Brief reflections on a life event.
|The still coolness of the room was maddening. Without the air conditioner actually running, blasting my left shoulder with cool air and ringing in my ears, I could hear the near-silence behind me. Occasionally there was a sniffle, and I imagined it came from women wiping their noses and probably their eyes. Maybe even a few men, who knows? I don’t. I didn’t have the courage to turn around and look. I didn’t have the courage to risk meeting someone’s eyes and seeing their pity, their heartache, their sorrow. I wasn’t brave enough to see all that and still bear the weight of my own burdens.
Sure, I knew most of them; family, friends, other farmers and their wives. But there were a few I didn’t know, and they didn’t know me. They didn’t even know you. They probably just saw how young you were in the newspaper write-up and got curious.
So here they are.
All of them.
And here I am, not turning around to look at any of them. Here I am keeping my hands busy, picking up the tissue that keeps falling silently to the ground from the seat of the empty chair beside me.
Over and over.
It falls. I pick it up.
It falls again. I pick it up again.
I needed to leave it alone. It didn’t matter. It was just a tissue. I left it on the floor.
I needed to pay more attention to the service. It would only last a few minutes. The sermon was wonderful, but sitting still was hard. I was so used to preaching being accompanied by your warm arm around me, and without it, I felt naked and exposed.
The preacher spoke about having an abundant life, saying that it’s what Christ came to bring us. But this doesn’t feel like abundance. This feels like robbery. This feels like a crime, but there is no criminal to bring to justice.
Your father blames himself.
“If I’d stayed at North Jones with him, maybe I would have seen it. Maybe I could have stopped him.”
He never actually said those words, but I could see those thoughts in his eyes. But it wasn’t his fault. What happened was no one’s fault; tornados are an “Act of God.” At least, that’s what the insurance man had said. But death is not from God, and that’s what the tornado brought us -- death.
Death and rain. Too much rain. The flooding is out of control. Some farms and businesses will never recover, especially since it just keeps raining, and I wonder if that’s how I’ll be.
Just after the tornado, we had talked about how lucky we were, how blessed we were. We had escaped! Our home and farms were without damage. All except one -- North Jones. But even that was no big deal, just some minor debris from a billboard that used to be near the highway. Just pick it up and haul it away.
I guess we missed something, and as I remember that day again, I suddenly don’t feel very blessed anymore.
I feel empty. Well, maybe not quite. I feel like I am being emptied, like all the goodness of life is being poured out on hopeless, arid ground, and I’m just watching it, letting it slide away, not able to stop it. And that’s mostly okay. You were the only thing I really wanted out of life anyway. You and the little boy who sat wiggling on my lap, my hands wrapped around his as he held onto his soft, stuffed cow.
Our seven months as a family of three have been the most glorious months of my life. My life never held such purpose as it did those seven months. Suddenly being made a family of two again is… It has made me… I just… I just don’t know. I don’t think there are words for this. This must be where the Holy Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words, because this is a pain too deep for words.
The service feels long, even though I know it’s not. Our preacher keeps going on about the goodness of the Lord, and I know it’s true, but I don’t feel the Lord’s goodness. I feel something else.
Our baby won’t remember you. He won’t remember how you were his favorite. I was his comfort, but you were his joy. He needed you daily; your voice, your laughter, your smile, your heart. He won’t remember how he greeted you and played with you with uncontainable excitement. He won’t remember how anxious you were to hold him every night when you came home. He won’t remember your sleepy “Good morning, son.” He won’t remember how much you loved him.
I’ll tell him though. I’ll tell him how he melted your heart, how you made him giggle and squirm with joy. I’ll tell him how you prayed for him so fervently. I’ll tell him how you made up all sorts of songs just to make him smile. I’ll tell him how you worked so hard to give him and even his children and good life. I’ll tell him what kind of man you were. I’ll remind him every day.
Maybe that will be enough.
It will have to be enough.
It’s all we have now.
But no one will remind me. I won’t need it. I won’t forget. You made me who I am, so in a way I am you and you are me. But I will miss you because even though we are one, your half of our one self isn’t here, and you were all the better parts of us.
The air conditioner finally kicks on, and the sniffling is drowned out by the mechanical hum. As the blast from over my left shoulder intensifies, a thin wisp of my hair brushes my cheek in the arctic, artificial wind. It makes me think of the one silver hair hiding in my dark brown locks and how you loved to make fun of me for it.
Then, as the preacher sits down and a song begins to play, our baby boy shivers with a cold chill, and I begin to unroll his shirt sleeves, pulling them down around his wrists. This little act of mothering, this tiny, little task, reminds me of all the little things you did for our family every day -- little things I will have to do. I’ve already done some of them; taking out the trash and pulling the container to the curb was so much harder than I expected.
