I’m not sure as I begin that I am ready for this post yet.
I still cannot connect the lifeless shell covered in make-up and reeking of embalming fluids to you, my love. In a similar way to the way I can not connect Audrey, my running, laughing little girl to the little kicks and flutterings I’d felt inside my womb.
So, I have not been yet to your grave site. I know you are not there, and I said from the beginning that I prefer to go to places where we had special memories and experiences together and think of you or talk to you rather than a cemetery of mostly strangers which has no meaning for us. I have created a tribute to you in our living room- my desk filled with photos of you and a vase of fresh flowers. I speak to you there all the time- and each night I kiss the most recent picture of you goodnight- my lips on cool glass.
But…there is a yearning coming- a desire to go to your grave site- to our grave site…when I’m ready. Not because “you” are there. But because your body is there. Yes, maybe it’s just a shell, and yes, it was your spirit that endowed it with that smile and the gentleness in those brown eyes, but I am not a Gnostic-the early Christian sect that believed all matter was evil and sinful- I loved, absolutely loved, your physical body.
I loved your face right away. And I can remember dropping you off at the bus stop one of the first times you’d come to Jersey for a date, and surprising myself- reaching over to touch your face. I just had to touch it. It was beautiful to me.
I loved the larger freckle on your left cheekbone and the smaller ones that surrounded it. I loved the back of your neck and the way your hair felt when it was shorter there. I loved your eyebrows and brow bones, your nose and the little pores on it. I loved the small bags that were always under your eyes. I loved the small mark on the middle of your upper lip, and the freckle on your ear that looked like a piercing.
And I loved every inch of you.
At your wake, I wasn’t sure I would want to see your body, but some thought I should. I asked your brothers to look first and give me the OK. They did, but then your older brother came and told me, “Brace yourself.”
Two people supported me on either side as your mother was also supported in front of me. We walked up the aisle very slowly, stumbling, moaning and crying out together, getting closer to your body in the open casket with each step.
And when I first saw you- the horror of all horrors. I searched your face for the features I so loved- but could not find them. You looked larger than you were- like a mannequin- but more still. There was way too much make-up on your face and I could see your eyes didn’t look like they were in the right place beneath your lids. You did not look like you were sleeping. You were not there at all. I looked in at your hands, neatly folded on your chest- and only they appeared the same. Your lovely hands- strong and soft, large palms and long fingers.
I loved your hands. I always said that I would know my husbands hands when I met him- and I did. The third time we met, we said goodbye in a Thai restaurant- with a handshake. It was like our hands were made for each other, I remember thinking. I loved the feel of my hand in yours- when you took it to cross the street or just when we were walking, or in the movie theater- or on our wedding day.
I told a friend I would want to hold your hand one more time, but she warned me that it would not feel the same.
I didn’t try to hold it, but I touched it. It did not feel like any hand- it was hard and cold.
After I made my way up the aisle and saw you, and sobbed- a calmness fell over me. “Peace, peace,” I felt in my head. And I knew you were not there. And I told your mother, “He is not there. That is not him.” “Peace, peace.”
I calmly walked to the back of the sanctuary where the table with the albums and framed photos was. I looked at you- at your living face.
Later, each of your family members had one on one time with you before we opened the sanctuary to other guests. I walked up again alone. I spoke to you and told you that I would always, always love you.
I felt sad for you as I stood next to your casket and a receiving line of 400 people made their way up to place a rose beside you and extend their condolences to me and your family- that was such a poor replica of who you were- lying there, helpless for all to see.
And then after everyone was gone, the funeral director said he would close the casket for the last time. We said a final goodbye to your face- but it was not your face. I watched a small brown bug crawl across it, and I was paralyzed. I wanted to swat it off, but I could not. This is death. This is death.
Just peaking out a tiny bit from under the suit jacket that I picked out for you, I saw the corner of two photos I’d asked the funeral director to bury with you. One was our wedding photo, and another, a photo you took of Audrey and I last fall on a hay ride. We are both wearing white sweaters and I’m kissing her. “I’ll put them right over his heart,” the funeral director said.
We stood and sat in the first pew. And then, I heard the most horrible sound I’ve ever heard in my life. The funeral director started to crank something, turn some kind of screw to get the coffin to close. I sat down. It turned and turned and screeched with every turn until I found myself for the first time, down on the floor in front of me, everything was dark. I felt people around me lifting me up and placing me back on the chair.
The next day, at the end of the funeral, as the casket was being carried out, the funeral director, grabbed a sticker you had been playing with Audrey- and stuck it to the end of the coffin. “You tell her I put that here.”
So, yeah, Audrey-one of the stickers you played with as a toddler in the church aisle at your father’s funeral, was buried with him. And a photograph of us too.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”