a kind, giving man he was. His whole life was about giving to others, helping other become the very best they could be, whether it was a as a high school English teacher, football coach, good friend, son, brother, and partner. He was generous and loyal to a fault.
There’s a line in Scripture where Jesus says there is no greater love than a man give up his life for his friends. I have full faith that at the end of his life, in those moments when he looked around the room at the people he loved the most and wanted at his side on his last day, that he had accepted what was happening and that it was his time to go. He wouldn’t have had it any other way. He wouldn’t have wanted to sacrifice any of his loved ones. He was a good and noble person and would have realized that he was the one that had to go. He would have done it for us. He would do it again. As ugly as cancer is and as painful as it had to have been, he was such a good man that I believe he had accepted his illness and death.
He would look on our grief and be humbled by it. He would want us to continue his legacy, to look out for young people and athletes. He would want us to live a life o integrity and humility. You don’t have to pray the rosary and go to Mass all the time to be a holy person. You do things the way Brett did them with simplicity and honesty. I never knew a more straightforward person. He was a prophet in his own way. He drank, partied, had bar fights in his youth but at the time of his death, he was a faithful husband. He was committed to his partner for eight years and he was more married to her than many married couples I know. He was committed to his parents and spent every weekend with them. He was committed to his brother. I know this hurts him so much because he and Brett were best friends. I look at that relationship as the ideal of sibling love. He was a wonderful friend to dozens of people. It didn’t make him any less of a friend, whether it was to me and T. who are more solitary and independent or all the athletes and students he knew. He was a person who knew hundreds of people. I know that place is going to be filled because he touched many lives. What we’re all going to agree on is the goodness of this man. He didn’t have to quote Scripture to be holy. He was a man who reached out to all, gave his all, a man who put others before himself, and a man who truly lived the gifts God gave to him, without drama or complication, with bravery.
Brett was my brother. H was my friend and will continue to be. God bless and welcome him. He joins a host of angels and saints because he already is an angel and saint. I’m happy that he’s gone home.
(Traditional prayer in Spanish for the souls in Purgatory)
Lord, please accept of Brett into your arms. Lead him and all the dead that gone before him to your heavenly light.
I want to say out loud the names of the dead I want to honor: Marcelo Calderón. Malaquias Mercado. Ricardo Barreda. Danny Pastor. Aaron Olivares. David Villalpando. Lew Hedgecock. Keith Rogers. Fr. Bob. Mathews. Lupe Contreras. Mariana Ferreira. Michael Cambra. LaTonya Miller. Isaac Fanene. Brett Haagenson.
I’m now going to extinguish the seven candles. For the nation’s and world’s leaders, that they may bring about peace and not death but promote life and mercy.
For the church, the Catholic Church, all Christian churches, and all faiths, that we may lead people to make good choices of peace that promote humanity toward others.
For all who grieve, all family and friends who have lost a loved one, may God console you in your time of need.
The next candle is St. Jude. For all those suffering with disease, both physical and emotional, especially for those suffering with cancer and depression.
The Virgin of Guadalupe candle is especially for Brett’s mother, who has lost her child. For all mothers who suffer because their own children are gone or are overseas in wars. May God give them peace.
The Buddhist candle goes out to people of all faiths who have lost loved ones. May their prayers for their dead be heard.
The last of the seven candles is the Resurrection. May everyone who believes in the Resurrection, or doesn’t, be filled with God’s love.
I am now going to share a few moments of silence with Brett. I have one final candle burning.
The incense has burnt. I spent time reading Scripture. I found the original blogs I wrote about Brett in 2003. At the time, he was a brand new friend to me. Even then, I could tell he was going to have an impact on my life. We close this prayer in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.
I’m moving on to the tour.
Traveling down Bockman Rd. This was the site of the Iron Gate Bar and Liquor Store. It’s now an empty lot which is going to be converted into new homes. The Iron Gate was the first bar we went to on our “team meetings.” We started this tradition because we were an English 9 team and needed to plan curriculum. So we decided we would do it in local bars, the diviest bars we could find. The Iron Gate was where Brett almost sold me off into being an old man’s wife. That’s a great story and memory.
Turning onto Hesperian Blvd off Bockman. That is the site of the Village Plaza, another meeting site, across the street from the McGonaghy Estate.
Cruising down Hayward. Passing The Hollow Leg, which we never visited as a team, but was a favorite place of Brett and his brother in their college days. We’re now passing C.College where Brett was assistant football coach. He was a student and star football player who led the team to a championship back in the day. The mascot is Gladiator which fits Brett’s personality, not in that he was overly aggressive, but he was a warrior in life, illness, and death.
The Sleepy Hollow area of South Hayward. This is where Brett grew up. He has a home in this neighborhood that he purchased with his girlfriend a couple of years ago.
Passing Kaiser Hospital in Hayward where many East Bay residents were born. In a few minutes, we’ll be passing Brett’s alma mater.
Passing the intersection of Panama and Hesperian, Mt. Eden High School, home of the Monarchs. He ran track, played basketball, baseball and football. He loved all sports but football was his passion. Hopefully they’ll retire his number. There’s talk of dedicating the football field at Mt. Eden on behalf of his graduating class of 1991.
Turning onto Industrial Blvd headed to Mission Blvd to the Chapel of the Chimes Memorial Park and Funeral Home. This is where he was cremated this past month. It is also the final resting place of my godfather, Malaquias Mercado so I’m happy I’ll get to say hi to my nino.
It has been difficult because there has been no service at which to mourn Brett. His ashes were scattered his parents’ cabin in the Sierras. His partner has the rest of his ashes. It would be nice to have a place to visit him but at least I can be here where it happened.
This was a worthwhile trip. I spent a lot of time here. My godfather passed in 1997, 10 years ago. It’s been a decade since he passed so he’s fully a saint. I know he is helping Brett with his transition. I’ve asked him to do so.
Now in downtown Hayward. Cruising B St. and Mission. Passed Buffalo Bill’s BrewPub, one of our favorite spots, a place we often came to lunch and dinner. It was one of the last places we went before he got sick. We also came to the Bistro at the corner of Main and B St. once. Down on Main and C St. is the Hayward Area Historical Museum. There was a retrospective on the 70s with lots of clothes, toys, and games, which we were fond of, having grown up then. Great fun.
Back in the Washington Manor area, where I live. We came to Schelly’s, which is popular for district employees and has quite a reputation for folks that have grown up in the Manor. We had a great time there.
I will go to St. Felicitas for Adoration. From there I’m going to a place that’s become special to me, Shoreline Park in Alameda.
I’ve made it to Shoreline Park and it’s breathtakingly beautiful. It is sunny and so clear I can make out the boats on the piers across the way and all the buildings in the Financial District. I didn’t want to bring a camera because I wanted this to be a private moment. Brett must be hearing me because it is so gorgeous. I’m going to look at the ocean and the City and reflecting. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the rosary, if I will leave, bury, or throw it in the sea.
I spent a few minutes at the seashore, talking to Brett. I sat on some rocks. I found some sand and some shells so I buried the rosary and said my goodbyes that way.
I’m headed home to write a final letter to Brett which I won’t tape. I’ll put it online and just have for me to keep.
This concludes the day’s celebration. I feel that I’ve dedicated this entire day to his memory and to my grief for him. This has been an important process for me. It’s taken me on a journey.
God bless Brett.