Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Finally Grieving Together After 20 Years

(The following post is an extra post for this week. If you want to read “the rest of my story” please see Monday’s entry, April 15, the post just prior to this one.)

            With trepidation Chris acquiesced to my request to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Victoria’s death by spending the day together, reminiscing and praying. When I told him I thought we should finally purchase a nice container in which to store her ashes, his eyes widened. (I wasn’t sure why that would bother him, since he didn’t elaborate, but I would learn later what he feared most that I’d request.) But we both agreed that we didn’t want to open the little white box to actually transfer her ashes to another container.
            From the first gentle suggestions, I could tell my desires caused him distress, and he voiced several reasons as to why he might not have time to take all day Saturday to do something like that. I assured him it didn’t have to take long; I just wanted some time together to reflect and talk—something we’d never really done. I think the talking and reflecting is what worried him.
            On Sunday night, April 7, Chris asked to see what I had in mind for containers. Originally he had said he didn’t want to open the little white box containing her ashes, but after looking at other options, he turned up his nose and said, “What else did you find?” That was when I showed him the little white marble urns for babies and small children I’d located on line. “Wow, I like that one!” he said, pointing to the picture of the white marble urn.
            I turned to look at him. “But we’d have to actually transfer the ashes into that one,” I said softly.
            He didn’t hesitate. “Okay. I want to get that one.” So, the little white marble urn it was. After deciding together upon the engraving, I ordered it. It arrived Thursday.
            On Friday he asked me what I wanted to do on Saturday. “Just go somewhere; just the two of us. Alone.” I said without looking up from what I was doing.
            “Do you want to drive up to Mt. Lemmon?” he wondered. That sounded perfect. (For those of you unfamiliar with Tucson, Arizona, Mt. Lemmon sits in the Santa Catalina mountain range that borders Tucson on the north side of the city. Its elevation is 9,157 feet, and the abundant pine trees and cool mountain air provide a welcome respite from the searing desert floor heat. It’s only a 50-minute drive from our house and a place to which we love to escape, although we don’t get up there as often as we’d like.)
            Then I reminded him of a memorial service we were attending Saturday morning for a dear friend. I secretly harbored concern about how it might affect our day, or, more correctly, my emotions, but we couldn’t miss Al’s service. He’d been such a tremendous mentor to my husband and sons. His daughters and grandchildren, and their families, are precious friends. How could we miss it?
            So, on Saturday morning we started our day by saying goodbye to Al. I wasn’t prepared for how his service would prime my heart for our own private memorial for Victoria—how it would refocus my recently cluttered and burdened mind and heart and remind me of the most important things in life: love of God and family. Al was the perfect model of both. Following the ceremony and visiting with old friends we hadn’t seen for years, we left edified, joyous and expectant.
            On the way home we stopped at the store to pick up the white roses I’d selected to display on our church’s altar Sunday morning. After putting the roses in water and making a quick clothing change, we headed up the mountain.
            Though colder than expected—with scrappy patches of snow still lingering stubbornly on the mountainside—the glorious weather and crisp air energized our senses and calmed our hearts. Close to the summit we found a perfect spot on a hill overlooking part of the valley. There we talked and shared our hearts. Then Chris asked me the question that had been weighing heavily on his heart.
            “What did you plan to do with her, with the urn? Because I’m not ready to just put her in the ground somewhere.”
            “Oh, I didn’t plan to put her anywhere. I just wanted to have her ashes in a special place, a nice container, in a prominent place in our home, like she deserves. Not some sterile white box stuck high up on a bookshelf behind a picture.”
            Chris exhaled a heavy sigh of relief. “Good, because I’m not ready for that. I’m not ready to leave her somewhere.”
            “You still feel like you need to protect her, don’t you?”
            “Yes,” he smiled and nodded, relief softening his features because his deepest fears wouldn’t become reality.
            “I mean, I like Tucson, but I don’t want to live here forever. And I wouldn’t want to leave her here when we move. And I don’t want to leave her someplace in California either. Actually, I’m thinking more like Hawaii. Maybe. But why can’t you just put her in the pine box with me when I go?” He smiled crookedly and let a tiny, nervous laugh escape.
