Feb 28, 2008

Todd John Kauppila, my brother, deceased

[Written by Todd's sister, Diana, on 10 May 2005.]

I generally try to keep from making this space a place to dump, but everyone will have to forgive me in this circumstance. My brother Todd died Sunday night, and I'm writing about this, and it's not pretty, nor happy, nor anything but me needing to talk.

The news story is @ http://www.freenewmexican.com/news/13584.html. It's wrong, Todd was 40, not 41.

Sunday night, I was with my mother. Roomies and I cooked dinner for her and took her to see a movie for mother's day (Kingdom of Heaven for the second time, loved it), and she had been saying to me it was the best mother's day ever for her. Then, in the middle of the movie, my dad called Sara and told her to get home now. Sara got us from the other theater, and we didn't know what was wrong. Except... I did. Mom was saying she thought it might be Grandma, but right then I knew it was Todd. I knew. 100%.

So we drove home, and dad was there, sitting in the rocking chair in the corner. We came in and he said in a hoarse voice that Sara (sister-in-law) called to say Todd had a massive heart attack and they were at the hospital trying to save him. Mom started crying and Sara (roomie) hugged her, and I hugged Dad, and I started making arrangements to get us out there. The flights weren't optimal, though, so after reserving some we decided to drive anyway. We got in the car and started the 10 hour drive to Los Alamos, with me driving.

The drive was fairly uncomfortable to start with, the silences punctuated occasionally by my dad whispering that this was supposed to happen to him, not Todd. And as we were driving, I just knew in my heart that he wasn't going to make it. I don't know how I knew, but I knew. The phone rang, and it was Sara (sister-in-law), and after Mom answered it, she gasped and said oh no, oh God, oh God. She started crying. She hung up and said that they lost him, and Dad started crying too. i was driving, so I didn't. This may sound strange to some people, but in emergency situations, or emotional situations, I have a role, a place. That place is to be strong for those who are in need, and at this time, that's what I did. I spoke what words of comfort I could, which meant shit at the moment, and kept driving. I'd promised to get them there safely, and that was something I intended to keep. All the way, I kept praying in my heart for Todd's family, for my parents, for strength to be there and be what they needed, for the right words or the wisdom to know when to be silent.

When we stopped to get gas, my parents went to the bathroom and I had a few moments to myself. I called Jacqueline, and all I really did was break down the moment I heard her voice. I had my two minutes of hysterical crying, then hung up, wiped my eyes, and went to go bathroom before we got back on the road again.

(note: another reason I don't cry much is because I look like crap when I do. All you women who cry beautifully... you suck!)

We got to Los Alamos the next morning without sleep. This was Monday. We went to Sara (s-i-l's) house immediately, and I saw her and the kids. Johnny (13) was just sobbing on the couch, and Tia (7) was playing like nothing was wrong. I heard later she was pissed off when she found out. Typical, she's just like Todd.

There were tons of people there. There continue to be tons of visitors, and the outpouring of support from the community is incredible. I started being my typical take charge self, and did things like call Todd's work, call the lawyer, call his insurance... you know me, if you're reading this. In an emergency, I do what has to be done. I called upon my roomies and am forever grateful to them for helping make arrangements to get my brother from Hawaii out here. They are the best.

One of the hard things to deal with, the thing that keeps coming and haunting me, is that Todd was napping in his son's room because he felt unwell. Apparently he got up to head to the door, but never made it. When Sara (s-i-l) checked on him later, he was gray and not breathing. I don't know how long he was that way. She called the neighbor, who was a sheriff, and the man came in to perform CPR and told her to call 911. I guess they got a couple of breaths out of him and some regurgitation quickly, and then the emergency crews got there. They worked on Todd for 1/2 hour and then took him to the hospital. There, they were with him for a while before they came to tell Sara (s-i-l) that he was on a respirator, and that his brain had been without oxygen for so long, there really wasn't hope. She went to hold his hand and told them to turn off the respirator. In many senses, he was dead all along. Sara (s-i-l) believes that they knew that at the house, they just didn't want his son to believe that Todd died in his room.

