This story contains sensitive content

** Sensitive topic: death of a loved one **

I stand at the front of the room, my hands gently rubbing back and forth along the wooden stand in front of me. I feel the divots worn smooth from the countless hands that came before mine. I do not want to be here but I am so afraid of what comes next that part of me hopes this time never ends. 

I look up from my paper and try to take a breath. I can’t. The last breath simply refuses to leave my lungs and make room for the next. The moment stretches and I feel my lungs burn. My chest aches. I am frozen in this Hell, unable to go back in time and terrified of the future. And then with a small gasp my lungs open again and air rushes in. It is time to tell my story. Well, not my story but her story. Our story.

Finally I look out into the room, at the crowd gathered, and I am surprised, again, at the sheer number of people squeezed into the room. Shoulder to shoulder they sit staring up at me with grief in their eyes. Aunt Linda gives me a small smile. The tears running down her face make it come out sad but I appreciate the effort anyway. I try to smile back. I can’t.  Next to her my nephew Timmy gives me a slight nod, letting me know he is there for me. I manage a slight nod back, thanking him for being there. I notice a few people shuffling uncomfortably in their seats and then I hear the cry of a restless baby followed by a mother quietly cooing. I clear my throat and run my hands over the wooden stand again.

“I remember the day I met Sandy just like it was yesterday. I was riding the bus home from the factory and suddenly this gorgeous woman is walking down the aisle between the seats. She looked like a movie star! And I’m watching her get closer and closer to me and then she just plops down right next to me. I couldn’t believe it! I was so scared I couldn’t even talk. I just stared at my knees, ya’ know? Petrified. And then, after a while,  she says, “Well, my stop is the next one so if you had any plans to ask me for my name you had better do it now.” She always did speak her mind. So I asked her for her name and decided to get off the bus with her. She let me take her for a cup of coffee and, as they say that was that. Love at first sight.” 

Telling the story takes me back to that day. I can see her sitting there, daring me to ask for her name with a playful smile on her face. I remember the smell of her perfume. Something soft and light that made me want to lean in a bit to smell it just a little more. I am taken back to that corner coffee shop on Capital Street where we sat for hours drinking coffee. Sitting there, listening to her talk and laugh, I knew I was going to do whatever I could to marry her. I knew, without a doubt in my mind, my life would not be the same without her in it. And standing here now, I do not think I can face that so I have to keep telling my tale for as long as I can. I am so afraid of what comes after I stop talking. Life without her.

“We dated for about six months and then I asked her parents for permission to marry her. Sandy’s dad didn’t think much of me and he told me no. He told me I wasn’t established enough yet to be able to take on a wife. Boy did I think he was a jerk, but looking back I see he was right. So I waited another year, got a promotion and saved every penny I could for a house. And then I asked again. That time they both gave me their blessings and I asked her that same night. We got married that next Spring and life was perfect. I couldn’t have been any happier.”

  My mind flashes back to that little house we began our life in and the bigger one we moved to when our family grew. The sunny kitchen with the round table that seemed to shrink as our boys grew up. She cooked some wonderful meals but it was the conversations around that table that mean the most to me now.  The living room, in the bigger house, that saw the boys go from little crawling babies to children learning about the world to fine grown men. What I wouldn’t give to sit on that couch again and ask her how her day was.  That living room is going to be too big for one person now.  My chest tightens just thinking about unlocking the door and walking in later tonight, after this is over, after everyone leaves and it is time to go home.  

“Sandy loved her family and her friends. She loved helping people. She loved making people feel better. She loved quilting.” I pause as a small sob escapes my throat. What am I going to do with all of her fabric? All of those projects that she was putting her heart and soul into that will forever go unfinished? Am I supposed to just throw them away? That does not seem right. That feels like I would be throwing away a part of Sandy. I shove this into the growing pile of problems I will have to tackle when this story I am telling is over. I fervently wish that may never happen. I am not ready to face that pile so I keep talking.

“When Sandy got sick she never let it stop her. She was so brave taking in the news and then she faced every day with such grace. I felt so helpless watching her get weaker and weaker, knowing there was nothing we could do, and she would just smile at me and tell me it was going to be alright. That God damn . . . sorry Father . . . . disease took everything from her but she never complained. “ A tear slides down my cheek, then another. “Even as she was facing her own death she was taking care of all of us.”  Oh Lord, how I wish I still had the privilege of trying my best to take care of her!

I run my hands over the wooden pulpit again, in and out of the worn divots, and look around the room. Aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. More friends than I can count. And then my eyes land on our boys, sitting there with their wives and children, and I begin another round of stories that I want, need, for them to know.  In these stories Sandy still lives. She is breathing, talking, laughing. Loving. When I stop telling these stories she will really be gone and my heart can’t take that. So I must keep talking.

March 17, 2023 21:56

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Keith Maynard Jr
10:13 Mar 23, 2023

Truly an awesome tale of a bereaved soul - a loving husband who must work through the memory of the love that escaped. A love so deep the heart will continue to ache for all time as he lives on and remember. Remember every detail of her and the graces she brought to his world.


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Rake Silva
21:48 Mar 22, 2023

Hey friend, This was brief but also very touching and a good, simple utilization of the prompt. Best of luck with your writing.


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