My Letter

Oct 12, 2018

Death is the end of the physical body. Einstein said "Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be changed from one form to another."

I clung to this idea after the Sheriff came to my door at midnight to tell me that my son Zafer died in Boulder, Colorado. He had smoked heroin. I didn't know heroin was a threat at the time.

My world changed in a matter of seconds. My body, my mind, my ideas of reality all changed with that knock on the door.

That was the most horrific night of my life. Every minute seemed like hours. The night slowed down and basically stopped. I just wanted the sun to come up. My husband and my youngest son all got into our bed and held hands finally.

When the sun came up, I went to make the calls but I didn't want to utter the words. I called my Dad and told him to drive to my mother's house and tell her.

Somehow people started finding out. People started walking out of the woods and driving up to help us. When in shock, there is no rational thought. More and more people came.

We had been working on a graveyard on our property for our neighbor who was dying of ALS. I had no idea that the first grave would be dug for Z.

The town of Pittsboro started finding out and food started arriving. Flights were arranged from Paris, Canada, New York, Colorado, Florida and California. Zafer's sisters started driving from D.C.

A 20 person committee was formed to house the out of town guests, do airport runs, feed the hundreds of people coming through, to clean and start planning the celebration of Zafer.

Farmers trucked in campers to sleep the people. Sweet souls that supported us. Massage and pedicures and singing were happening. No one went to work. My family just sat together and said what we wanted and it got done for 7 days. An altar was formed on the porch and it kept getting bigger and bigger with candles, photos, mementoss, sacred objects, flowers, cards and letters. Every night we would eat and drink and laugh and cry.

The amount of joy was equal to the pain as we listened to stories we had never heard. I got to know my 19 year old son better in that 7 days than I had in all of our years. He touched so many people in an incredibly deep way. Strange for a 19 year old to have made that kind of impact.

We had to wait for his body to be flown from Colorado to Raleigh. The service was held at our Industrial Plant in Pittsboro. There must have been 900 people there. The entire family spoke. We sang Hallelujah at the end so that he could hear.

Zafer's body was put into a beautiful pine coffin with a Z on it and was placed in the back of his beloved beat up Isuzu pup truck. His brother Arlo, sister Kaitlin and best friend Grey drove him to our home graveyard. The Pittsboro Police guided the processional of cars a mile long through Pittsboro. The town stopped for us. Once we were at the town line, the Sheriff took over to guide us the rest of the way to Moncure.

It felt so respectful.

The hole was ready and had been dug by his brother, father, grandfather, uncle and grandfather along with friends. We placed him there and I started shoveling dirt over him to cover him up. Someone gently took me aside and the rest of the guests began shoveling with tears in their eyes and with anger and sadness. Someone started singing gospel songs as they covered him all the way up.

I still go sit with Zafer about once a week. But really he is with me at the times I need him. He shows up in a song, in a dream or some animal presence. He is in me.

I'm learning to be grateful for our 19 years together.

Tami Schwerin

Tami Schwerin, Executive Director, Abundance NC

This letter is part of the Death Letter Project - North Carolina, a means to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, NC.


Michael Palko