We received a dire phone call the first of last week from our son Caleb and his wife of seven months, Amber. Our daughter-in-law’s mother had suffered an aneurysm.
Her funeral was this past Saturday.
Instantly I was thrown back into the days following my mother’s death. I remembered the things people did that I found helpful and meaningful and then tried to do them for Amber.
And I recalled the moments when I suffered the most or anguished over things I wished I’d said, even though our last words to each other were, “I love you.”
Turning to what I know, I wrote a letter to her and sealed it in with her for eternity. I wished she could write one back to me, float it down on a cloud or in a basket of reeds along the river.
I’m still looking for it.
There were times when I didn’t sleep, couldn’t breathe, when I thought I might suffocate. I considered asking my doctor for medication, thinking I might not be able to hold up during the visitation and the funeral. I’m eternally grateful that I didn’t; that I realized there would come a time when I would have to walk through the valley of sadness and it might as well be when my friends and family were gathered around me.
Flashbacks slammed into my mind, especially when I saw Amber and her sister–like my sister and me–standing beside their mother for the last time.
One after another these memories scrambled forward on shaky legs–my sister and I choosing our mother’s coffin, picking out songs to be sung, her favorite Bible verses to be read, selecting the pall bearers.
The moment I will always think of as the saddest, most painful, heart wrenching of them all, was the one right before she was taken to the church when the funeral director–a friend and a person with the demeanor that shows he is in the absolute right line of work–warned me of my last few minutes before we would be asked to leave.
“That’s when I’ll panic and fall apart?” I asked.
He nodded. “Yes,” he answered. “It won’t be easy.”
I’m thankful that he was so honest, because the sheer rising of terror from my gut when I realized I would never look upon her face again in this life, nearly wiped me out. I stared at her, trying to memorize every curve of her cheek, the line of her nose, the shape of her brow. I touched her stiff fingers and listened to the seconds clicking away on our time together.
I watched as Amber suffered through this as well, her involuntary cries an emotional peal I recognized too well. It wasn’t easy for her either. It never is.
My mother’s voice is still on my answering machine–message 1.
“Hi, it’s mom. Just wondering how everyone was. Call me.”
I used to talk back to it. “I’m not doing well, mom. I’m having a lot of difficulty with this.”
Sometimes I skip over it because it makes me cry, but I’ve dared everyone to erase it, even though I’ve been advised it might be healthier not to have it there.
Like me, Amber lost her father first, so losing her mother is a particularly rough blow. Technically, we are both orphans.
Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray. She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food. She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.