The grand, mahogany casket loomed large ahead of her, topped by a massive cascading bouquet of pink roses. Around the perimeter of the room, display tables dressed in white linens bore artifacts of a life well lived, from golf memorabilia to seemingly trivial trinkets. The focal point of the entire collection was an exquisite eight-by-ten crystal frame bearing a formal wedding photo of a bride and groom in happier days. To the casual observer, the smiling couple represented an ideal – the beautiful, wholesome wife and the handsome all-American groom dressed in the finest attire befitting the occasion, their pedigree, and their lifestyle. On either side of this centerpiece, smaller and much plainer frames told the story of a father’s love for his sons, with images of the recently departed engaged in various activities with them like playing basketball and camping out in the woods.
As the funeral home worker entered the room, Sam stood at a distance with her back turned to the unfolding scene a few feet away. She could hear the rustling of the flowers and the barely audible sound of the casket lid moving against its hinges to reveal the body at rest inside. She trembled at the thought of laying eyes upon his still, lifeless form and doubted she had the strength to confront the reality of this devastating, unexpected loss.
Consumed by torturous thoughts, she continued to stare out at the hallway minutes after the woman had left her in privacy again. How was she going to handle the sight of his hideously disfigured face? The thought of staring at a nasty patchwork of scars stubbornly protruding through a heavy layer of funeral parlor make-up was just too much to bear. Her entire body convulsed as she broke down in uncontrollable weeping.
Why? Why did this have to happen? Why now? Why at all?
“Sam?” She heard Shannon’s soft voice behind her. “I have to tell you he looks normal. I think you’re going to be OK looking at him.”
She slowly turned to face her sister. “You really think so?”
Shannon put her hands on Sam’s shoulders in a gesture of comfort and confidence.
“Yes, yes I really do. I’d never tell you that if I didn’t believe it. But I can stay here in the room with you if you want; I’ll just hang out in the back.”
“No, no – I have to do this alone. Please.”
Sam drew her into a hug, appreciative of her unwavering support. She then watched until the door closed behind Shannon, leaving her alone with her soulmate for the last time.
She clutched her tissues in one hand as she strode past the oddly arranged folding chairs that appeared as if they’d been set up for a round of the classic children’s musical game. Instead of facing the front of the room, they faced the side walls, as if unwilling to confront the reality of death.
Filled with determination and resolve, Sam took a gulp of air and reached out to touch the side of the casket to steady herself. Then she opened her eyes wide.
Oh, my God, not a scratch. A dried-up creek, two inches of water. How can this be? How can he possibly look like the sweet manly man I loved?
She was dumbfounded as she gazed at his perfect face. For a few moments, all she could do was stare at him in silence and wish that the entire scene was nothing more than a nightmare from which she’d awaken at any second. She placed her hand on his cheek and reacted to its icy coldness as a fresh wave of sorrow engulfed her.
“Baby, I love you! I love you so much. What the hell happened? Why? Why did you get on that bike? Why? How could you just leave me like this!”
She dropped to her knees and prayed out loud through staccato breaths. “God, I need you. I have nowhere else to turn. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this. Please, give me the strength to focus on my kids. I promise, I’ll spend more time praying and appreciating the good things in my life. Just please, help me.”
Sam pleaded and cried until she was utterly spent. Then she wiped her face and got back on her feet just as Shannon re-entered the room to check on her.
“Let’s go,” Sam ordered.
“But the lady said we could stay as long as you need. You don’t have to rush; there’s plenty of time before the funeral – “
“I’m done. It’s time to move on and heal.”
“Ok, whatever you want.”
Shannon followed her big sister out to the hallway, hoping this little episode signified the beginning of her new life. God knew, she’d been through enough heartache for one human being.