Up Ahead

It is nearing the end of summertime in Charleston: always too hot, but always skirting magical. Scents of grills and salt water and hot sunshine dance under clouds heavy with rain. Thunder rumbles in the distance; ceilings fans keep spinning. Bracelets on women’s wrists and wine glasses in their hands go on clinking into the night. Birds dart up to the sky and plunge back down to catch their supper in the reeds. Young people walk hand and hand, full of wonder; expectation. Older couples stroll; they are old friends laughing. The hum of traffic in the streets is met with a clop-clop of a horse and carriage approaching.

A man in a dark suit steps into a backdrop of a tidy garden and gas lanterns flanking an iron gate. He is framed by this place as if he exists in a time long gone. He extends his hand to steady the widow as her feet shakily meet the street below her. She steps out of the car and nods at him, turning to face the churchyard. Her sons follow her, dabbing handkerchiefs to the glimmering beads of sweat which dot their foreheads. Up ahead, mourners line the walkway to the grave. The urn sits atop a small table beside the minister.

His voice bellows, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he die, yet shall he live…”

The widow takes her seat and her sons stand very close to her as if to buoy themselves up against her. One of them rests his hand on her shoulder. She reaches up to place her hand on his and for a moment, she closes her eyes. She draws a deep breath. She allows the future to flash in front of her for a split second, but her eyes spring open at the thought of going home alone.

The voice continues, “Let not your hearts be troubled…”

Her husband had now ended his long battle with cancer. She had watched his body wither and his strength fade. A month ago, they learned there were no more options. Their eyes locked and they both knew this was the end. His focus shifted from appointments and medications to organizing and saying good-bye. He started clearing his office and hired a friend to finish some minor repairs to the house. They went on a short trip to visit their daughter who lived out of state. All the while, they talked about how hard every moment was; how bittersweet.

Spoken words interrupt her memories; a prayer for comfort and for hope in the coming days. She will go home tonight and sleep on new sheets a friend has so lovingly given her. Tomorrow she will wake and have notes to write and dishes to return. She is thankful and she is tired. She stands to embrace the pastor as he walks towards her. She cannot wait to get out of these shoes.

Each of the grandchildren place a rose on the urn once it is lowered into the ground. She hopes they have a long while before needing to go to another funeral.

She turns again to leave the churchyard. A pang of grief threatens to cripple her, but she keeps walking. Her youngest grandson reaches up and grabs hold of her hand. He squeals, “Can I spend the night with you, grandma?”

“Not tonight, my love,” she replies, scrambling for an excuse. “You have to go to school tomorrow!,” she exclaims.

Envious of his innocence, she grips his hand in wonder at what is in store for her, and she breathes in the salty air as they walk to join the others waiting for her just outside the iron gate.


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