Life is full of sad days. Some are sadder than others. I woke in the dark and mentally went over my arrangements for my husband’s memorial. I had the music selected. His business partner and our son-in-law would speak. Our youngest daughter volunteered to read scripture. The caterers had confirmed.
I hauled my body out of bed and went searching for my lists. I’d mailed reminders about the time and date to those I thought would feel left-out if they didn’t receive extra attention—mostly his family. I counted the number of replies against the numbers I’d given the caterer. I showered, did my hair up on top of my head and wished it was thicker, or had more body.
The sky grew lighter, but thick heavy clouds hid the sun. The clouds looked as dark and heavy as I felt. I skipped breakfast, feeling too heavy and weighted down to eat. I dressed in black—black stockings, black dress. My good black pumps felt loose on my feet. Had even my feet lost weight over the past three months as I watched the love of my life or the bane of my existence, depending on his mood, drift away to a new world and a new reality?
The time came for my son-in-law to pick me up. We took my car because my children would need their rental to return them to the airport at the end of the day. I’d drive home alone.
We rode in silence to the church. The pastor greeted me with a hug and took me to her office to coordinate the last minute details and have a time of prayer. My children joined me and passed around more hugs. The ravaged grief on the faces of my beloved children hurt almost as much as the raw exhaustion around the empty bleeding hole inside me.
I opened the door to the pastors office and stood where I could see my my husband’s brothers arrive, but they appeared to be late. My closest family huddled around me. Finally, five minutes later than we were scheduled to start, I shrugged and turned to the pastor. “We can’t wait longer. Other people have commitments later. We better get started. They’re probably stuck in traffic.”
The service was lovely. The choir outdid themselves on a gospel arrangement of Glory Land. The eulogies were perfect. I turned, hoping to see my husband’s brothers. Surely, they would want to say a few words about their brother. They hadn’t arrived. My brother spoke about what an excellent brother my husband had been to him. Friends, clients, and coworkers took turns saying kind words. Finally, the trumpet player stood, held his horn to his lips and signaled the end of the service and the end of a life by playing Copeland’s Fanfare for a Common Man. Now, I had only the reception to get through.
We recessed. I stood to receive guests with my daughters. My eldest took my arm to guide me to the correct place to stand. “Where are the cousins from Dad’s side?”
I looked at the approaching crowd. “Didn’t they arrive? His brothers aren’t here. Something terrible must have happened on the way here.” I pictured a car accident or a heart attack. Maybe they ran afoul of a mass shooter on a freeway overpass. It must be something horrible to keep his family away. I twisted the lace on my sleeve. I had given them the correct time and address, hadn’t I?
My son-in-law stepped behind me. “Give me your phone, I’ll call so we know what happened.”
I smiled and hugged neighbors who tried to say comforting things on their way to the buffet. I tried to hear my son-in-law on the phone. “Oh. Oh, I understand. We expected…we were just worried.”
I hugged friends from our brunch group at church. My son-in-law leaned forward. “Hal’s at a golf tournament. He doesn’t know where his kids are.”
I nodded and wanted to scowl, but turned to hug my niece. “What a comfort to have you here today.”
“He was always there for us.” My niece moved on to be replaced by a former client.
“He was the most caring doctor I’ve ever had. We’ll miss him.”
Another face appeared, another hug. “You take care of yourself. You’ve had a rough three months.” I remembered this face. She was one of the hospice volunteers. She moved on.
My son-in-law leaned close to me. “I just talked to Tracy. They forgot the service was today. Her folks went to a company picnic.”
My eyebrows flew up as I realized that the people I worked so hard to comfort, the people closest to my husband, hadn’t bothered to show up. I plastered another smile on my face and hugged my cousin.
“You brought our family a good man. He fit in so well with our craziness. I loved his laugh.”
I briefly felt a little warmer.
“You look tired. Give me a call if you need help with any chores.” Our contractor who’d built ramps for the wheelchair squeezed my hand.
“When I’m more rested, I’ll want the ramps taken down.” I smiled again and glanced down the line of people who were waiting to speak to me. I knew they were wishing they knew what to say. Nothing anybody says makes a difference. Being present was all I needed from them. Glancing at the line, I saw more cousins, then a group of people from the clinic. A familiar-sounding laugh caught my ear. Spots danced before my eyes. I focussed on the group of people from the clinic. There, in unrelieved black, with a black hat at a jaunty angle on her head stood the woman who’d slept with my husband ten years ago. How dare she show her face here, laughing and flirting with the men around her.
