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Excerpt from Nine Ball in the Corner Grave: A Memoir:

“I know, Sis. Just remember that he won’t be sick forever,” I told her.

Soon, the room fell silent again. Mom was shushing everyone so that Willie could get some rest and Bobby was following Mom’s example, but then Willie farted loudly, which any other time would have been hilarious, because Willie would have turned it into a joke. If he’d been able to speak much he would have been singing, “Beans, beans, good for the heart. The more you eat, the more you fart. The more you fart the better you feel, so I eat beans with every meal.” On this occasion, however, Willie was barely able to speak so instead he said, “Ip, ip,” but none of us could make sense of that.

Mom leaned down closer to him, “What?” she said softly.

“I poo, I poo,” he said again. At first he seemed to be trying to muster a smile, but now he was annoyed. I think he thought everyone should’ve laughed, but instead, no one laughed. We all looked at him with the seriousness of Supreme Court judges.

“Oh,” Mom said. “Do you need a nurse? Here let me call a nurse for you,” and then Mom started trying to find the nurse button on the side of Willie’s bed.

“No,” he strained, trying to push Mom’s hand back. Mom didn’t realize that Willie was joking when he said that he had pooped, but neither did the rest of us. Willie was so sick then, incontinence seemed logical.

We all looked at Willie with pity and Mom faked a laugh, raising her arm a bit for the rest of us to follow suit. We all attempted a half hearted chuckle, but it sounded awkward. All of us could tell that Willie was in a lot of pain, but he was still trying to make jokes and cheer everyone up, even though he couldn’t really make people understand him anymore. Mom leaned over Willie’s hospital bed and took his hand, while Dave wrapped his arm around her. Both of them were crying, which caused everyone else in the room to cry, except me. I attempted with all my effort to hold back my tears. The funeral is the place to cry, I kept telling myself. I didn’t just need to be the strong one for my family; I need to be the strong one for myself.

It was at that moment that I knew Willie was no longer with us. His body was here, but it was useless and his mind was either trapped inside this decrepit body or somewhere else entirely. He could’ve died that day while we were there, but he didn’t. He held on a few days longer and finally let go. I don’t know if anyone was at the nursing home with him when he died. Perhaps some of Vickie’s family was there. Either way, he was alone. Scared to face death and alone. It was a horrible way to die, but every one of us was glad when it was finally over.