Prologue

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the passing of a dear sister to all of us. To some she was more, but to all of us she meant something..."

Kathleen Clairion stood quietly by the casket, dressed like a true mourner. She had a black veil over her face, covering the tears and the sorrow. She also had on the traditional black clothes-a black halter dress and high heels. No matter that it was 40 degrees out and raining. She barely felt anything anymore, she was just numb.

Why was it that death seemed to follow her everywhere now? Was her family cursed, or was it Kathleen? Was it her fate to be left alone with no friends or family in the world? What did the Gods have against her? What had she ever done to anger them? Did they just sit around and suddenly decide, "OK, let's leave this girl alone with nothing in the world."

Kathleen felt her father's arm around her shoulders. She looked up at him, lovingly. Her dad had always been there for her, through everything. He was all she had left in this world—her dear father, caring, strong. Please don't take him away, too, she thought, looking at the sky. If they had to take everything else from her, they had to leave her her father. Leave him his daughter If one of them passed on, the other would die out of pure sorrow and loneliness If not physically, mentally.

She snapped out of her thoughts when her father gently pushed her forward. It was her turn to talk about her mother and the things she remembered. Kathleen smiled weakly at her father, who handed her his handkerchief and kissed her gently on the cheek, taking off her veil. She turned away, took a deep breath, and stepped on one of the steps up to the altar. One. Then the second. The third. Finally she reached the level of the altar. The high priestess kindly held out her had to help her up.

"I am so sorry for your loss," she said. By the look in her eyes, Kathleen knew she meant it.

"Thank you," she answered sincerely, stepping up to the unique Pagan altar. The high priestess stepped back. Kathleen took a deep breath and turned to face the crowd of people. So many faces of those who had been dear to her mother. So many people who came to cry and mourn with her. Instantly, she forgot her meaningless speech and instead launched into the story. Of how it all started.

"Good day. I know everyone here was close to my mother, and sad to see her go. That is why every single one of you is in this room. Y'all were close to her, but I don't think you really knew how hard it was for her. Not as much as I did or my father did. But I want y'all to understand, so I'm going to tell you her story. My story. Our family's story."

Kathleen smiled at the crowd. "My mother, your sister, a friend, was a caring and loving person. Sometimes it seemed like nothing could bring her down, right?" She could see people in the crowd nodding. "But no one is unbreakable. And my mother found that out on a chilly day in January that I'm sure most of you still remember so clearly."

It was sad, Kathleen realised, as she talked. Her story, which was mostly the same as her mother's story, started and ended with a funeral. It started and ended with the same phrase. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the passing..."

To make these people understand, to make her father understand—to make herself understand, she needed to start at the beginning and work her way to the end. No matter how many tears were shed, how much pain was felt, or how many times they had to stop and reflect. Kathleen needed to remember the whole story: every bit. Maybe she couldn't tell all of it to these people; that would take days, weeks, even months. But she needed to sift through each tidbit herself sometime. Today, right now, would simply be the beginning of that.

"My mother was a person you could never, ever forget. She befriended everyone, especially those who seemed upset or lonely. Most of you are here because she met you on a bus, a plane, or simply out in the city when something was wrong in your lives. My mother saw that in each and every one of you. She knew how to cheer up anyone, even a random stranger and become best friends with them. She was more than just a wife and a mother to my father and me. She was our best friend in the whole world, someone we could never forget. Someone who brightened up every day of our lives, just as she did yours. Some of the best moments I had with her were when we would watch the ocean for hours without saying a word. Sometimes she would simply listen to me as I ranted no criticism or advice. Because she knew that was all I needed—someone to listen without interrupting.

"She stayed together through the deaths of her family, one by one. She watched her daughters, friends, and husband fall apart and hurt so bad. She stayed together for most of everything—on the outside. I now know how much she was hurting on the inside as well."

Crying, Kathleen continued. "I am sure most of you remember how it all happened and how she seemed to just suddenly break down. Truth is it had been going on for quite a while. Now that she has gone, all that I have left is my dear father. It wasn't her fault, I know, but I can't help being a bit angry at her. I find myself thinking sometimes that she could have tried harder to hold on, but deep down I know she tried her hardest. She wanted to stay with me but couldn't hold on. I know that now, but I can't help being angry a bit.

"I still remember how she helped me through everything, helped y'all through everything, while leaving no time for herself to recover. I feel so guilty now, knowing I could've found some other support and left her with some alone time. But I didn't, and now she's gone."

Sobbing now, Kathleen finished up her speech. "Lila Annae Clairion, you are forever loved and never forgotten by anyone in this room. May you continue to touch the lives of everyone through your legacy. And to the rest of you, remember: 'Everyone wants to be happy, nobody wants any pain; but you can't make a rainbow without any rain.' Keep on living and don't be afraid to cry."

Kathleen walked away and sat with her father, who squeezed her hand. "Kat, you did great." That was all it took to raise her spirits a bit and give her the strength to remember everything. With a little help from her father, of course.