The funeral was a solemn occasion, but then weren't all funerals sad and solemn? But, this one was different because the death of today's "about to be interred soul" made absolutely no sense. She had been a vibrant and talented woman with a loving husband and three beautiful children who adored their mother. So, why in the world had she felt compelled to take her own life?
The deceased's husband was dry-eyed, and had been all throughout the tedious ritual of a two-day viewing at the funeral home. The steady stream of mourners had timidly approached the stoic man, none quite sure exactly what to say. They felt more comfortable hugging the two teenagers—a son of seventeen and a daughter not quite fifteen. Both young people bore the telltale signs of shellshock manifested by red-rimmed eyes with thousand yard stares. Mercifully, the father of this tormented family torn asunder had decided to keep the five-year-old at home with a sitter.
At the gravesite, a chaplain had intoned words from an Elizabeth Frye poem that he hoped would be comforting.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there. I did not die.
However, the woman had died, and there was no getting around that no matter how prettily the words rolled off your tongue. Perhaps trying to provide comfort was an exercise in futility. How could you reconcile the actions of someone so desperate to leave this world that she had turned her back on everyone? The mourners continued to ponder this enigma, each trying to find a name for her motivation. Only the grieving husband knew the real reason that his wife had committed suicide, and he wasn't willing to share that information. Brianna had been such a private person, and he knew that she would not have wanted the world discussing her circumstances, shaking their heads, and clucking their tongues.
The now dead woman had tried, in her own way, to say goodbye before her fateful act of washing down a handful of opiates that would depress her breathing and eventually stop her heart. She had been stockpiling them for weeks and hiding them underneath the pile of sexy undergarments that were saved for those special occasions between a man and wife.
Just the night before, her husband had found her sitting on their marital bed with various items from her small jewelry box splayed out on the comforter. While holding her emerald-cut diamond engagement ring in the palm of her hand, she looked up beseechingly at the man who had been her soulmate for twenty-one years.
"This should be Dan's one day when he meets the girl that he wants to make his wife. I know that, eventually, you'll most likely take another partner, and, hopefully, she will fulfill the role that I'll be leaving. But, please buy her a new token of your love, Jeremy. I'm sure that is the right thing to do because that will make her feel special—not just someone who is simply stepping into my shoes."
Next, she held up a string of baroque pearls.
"These are so old-fashioned, but they were my mother's, and her mother's before that, and I've always cherished them. They should go to Lisa. Even if she never wears them, she'll always have a part of me and a part of her grandmother and great-grandmother as well."
Then a small frown reached the woman's brow as she swept her thin fingers through the remaining jangle of bracelets and earrings. "I still have to find something for sweet little Amy. It has to feel right. She's so young now that I'm sure, in time, she'll forget what my face looked like. My baby will be forced to remember me through old photographs. In a way, I'm happy that's the person that she will see."
Her husband had no words of wisdom nor comfort that would change the situation, so he chose to say nothing. He simply turned away, walking slowly out of the melancholy miasma.
The following morning, just like all weekday mornings, was chaotic and hectic. She had walked into the kitchen to find her strapping teenage son drinking directly from the milk carton. At least he had the grace to look sheepish, but then, being a master of deflection, he begged his mother for a favor.
"Mom, I really need you to wash my navy polo shirt before the end of the week. Some of us guys are hooking up with some girls at the concert Friday night and that shirt is a must-have if I'm going to look dope."
Brianna cocked her head and smiled fondly at her oldest child. Dan was tall and lanky, not yet truly filled out to his potential. His mop of dark hair was artfully mussed, no doubt arranged just so with the aid of gooey hair gel. The planes of his face were now sharply defined after shedding the roundness of adolescence. Maybe she was just being a mom, but she thought he was adorably handsome.
"Is it safe to assume that being 'dope' is a good thing?" his mother asked doubtfully.
"Well, for you old folks it means cool and awesome," her oldest offspring snickered.
"Well, this antiquated old lady wants to get back to the question of washing your clothes. Perhaps it's time for you to learn to do your own laundry, kiddo. I'm not always going to be around to do it for you," she decreed.
"You mean like when I'm in college?" he responded with a grin. "My friend Tom told me that his brother, Aaron, never changed the sheets on his bed the whole first semester that he was away at school. He just brought everything home in a big duffel bag during Christmas break for his mom to do. So, make sure to buy me lots of extra underwear when I leave for college this fall."
Any more discussion was cut off when Lisa, his sister, swanned into the room like a queen expecting to be met by her royal entourage. She always cut it close with only a few minutes to spare before the bus lumbered down their street to stop at the corner. Flicking her long straight hair over her shoulder, the young girl grabbed a banana and was almost out the door before Brianna's words stopped her mid-stride.
"Lisa, a banana is not really breakfast by any stretch of the imagination," she chided her daughter. "If you spent a little less time putting on your makeup in the morning, then you'd have time to eat a nutritious meal."
"I'm on a diet, Mother!" came the frustrated reply complete with an exaggerated eye roll. "It's hard to lose any weight when you insist on putting those carb-heavy meals on the table every night."
