I don't know how I made it through the day, then suddenly my grandkids were there. I hugged them as hard as I could without scaring or hurting them. I needn't have worried. They hugged me back fiercely. My precious boys.
“Is Grandpa in a box?” Asked so matter-of-factly with the sweet innocence of children's curiosity. I heard Sarah gasp. She wobbled on those tall heels of hers.
When I saw her I wondered who was in trouble. She was sporting what Jim and I had laughingly called her “butt-kicking look”. She always dressed to kill, but there was a bit extra trouble she went to when she was aiming for a fight, and she looked like it. Her hair was done a bit higher, her makeup a bit more perfectly applied and her highest heels on. I would have liked to have asked her, but she just watched me from the other side of the room the entire time she was there.
So I tried to explain about urns in as few words as possible. I was as tired as I have ever been in my life. I was so tired that I no longer cared about sleep or being awake, about eating or pretty much anything. But I cared about those boys and I cared about my kids. I heard Sarah's whispered, “how could you” and I knew I should have been horrified or terribly guilty, but those emotions were locked up somewhere behind this grief and numbness, behind horror and disbelief.
I watched as Sarah and the boys left. Watched as the door closed behind them, and then watched as they walked down the walk. They were about half way to the car, the boys traipsing ahead, when Sarah turned back. Though I'm pretty sure she couldn't see me, she seemed to look right at me, through the windows, where the sun was surely making the windows a mirror, she stared. The anger there was unmistakable. It shook me up. I set down the plate of uneaten food, walked calmly to the bathroom, locked the door behind me and threw up.
Once I began throwing up it felt like my body was planning to expel first my stomach, then my intestines. I hadn't eaten more than a few bites all day, so I had dry heaves. Over and over and over. I knew that look. I felt that hatred, that anger. I don't know what happened exactly, just that my body and my mind were rejecting her anger, my grief, my loss, and so much more. I couldn't think, but I could feel. I threw up and felt that call, I rejected the sight of Jim's dead body, of identifying him. rejected every horrible thing about all of this. I knew as I was throwing up I was rejecting all of it. I rejected the losses. Not just of Jim, but of our life and our dreams, of losing our home and leaving our friends and all the ways we had discovered who was and wasn't our friends.
I began crying. Well, crying isn't even the right word for it. I was weeping, sobbing, harsh cries, only interrupted by more dry heaves and hiccuping gasps for air. I lay on the floor, uncaring who would know. I lost track of time. I lost track of where I was, only knowing the comforting feel of cold tile beneath my cheek, of tears on my cheeks, of the raspy pain in my throat. I cried and cried and cried.
Somehow, Josie was there. She told me later that she had been banging on the door, and when I did not answer, she popped the lock. She's clever like that. I woke up in the Campbell's guest bedroom, through the blinds, the waning light told me it was dusk.
I tried to summon the embarrassment I would ordinarily have felt, but I could not. I was thirsty. Hungry too, so I got up and went out to join the quiet sounds I heard down the hallway.
Josie sat quietly in the living room, reading, but so obviously waiting for me. Her quiet gaze was on me, concerned, waiting, with questions she held inside. Her slight head tilt asked the questions, my slight nod answered. You okay? I'm okay. Should I be worried? I don't know. It was a silent conversation, the kind that only two people who really know each other can have.
“I'm hungry.” I said out loud. Josie nodded and got up. We went into the kitchen together. Her hand on my shoulder gave me more comfort than I would have believed was imaginable. I sighed, a ragged, long, cleansing sigh.
“He's gone isn't he?”
“I don't blame her, you know, for being mad.” We both knew what I was talking about.
“I'm fairly freaked out about the cremation myself.”
“Mmmhmm,” the way she responded was a question, and encouragement to keep talking.
“It seemed normal. It's what our families have always done. It's what we talked about. But doing it is different. It can't be undone.” I was making a sandwich as we talked. Rather, I talked and she listened.
Janie Campbell joined us, first giving me a questioning look. I nodded and waved her in to join us. She saw my sandwich and immediately went to the large stainless refrigerator and began pulling other things out to complement my food. She poured me a glass of wine, a sweet sparkling red wine that was my favorite.
Janie and Don were the couple that entertained often. They regularly had large groups, sometimes thirty or even more at a time, and they were prepared for it. In addition to the large refrigerator there, in the laundry room there was another. Their kitchen boasted not one but two full ovens and a large six burner gas stove with a faucet just for filling large pots right at the stove. It was a wonder, but I had wondered often before. Now I was just grateful for their comforting presence. I saw Don in the family room. He waved at me, but was giving us our space.
“Sarah's mad at me.” I gave Janie the briefest synopsis I could. I spared no one. I didn't tell all, however, because I didn't know all. I had never known what was behind all that anger that Sarah had toward me. I'm not sure she knew.
We talked briefly. No one tried to give me any answers. That's what's great about really good friends. They don't pretend when they don't know the answers. They also let you tell them your failures and without absolving you of any wrongdoing, they never let it diminish their esteem for you.
I felt so wounded and such a failure at the moment. Did I mention scared? Oh, I was so scared of facing this life without Jim. He had been the buffer between Sarah's anger and my hurt feelings. He always helped me keep perspective and he would never listen to a bad word against me, even from his precious princess.
I looked around this house where we had spent so much time over the years. Our kids had been in and out of here for youth group and graduation parties. We had been there for so many church functions and gatherings of friends, playing Hand & Foot 'til the wee hours of the morning, New Year's Eve celebrations, and so many other times. It made me feel good and sad that I was seeing this again for such an occasion. Jim and I had talked about coming for a visit to coincide with the next New Year's Eve party. He would never come here again.
Almost as if she read my mind, Janie sighed, “I always thought you guys would be here together. I never thought you would be here for this.”
“I know.” I know. What more was there to say?
“Oh, Mel, I am so sorry. We loved Jim so much.” Janie's eyes were filled with unshed tears.
I looked over at Josie, who had a tear running down her cheek. She and Jim had become good friends over the years, both of them brought together by me, but developing a friendship all their own, with their own teasing jokes. They liked the same movies, and often we would go together, with both of them carrying on about how great the explosion filled blockbuster was. I enjoyed those, but not with the fervor they both had.
During the previews, one on one side, one on the other, they would turn to each other, laughing. “No way she'll want to see that one.” They would tease me mercilessly about liking “chick flicks”, a term they used for any film where the people talked more than they grunted.
They both knew that the real gory movies would never be seen by me. I don't care how realistic it was, no way was I going to waste my time watching something that made me sick.
We sat in a sad but companionable silence, the three of us, each lost in our own memories.
Then slowly the silent memories were spoken aloud and we were laughing and crying together. It was a sweet time.
I felt Jim with us. He was smiling, I'm sure of it.