And people came all day. All sorts of people. All day. I hugged so many people, and talked calmly with all of them, I think. Rock, and all that. I stayed at a neighbors rather than staying in the room where Todd died. I couldn't handle that. I laid in there for a while at one point, just thinking about it, and I had to stop.

Then, outside, Tia comes up to me, and we start talking about her gymnastics or something else safe. I have to put in the conversation that happened, though, because it was really a rough one for me.

Aruptly, Tia asks, "Are they going to burn him?"

I nod slowly and answer, "Yes, yes they are. Does that bother you?"

She nods seriously too, and tells me, "Yes, I think a grave would be better, I don't want them to burn him, but it's what he wanted."

So I answer her, "It bothers me a bit too, but you know, if they burn him up to ashes, then in a sense you can say hi to him at every fire. You can walk by and say Hi Dad."

She smiles a bit and giggles and nods.

And I ask, "Would you like to have some of the ashes around here, close to you? Where?"

Tia looks around and points at the rose bushes. "Yes. There," she says.

I nod and tell her, "Alright. We'll talk to your Mom about that. I think that would be nice, to have a part of him close, always."

Isn't that strange? She's so young, and sometimes people think she doesn't get what's going on. But she does. She said that they keep talking about it, over and over, everyone who comes over and Mom, and it was making her sick. Children. Amazing. I did mention it to Sara (s-i-l) later, and she said that was a good idea, Todd loved those rose bushes. So maybe that small thing will help.

Dad found some writing in a notebook from when Todd was fired from the labs, where he recorded that the person who did so was a dishonest idiot. Todd was painfully, brutally honest. He loved his family and his country, was fiercely devoted to those loyal to him, and he would not pull any punches or play political games. That's what got him in trouble at the labs, that's what got him into the lawsuit he was in, and that was what killed him in the end, really. If this makes no sense, see the article about him, or check out http://lanl-the-real-story.blogspot.com/. It talks about the corruption and dishonesty at Los Alamos National Labs, something that Todd was fighting. Todd was a fighter. Anyway, Dad was mad. Dad is mad. The struggle at the labs caused such stress in Todd, and he was so determined to always do the right thing... Dad was talking about how if the man who fired him showed up, he'd never leave. It's hard to hear Dad so mad that he's talking about hurting someone, talking about killing them. I know he's just blowing off steam, though. I had thoughts about finding the director of the labs who just left, the one who caused this whole mess, and beating the piss out of him. But I know that we all face an accounting for our actions someday, so I'll leave that to him.

The day ended with everyone leaving and us all limply going to bed. I was going to spend more time praying before I went to bed, but I was so tired, so limp, that all I had was a thanks to God that we all made it through the day. Those of you who don't know that I'm a Christian, uh, I'm a Christian.

Today, however, was the hardest day of my life. We went to see the body, which was at the funeral parlor (why are they parlors?) in Santa Fe. We talked to the funeral director for a while, told him cremation and no urn needed because we're scattering the ashes. He gave Sara (s-i-l) Todd's wedding ring, and she started crying, putting it on her thumb, turning it. She was worrying at it for the rest of the conversation. There was one moment in this part of things that really, really hit me. I was looking at the paperwork he was doing, and I saw a line for Name of Deceased: Todd J. Kauppila. And I thought, that's my brother. That's him. He's deceased. Then we got to see the body.

My brother was laying on a steel gurney, though they'd covered him with blankets and propped him up. I know they did an autopsy, we were just talking about how the lungs had to be "harvested" to go to National Jewish (a hospital?) for some research. Todd likely had beryllium poisoning. Beryllium is an element used in making weapons. Yes, my brother was a scientist involved in such things. Anyway, he was on the gurney, a pillow beneath his head, and he looked like he were sleeping. Of course. And smirking a bit. It was very, very hard to look at his face. The EXPRESSION was just like he'd give at me when we were arguing. Mom went to kiss his forehead, and I guess she didn't realize he'd been in a refrigerator, she stepped back gasping, "he's cold, he's so cold," and started crying. Dad had been crying since the moment he came in. I didn't cry, but the second I saw him, I felt weightless, as if I were falling. In my head, I literally said, "Diana, you dumb shit, don't you dare do anything like pass out. Keep it together." Except, it was Todd's voice in my head. And so, I kept it together.