On Wednesday morning, I tried keeping the trash container on the curved sidewalk without running over the lush zoysia grass on the way to the “curb”. I thought about how ridiculous it was that of all the houses we had flipped or lived in, we never seemed to purchase a house with a curb. At this house, our “curb” is where the street’s asphalt buckles at the edge of the yard. My tears and my running made it hard to navigate the narrowness of that path, and I barely made it to the curb on time. The trash man wasn’t very happy with having to wait on me. Out of breath, I stood by huffing heavily, hands on my hips.
On Thursday evening, I finally took the steaks out of the refrigerator and threw them away, the ones you took out of the freezer the night before the accident. You’ve always said grilling wasn’t hard, but even the idea of it is challenging. So I threw them out. I can’t grill. In fact, I might just throw the grill out.
The song ends, and one of your cousins gets up to say something. I glance his way quickly, but can’t make myself really look at him. I can hear the hurt in the quietness of his voice, which is usually marked with boldness and joy, but is soft and hoarse today.
And the smoker. It has to go. You’ve told me time and time again how much I would love using it, if I would just try it. But that was your thing, and you were so talented at it, which now sounds a little silly I suppose. Yeah, I don’t think I can keep the smoker.
Then again, I’m not sure I can get rid of it or the grill or anything else of yours. They were things you used, things you did. I can’t hang on to you forever, but I can hang on to your things as long as I’m living. Your clothes, your tools, your dirty farm jeans, your crap-covered boots, your truck… But it’s not going to be enough. I don’t really want them. I just want you. I want your smile, your beautiful eyes, your laughter, your tough but tender hands. I want your jokes, your singing, your drives out to the farm. I want you to help me raise our son. I want to give you another baby someday. I want to get old with you. I just want you.
Then, I realize: there you are, right in front of me, with soft spotlights shining on your face, your dark, scarred hands folded gently. But you’re silent and unmoving, and what I want doesn’t really matter. Not anymore. Right now, I have you for just a few more moments.
Our preacher stands again and directs your cousin to a seat behind him near a Boston fern someone sent -- you hated ferns -- and your cousin knocks the box of tissues off the seat by accident. He isn’t brave enough to look at the people behind me either, and I don’t feel so bad.
Then it’s time to pray again. It’s something that is difficult to do lately. I don’t feel like being in the Lord’s presence. I’m not at peace there; I’m not at peace anywhere. But I close my eyes and hold our son close, patting his small back and swaying side to side, listening to the prayer and willing the words to be true in my own heart.
The air conditioner turns off again, but the chill in the air remains. The monotonous drone of the cooling equipment is replaced by not just sniffles, but also the sound of tissues being pulled from boxes and soft cries from behind me and our little one. It’s hard to focus on honoring the Lord when everything around me reminds me why we are here, why we are surrounded by so many people.
We finally say, “Amen,” and our preacher tells the crowd that there will be a short service on the edge of town, if others would like to join us. He also tells me that I can have a few final moments with you.
Leaning over you, still holding our baby, I’m surprised at how much you don’t look like yourself. In life, you were so beautiful; tough, tanned skin, bright smile, mesmerizing eyes, long, graceful legs, strength and warmth and energy pouring from every part of you. But this version of you is faded and flat, not at all like you. Even still, this is all I have of you now, and I want to soak in as much of you as I can.
Our little boy reaches for you, nearly falling out of my arms, all the while whispering, “Dadadadada…” in his quiet way. To him, it’s still gibberish, but someday soon, he’ll figure out what it means and he will learn that we aren’t a normal family -- our family doesn’t have a Dada anymore.
I pass our small son to my mother, then lean in to kiss your forehead one last time and brush my hand along your smooth, cool cheek.
“I’m sorry, but it’s time,” an usher says, and he turns us away. As I draw our son back into my arms, I feel like I’m betraying you by turning my back to you. I don’t want to go. I can’t breathe. This can’t be the last time.
Six men step forward to carry you away. I never imagined our fathers and uncles would do this. Not for us, not for you.
Then, I can’t stop the sudden tears. Heavy sobs rush like water through the floodgates that were opened just last week. But the floodgates bring relief to the nearly bursting lakes. My tears bring only more pain; fuller, deeper pain, and I just want you back. More than I’ve ever wanted anything, and I remember: what I want doesn’t really matter. Not anymore.
You are with the Lord, and there, where you are, you don’t want me. I imagine your heart is overwhelmed with the Lord’s perfection and full with his mercy and grace.
So I will want, and I will wait. I will hurt, and I will yearn until the Lord brings us together again, healing these wounds and providing the final comfort for my pain. I love you, my friend, my husband, my love.