Thursday, March 5, 2009

On Another Day of Reminders

Today marks the two year anniversary of my wife's funeral. At 31, it’s still hard to fathom that I should even be typing those words. Who dies before their 29th birthday anyway? I know that she never intended for us to be left here without her, for me to raise our daughter alone. But some days that doesn’t ease the pain of the situation being what it is. Today is definitely one of those days.

Her parents left for home as soon as the wake in the Southeast was over on March1st. I think they needed to return to what was normal for them for a few hours before they were confronted with things all over again on their own turf. The rest of us returned to my house to find that we were locked out due to a mix-up involving too many people and too few keys. Luckily my cousin, a former police officer, was able to “break in” and I did not have to add a locksmith to an already unwelcome gathering.

I think I slept that night, but I really don’t remember.

The next morning we arose early to caravan home, but I quickly told the others to go on. The last thing I wanted on an already rotten day was to have to keep up with three vehicles and four other people at gas, food, and rest stops. My brothers rode with my daughter and me. Just three men and a little lady. It would have been a fun trip under different circumstances. I guess we made the most of it anyway. Maybe one day we’ll road trip just for the fun of it. I dropped them off at my parents’ house and drove the remaining two to her parents’ house while my daughter slept soundly in her car seat.

I recall being as okay as I could be, given the circumstances. And I remember being really, really glad to be alone. Not alone in the sense that I was without her, but in the sense that I was without everyone else, save my sleeping daughter, for a few hours.

The one thing I remember clearly is how driving into her parents’ town was a slap in the face for which I was not prepared. Seeing that familiar courthouse, the first thing I saw on my numerous drives there in college and after we were married, brought everything home on another level. This was her town. These were her people. It was hard enough to see and receive condolences from our friends and loved ones in the Southeast, but there were very few we shared more than five years of history with there. I realized then that there would be people there who remembered when she was born.

And now they were here to remember when she died.

There were two calling times the next day, Sunday, March 4. The doors opened and the line of people filed in. And there was not a single break until the funeral home director closed them three or four hours later. The idea was that the rest of the family and I would get something to eat and rest a while. Instead, I sought out a couple from our past who seemed especially distraught. I wanted to talk about her and I wanted to help other people make sense of everything as much as was possible. There were so many people who didn’t know she had been sick and there were so many details that just didn’t fit without knowing more of the story. This couple also had known too much loss too young in life, having lost his mother and their daughter within a couple years’ time. We were there for them when his mother passed (we had already moved when we heard about their daughter) and now they were here for me. And in a way, I was there for them too.

There were more calling hours that night. My daughter, who was supposed to have been with a family friend, ended up being there for the entire time. She handled things well, especially for a three year old, and I think it was good for our friends to meet her. It was somehow comforting for them to see a piece of my wife in that vibrant little girl.

The 5th that year was on a Monday. Go figure. So exactly one week after her soul was laid to rest, her body was laid to rest as well. The service was conducted by the same pastor who had married us in the same city only five and a half years before. He considered it an honor, and in many ways, I guess I did too. He had been my wife’s pastor since high school and they had always shared a special bond. He had given us a beautiful send-off into holy matrimony, and he gave her a beautiful send-off into eternity.

The funeral home director and staff, were likewise wonderful. No one should have to bury his wife, especially not five weeks after his 29th birthday and five months before hers. They walked us through every aspect of the process and were more than generous with their time and compassion. The funeral director also had a history with my wife. Her mother had worked for him when he was in a different line of work and my wife was a young girl. And later, his partner was her music teacher or gave her music lessons of some variety. It seems like everyone in that town had a special connection to her.

The funeral home also had some programs that were unique and added to an already special service. Little red satin bags were made available to anyone who wished to take one. Inside the bag were two glass hearts – one to put with my wife and one to keep as a reminder. It was amazing to see the hearts build up over the course of the day. My heart sits in its bag on my dresser. My daughter’s is on her bookshelf. I have on occasion noticed one here or there at the homes of various family members. We all kept them. And for the most part, we all keep them in plain sight.

The graveside service was short as it was at or below freezing, with a strong wind and blowing snow. Again, go figure. The pastor spoke quickly as we all stared at the casket on the rose-colored vault. I remember him handing me three flowers and telling me what they stood for. I don’t remember what for now without looking at the written version of the service, but they too, sit in plain sight in my bedroom. There is no reason to keep those things hidden and though they now blend in with the décor, they still catch my eye more often than not.

As if I need any more reminders to think about her.

The one thing that sticks out above almost all else that day is how my daughter responded to things. She was clearly, visibly upset throughout the service and much of the day. But there was one point in the service when her mommy’s favorite song was played. When it started, she rose from her seat and gave me a tentative glance.

Then she began to dance.

It wasn’t out-of-line. It wasn’t flashy or disruptive. It wasn’t out of character. It was the only way she could express how she was feeling at that moment. And I think it was her small demonstration to me and the only close family members who could see her, that she was going to be okay. When she finished dancing and the song faded, she climbed back into my lap.

I think that was her way of saying that we were going to be okay too.

And we are.

And we will continue to be.


  1. We released red and white balloons at my wife's graveside service. My youngest interrupted the pastor as he spoke to me to say "Look Daddy, it's like a party in the sky for Momma."

    The pastor looked at me and we both recognized the perspective of a child, in their innocence, to death. It was moving; something I'll never forget.

  2. The Widower Dad - It has been amazing to me to see how my daughter has handled her grief and emotions. Children do view things through a much less complicated lens than we do, which has helped simplify my own perspective on more than one occasion.