"Well, dear, you could take an interest in cooking so that you could prepare your own meals," Brianna challenged. "Maybe, with a bit of practice, you may become so proficient that the entire family will clamor for your culinary creations. Just think—then you could watch everybody's intake of those nasty carbohydrates, and I'm sure they would thank you for the effort."
"Whatever …." the disgruntled teenager muttered as she proceeded out the door with Dan trailing behind her.
"I love you," Brianna found herself whispering to empty air. Well, that wasn't necessarily true. Her youngest child—the unplanned surprise who managed to astonish her and Jeremy almost a decade after Lisa's birth—sat quietly at the kitchen table eating her sugary cereal with little charms and colored marshmallows.
"You don't care about silly old carbohydrates, do you, Amy?"
"Nope!" was the child's profound answer.
Brianna loved this little one with an intensity that sometimes frightened her. It was almost as if she had been given another chance to get it right after fumbling blindly while raising the other two. Perhaps it was the acquired wisdom that kids didn't really break that easily, and it was really hard to scar them for life no matter what you may have inadvertently done to hurt their feelings. They forgave you and loved you in spite of the missteps along the way.
But then a tiny doubt began to niggle deep within Brianna's heart. Perhaps this precious, sweet child would eventually come to hate her mother because she wouldn't be able to understand why she had been abandoned. That knowledge would only be forthcoming with the advent of maturity, and that was a really long way off.
Brianna knew that she wouldn't be around to witness all the normal teenage angst that would surely come in time, much less the more imminent heavy weight that her death would foist upon this little innocent. For just a minute, the woman's intentions faltered. But, then she reasoned that it had to be now while she had the chance to make it clean and tidy. With a determined effort at being upbeat, she addressed the little girl.
"I think that we have just enough time to make a little arts and crafts project before Samantha's mother comes to pick you up for carpool. Are you on board with that, Sweet Pea?"
The youngest and perhaps the most treasured of the clan certainly was agreeable, so mother and daughter busied themselves over their creative labor of love until a horn beeped in the driveway. Brianna walked slowly out to the idling car, situating Amy's little overnight satchel in the back seat between the two kindergarten friends.
"Thanks a bunch for letting the girls have a sleepover at your house tonight," she smiled at Samantha's mom. "Amy has really been looking forward to it."
"So has Sam," the driver answered. "And we're going to have a really fun time—right ladies?"
As a chorus of excited responses filled the car, Brianna watched, teary-eyed, as the SUV meandered its way down the street and, eventually, out of sight. She re-entered the house with her child's laugh still ringing in her ears, or more accurately, in her mind. Instead of placing the dirty dishes into the dishwasher, she settled the plates, bowls and cups in the sink and ran warm, soapy over them. It felt comforting to slide her fingers over their surface and hear them squeak as she rinsed away the remnants of something so real and so "normal." It was a tactile pleasure, just like hugging your loved ones and feeling the strength of them. She would need them to be strong, and brave, and ….well, a lot of other things in the coming days.
She retrieved a piece of parchment paper from her treasure trove of supplies. She was a graphic designer for an advertising company and worked from home, so she had the elegant, impressive stuff within easy reach. The message, written in her own careful cursive, was brief but succinct, a reminder just in case they might have forgotten during the busy days of their lives.
"I love each of you very much."
She took a glass of water upstairs to her bedroom and, with a deep breath, began the tedious ingestion of what would later be deemed as her cause of death. She then lay down on the marital bed where each of her children had been conceived and closed her eyes, letting her mind wend its way down neural paths of memory until the overwhelming lethargy would begin her fatal descent into nothingness.
She saw the serious and compassionate physician clearly, as he patiently tried to explain the time bomb ticking in her head with its tenacious tentacles always reaching for more, more, more to feed on. Then she glimpsed images of her father in his final years, valiantly struggling with lung cancer. Once big and robust, he had become an ethereal shadow—a ludicrous and heartbreaking parody of himself. It was messy and ugly, and his family could only stand by helplessly, and, in the end, fervently wish for his death to come so that he could be at peace.
She didn't want her children to pray for her end. She wanted to leave them a legacy of a mother who was healthy and whole, and she had hidden her symptoms so that they would be spared. They never suspected that occasionally her eyesight dimmed alarmingly, or that her balance was compromised. In their world, things were humming along as always, and parents were invincible, even if they were sometimes a nagging pain in the butt.
Her precious children—had she managed to endow them with the extraordinary fortitude that they would need for the future? God, she certainly hoped so. But, Brianna was an intuitive and introspective person. Her logical side argued that no one existed in a vacuum devoid of feelings and influences. For every action, there is a reaction. She remembered that from high school physics class. A philosophy professor in college had explained the imagery in more descriptive visual terms.
"Picture life around you as a placid and still pond," he had pontificated. "Throw the tiniest pebble into the center of that pond and watch the concentric circles of agitation spread out from the point of impact. Those waves get bigger and bigger as they move outward. Although less intense as they move away from the center, they, nonetheless, still influence everything in their path until they reach the periphery, where a biosphere is now a bit different from what once was. Remember, ladies and gentleman, you are all small pebbles that will make ripples in life's pond for as long as you exist and even after you are gone."
Brianna's last coherent thought as she "shuffled off this mortal coil" was, "Please don't hate me for this tsunami of ripples that I have made."