“When was the last time you had anything to eat?” A second-cousin stood in front of me.
I tried for a social smile.
“You’re dead on your feet.” He stepped forward, grabbed me around the waist then bent down to get his arm under my knees.
“Oh. Oh no. I don’t need to sit.”
He picked me up, then turned to his wife and said, “Kami, get her a plate of food. She’s ready to pass out.”
The president of the women’s association at church rushed forward. “Here, set her over here.” She waved toward a table with a centerpiece of real flowers. “I was wondering when she was going to collapse. We have a plate for her in the kitchen.” She pulled out a chair at the table close to the buffet.
Alice from the woman’s group bustled around finding me some silverware and a napkin. “I’m going to get you some coffee. You don’t have a lick of color in your face.”
Mary set a plate of filled with ham, fruit salad, pasta salad, scalloped potatoes and a roll in front of me.
Carrying on by myself, I was accustomed to. Having people notice my distress and wait on me demolished my defenses, and tears leaked down my cheeks. My best friend from college sat beside me and took my hand. “Hang in there. You look exhausted.”
I leaned close and whispered. “That Whore is here, black hat, loud laugh. Keep her away from the girls. I’d rather not do a scene.”
“She’s just here to stir up drama.” Ruth stood and made her way to my daughters still in the reception line. “Times up, you girls need to sit. You’ve had a rough few months trying to work and help your mom.” She turned toward her husband. “Honey, get your face out of the food and get something for these girls.” With an arm around each of my daughters, she herded them toward a table of cousins about their age.
Family and friends rushed forward to wait on my daughters. The reception line disappeared, and I felt a cup of hot coffee being shoved into my hand. “My God, you’re pale.”
I nodded. “I think it finally hit me that the caregiving is over. I’m exhausted.” I turned to my plate. People filed by, giving me hugs and kisses while I ate.
Ruth abandoned me for a few moments, but another cousin took her place. “Okay folks, let her eat in peace for a few minutes.”
Much to my surprise, I cleaned my plate. I set down my fork and turned to greet one of the doctors from my husband’s clinic. Much to my horror, The Whore stood behind him waiting to speak to me. I could hear her talking to the person behind her. “We were really really close when I worked there. When I heard he passed, I was so shocked. I didn’t know he’d been sick, so this is all so fresh for me.”
I suddenly felt old and fat and saggy. My carefully chosen dress that looked so chic when I tried it on in Nordstroms, felt frumpy.
My pastor put her hand on my shoulder. “I need to see you in my office. I can’t put this off any longer.”
I stood and dumbly followed the pastor to her office. She closed the door behind us. “Ruth told me about the problem here. Have a seat. You don’t need those kind of reminders today.”
I sat, and she handed me a box of tissues. “I understand his family didn’t show.”
I shook my head. “Probably didn’t want to come inside a liberal mainstream church.” I tried to smile as if making a joke. “I suppose this is their way of breaking off all contact with me and the girls.”
We chatted for a few minutes until we were interrupted by a knock on the door. My daughter stuck her head in the door. “We’re off to the airport. Do you have keys to your car? Can you drive yourself home?”
I nodded and stood to hug my children goodbye.
“Bye the way, Mom, don’t worry. We wouldn’t have given The Whore an opportunity to draw more attention to herself.” They ducked out the door and hustled to their car then for the planes taking them to their homes.
Finally, the weak sun that had hidden behind the cloud cover all day sunk below the horizon. Friends, family and enemies went home. My brother walked me to my car. His wife tucked a plate of leftover food into the back seat. “Are you sure you can drive?”
“I’m tired, but there won’t be much traffic, and it isn’t that far. I can make it.”
Moments later, I pushed the button on my garage door opener and parked my car beside my husband’s truck, then realized I had absolutely no idea how I’d gotten home. I shuffled into the house, turning my ankle once in my high heels. I set the plate of food in the refrigerator.
“Can I eat that?”
I looked up at the shadow standing in the hall. “No. You’re dead.”
“No, I’m not.”
“You are dead. I just had a lovely memorial for you. About one hundred people came—mostly from church. Now, you’re dead. Move on.”
“I don’t feel dead. I was sick, but I got well.”
“Your brothers and their kids didn’t come to the service.”
“I told them I’m not dead.”
“Believe me. You’re dead. Now move on.”
The shadow turned toward the hall. “You’re a crazy old woman. I’m not dead.”
“You’re dead. I’m not going to argue with you any more.”
I heard his feet shuffling down the hall or was that just my imagination and the settling of an old house?