This was the hardest moment for me. I went to hug my mom, my dad, and then just looked at the body. All I could do was what I'd been doing, pray for wisdom to say the right thing or be silent when needed, for strength for my parents who had lost their son, etc. Dad hugged Mom and was moaning something incoherent into her shoulder as I rubbed his back, and she said to him, "He was a gift, John, a wonderful gift to us for forty years." My Mom is perhaps the strongest woman in the world.

The brief conversations I've had during this are the most difficult. Telling Mom and Dad that even though this is hard, it might be better than a slow degeneration from the beryllium poisoning where his children had to see him falling apart. Talking with one of the women who I don't know at all about the screaming match Todd and I had last time he was in town, and how I loved him so much. Listening to a neighbor tell the story of the time he looked out his window and saw Todd chasing his computer down the side of his house with an axe, whacking it and calling it a fucking piece of shit and chopping it up as it rolled down the hill. Watching Mom folding clothes from the laundry and then gasp and have to take a step back as she realizes she's folding Todd's clothes, telling me she can't do that. Discussing the merits of Shiraz and Merlot with one of the men who is there, the neighbor who was a sheriff and performed the CPR. Discussing with him how he always wondered if he could perform CPR on a guy (you know, tough guy thing) and then how when he saw Todd laying there, that didn't even come up in his mind. Talking with Sara (s-i-l's) Mom about this, and about how this really does hammer home the need to make a lifestyle change so that my parents never have to go through this again just because I'm too freaking lazy to exercise and eat right. These brief blurbs are surreal, like patches in a quilt in my mind, not exactly in order anymore. Like a quilt I want to sew together to make sense of it.

Sara (roomie) and Julie are coming in tonight. I really am grateful for that. Brother in tomorrow. Aunts and uncles coming in. When a first born son dies, it's a big thing. Dad was so very proud of Todd, as was I. There is a pain in the center of my chest, one that will not go away, but one that I can't cry out yet. In a while, I'll get to. But first, I have to be the one who holds things together.

I had to leave the house to come to Starbuck's to be online, send some messages, do some work, and purge a bit. If you've read all of this, thanks for hanging with me.

To everyone who has been sending support and love, to everyone who has been thinking of me and praying, thank you so much for being there. I know I'm not exactly around right now, sorry about that, but thank you for your understanding and friendship through this. I have no words for how much the support means.


Di Nietz said...

I gave permission for this to be posted, unedited, an excerpt from my own blog. I pray your pardon, readers, for the redundancy and poor writing, and the personal details that are perhaps more indepth than casual. Thank you.

-Diana Nietz

Pinky and The Brain said...

Thank you for sharing this, Diana.
Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

That made me cry.

Thanks for the post.

I wonder if it would make Foley, Dynes, Nanos, et. al. cry too?

Anonymous said...

2/28/08 6:30 PM wrote "I wonder if it would make Foley, Dynes, Nanos, et. al. cry too?"

Nope - or else they would have paid his widow what she was owed ...

Anonymous said...

A very powerful and touching story, the human element behind the story. A Pulitzer prize waiting for a dedicated reporter who has the courage to pry the lid off the corruption in DOE/NNSA and LANL management.

Thank you Diana.

Adm. Bob Foley said...

"Todd who?"

Anonymous said...

So touching and sad to read that again. Todd was so right; so many of us now ex-LANL staff had bosses who were dishonest idiots. Todd was a real trooper to continue to fight, and he paid the ultimate price.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for your loss. UPTE LOCAL 11 LLNL skill crafts. Keep up the fight