Chapter Three: The Morning After
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse came the day of the viewing. All day and into the evening, Mark’s closest friends and family gathered at his mom’s house and drove in little groups to the funeral home. Always invited to go along, I avoided the dreaded ritual by making the excuse that I wasn’t ready yet. And just when I thought I had successfully missed out on it, my best friend arrived and, along with loving intervention from Mark’s sister, I was coaxed into going even if it was the middle of the night. They stood on either side of me, with their arms wrapped securely and supportively around my waist, as we entered the building. The funeral home was inviting; it wasn’t cold and indifferent as I had imagined it would be. It was too quiet, and the lights were dimmed. There were several lit candles placed strategically throughout the room, illuminating a tranquil ambiance that calmed my nerves some. My eyes searched anxiously around the room in apprehension of seeing Mark’s body. But thankfully, he wasn’t anywhere that I could see him.
The girls guided me toward a pair of large white double doors. Somehow, I knew that beyond them, I would find Mark. They each opened a side panel. Inside was yet another room— much darker, more solemn, and more foreboding than the foyer. They proceeded to guide me in. But my knees buckled, and my heart skipped a beat. The room became suddenly dry and thick, sucking the oxygen from my lungs. I gasped for air as I struggled to catch my breath. And to save myself from anymore unforeseen trauma, I dug my heels firmly into the carpet and cried, “No no no! Not yet! Not yet!” With love and patience and with their arms still securely around me, they gently and slowly guided me away from the room to a bench, just outside the door, where we all sat down together. They wiped the tears from my face, stroked my hair, and whispered consolingly to me.
When I thought I was ready to try again, holding fast to each of them, we stood together and walked toward the darker room once more. But again, I only made it as far as the threshold before fear—greater than anything I had ever feared before—shot through my body with lightning-bolt sharpness and caused my knees to buckle again. I just couldn’t make myself go into that room even though my heart knew that I must. Again the girls patiently and supportively walked me back to the bench and sat with me until I felt ready to try once more. I don’t know how many times we did this, but I eventually felt brave enough to make it past the threshold, allowing them to guide me to where Mark’s body lay. There was a bench adjacent to his casket, and I sat next to him. Every bone in my body shook. I felt freezing cold. With wobbly knees, I took a deep breath and stood beside him. I reached out and touched his hands. He was so cold. I laid my head on his chest. It too was cold and hard as cement. This wasn’t my warm and snuggly Hunny Bunny lying here, I thought to myself.
I leaned into the casket. I wrapped my arms around him and cried like I’ve never cried before. My tears made his face wet as I kissed his cheeks, his forehead, his nose, and his eyes. I nuzzled into the familiar nape of his neck and buried my face into his hair—seeking his warmth, his smell, and anticipating the stroke of his hands on my hair assuring me that everything was going to be all right. But nothing happened. I hugged him even tighter and cried even more. “No no no! Hunny Bunny, Hunny Bunny, please! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!” I pleaded to him over and over again. I cried and I cried. The mournful sound of my wounded soul echoed eerily throughout the corridors of the funeral home. I cried until my throat, my jaw, my eyes, and my heart hurt. The girls were beside me again. I reached into my coat pocket. I brought out the Father’s Day button the kids made for him years before and the guardianangel key chain he always carried. With an unsteady hand, I secured the button onto his lapel and placed the key chain in his breast pocket. I kissed his face one more time and let the girls guide me out to the car and back to his mom’s house.
That night, I fell into bed exhausted; but even as tired as Iwas, sleep eluded me. I had never felt so sick or so drained in my life. Every inch of my body ached, but none as much as my heart did.
Please visit my website www.elisecrawford.com