            “You’re a protective father who wants to be forever with his baby girl.” I smiled.
            “Yeah, I am.” He smiled again and nodded his head as though pleased to know I fully understood his heart and wishes.
            Chris got up and walked around the table. We sat together, embraced, the warmth of our bodies giving each other comfort and strength in the cold wind. We prayed, thanking God for our blessings, our boys, and the strength and faith God supplanted in us through Victoria’s death, for keeping us bound so closely together. We thanked God for the past; we prayed for the future.
            Then Chris thanked God for the things He gives us and for the things He takes away.
            My love for Chris surged anew through my heart when he thanked God that when our youngest son, Cory, graduates from high school next month, the two of us would embark on a new season in our lives, where we’d come full circle and be together—just the two of us—romancing one another again. His voice exuded excitement and gratefulness as he spoke. His tender touch and strong, encircling embrace infused my heart and soul with joy and hope. In his firm, loving embrace, I felt as if we could confront anything the world threw at us; we’d already survived the worst tragedy that can befall parents.
            Then Chris whispered in my ear, “Thank you. This was a good idea. I feel much better.”
            We returned to the car and drove to the tiny mountaintop town. There we dined on pizza and hot chocolate in a log cabin restaurant. When we got back down the mountain and home, we opened the sterile, white box, finally read the official papers enclosed in an envelope taped to the top, and transferred the small package of Victoria’s remains to the white marble urn bearing her name.
            “Where do you want to put it?” Chris asked.
            “Next to our wedding picture on the entertainment center.”
            “I think that’s a good spot,” he nodded.
            We sat on the couch together, Victoria’s memory box opened on Chris’s lap. He looked at the marble urn in its new spot. “I like it. It looks really nice right there.” He looked tired, but content.
            Then we spent the next hour re-reading the cards, letters and notes sent to us by friends and family. The exercise brought pleasant memories and stories of past friends and co-workers. We laughed. We looked at the prints of Victoria’s tiny footprints and the blurry Polaroid pictures of her. We sighed. “Boy, those feet are tiny aren’t they?” Chris said, shaking his head. He finally picked up and leafed through the grieving booklets I’d perused and he’d avoided. “It’s nice that that doctor and nurse wrote that little book for people,” he commented.
            For something like the sixth time, he said, “I really do feel a lot better. This was good.” Then he added, “Are you happy?”
            “Yes,” I smiled. “Thank you. I finally feel that we’ve said goodbye, together, and that we’re more healed than we were; that Victoria is no longer a child of ours that we’d rather not think about; that we’re afraid to talk about. That we’ve relegated to a dark, quiet place in another room, like she never existed. Thank you.”
            As C. S. Lewis said, grief does feel like fear. In that moment, the fear—of talking about her, of thinking about her, of sneaking the box off the shelf and loathing its sorry, cheap appearance—evaporated. The 20-year burden was lifted, and I felt lighter. It really felt as if Victoria were finally home, and we—Chris and I, and the boys—were whole.  
            “I want to get all of these cards, pictures and notes out of this box and put them in a nice memory album,” I said. Chris concurred.
            “Yes, you need to do that, so we can look at them.” I turned away and smiled, and whispered a silent prayer of thanks to God.
            The following morning Chris and I drove the two-dozen white roses to our church to display on the altar for the two services. During the second service, which we attended, our pastor mentioned them and their meaning just before giving his sermon. My mother cried when he said that, and when I gave her a dozen matching white roses. We embraced as she shed her emotions. It was good. All good. Maybe the healing went further than I had expected it to.
            Several people approached us after the service. “We didn’t know you had a daughter,” some of them said. “Yes,” we do. We really do, I thought. Then one woman I’ve never met approached me as I gathered the roses up to take home. She looked up at me, gave me a bright smile, and carefully selected her words. “You know, I don’t know the person who those flowers were for, but…I have to tell you. They really helped me this morning. They reminded me that what I have going on in my life, what I’m worrying about, really isn’t such a big deal. Thank you.”
            Now I sit on the couch, see Victoria’s resting place on my shelf, and I smile.
            You really are home, and a part of us now, little one, and I am so very grateful for you.


Until next week!