I hope everyone had a happy Easter. This year was different for my husband and I. Sunday morning we slept in later than usual and still woke up tired. Our daughter wasn’t able to make it home. I couldn’t be with my 90 year old mother. And my brother in law, Gale’s mother had just passed away, so on Saturday we went to her funeral. Funerals are of course hard on everyone. They bring to life all the people we’ve lost. And in bringing that remembrance to life it brings with it the love we have for them, which brings to life a tear. And for a bit life feels unkindly rearranged.
Arriving at the church, my husband’s oldest sister got emotional upon seeing her brother. Watching the moment between them made their love palpable and brought to life another tear.
Sitting in the church pew reading the program, we realized that we would be singing, His Eye Is On The Sparrow. This is the exact moment when I began to hold back a mountain. And in that moment it felt big and impossible. Gale has bravely and beautifully sang this hymn at every funeral we’ve attended. In particular, our son’s funeral. And now we were going to sing it with him. I started pinching my nose with my fingernail to hold back the dam. (Try it. It’s a real thing.)
Gale’s eulogy was poignant and funny, punctuated with moments of great laughter. Every time we laughed I felt like we would actually make it through the funeral without falling apart. Our laughter helped to lighten the dark parts.
Then with the point of his finger my husband revealed where she was being laid to rest. This is when the mountain grew immensely in proportion. It was the cemetery where our son is buried. My nose was probably red from being pinched by now. As we drove through the cemetery my memory place sped me back to years ago, then I heard Sam say, “Well, it looks like Gale’s mom is buried close to Preston.” I began exhaling and fanning my face. I couldn’t speak, not even to him. Just breathe and think of Sue and Gale, I told myself.
It’s strange how the entirety of 11 1/2 years ago felt like yesterday, like a storm that already caused irreparable damage came back for round two.
Don’t judge me for what I’m about to say. I need to say it. It’s my truth. I’ve never visited my son’s grave. Not because I’m afraid, but because I’ve never felt the need. For me – he’s not there. He’s sprinkled throughout the universe in the form of coincidence, laughter and song. He’s in my dreams, my actions and forever stitched into my heart’s hem.
Getting out of the car, I started to walk up the hill. One foot then another. That’s how it’s done, I’ve heard. My breath was heavy, my heart hurt taking in the enormity of this unexpected moment. I’m a planner and not only did I not plan this, I didn’t foresee it at all. And now a distant past was trying hard to become now. I saw the tent at the top of the hill. Focus Karen focus. Don’t look to your left too much. I stared straight ahead as family and friends began to gather around the tent. Sam came to stand to my right. His big arms held me without drawing attention. He knew exactly what I needed.
Just then my sweet niece, Anna, appeared to my left. She kissed me quick on my cheek, wrapped her arm in mine and said, I love you – smiling just enough. She too knew exactly what I needed.
After the ceremony Sam went to visit our son and my father who are buried in the same row. I chatted with Anna and her kids. We talked about flowers, hair. We laughed some more. I felt lighter. I couldn’t even look in the direction of where Sam was. That would have taken my heart there. It would have rearranged it too much for this day. Sue went to check on Sam and visit for awhile. Seeing them walk back together brought a smile to my face.
We knew we would be attending a funeral on Saturday. We knew our presence and love was necessary to support Sue and Gale. We didn’t know our day would be rearranged. I didn’t know I would ever be back at this place that holds such uncertainty and unspeakable pain.
Sitting on the sofa after a lazy Sunday breakfast, I looked at the fireplace mantel and knew I needed to replace the worn out daffodils. I was disappointed that they didn’t last as long as I thought they would. I laughed to myself at the irony. So I rearranged the mantel with fresh, bright forsythia branches. As I placed each new branch into a vase I could feel the lightness covering the dark parts once again. Life begs of us to constantly rearrange. Often, unexpectedly. Through the years I’ve learned that it’s not the rearranging that hurts the most, not forever, it’s the resistance to rearranging that hurts. It turns us into brittle, unapproachable beings. Rearranging is healing and wise if we allow ourselves to be patient, observant students. It makes us new again. Used, but new.
In looking back at the weekend – the hurtful, unrecoverable pain was kept at bay. A life well lived was celebrated. And love gave everyone the strength to conquer that damn mountain.