Today’s story idea comes from Annette Deaton. Annette was a guest blogger here in November. See her moving post here. This is Annette’s story idea…
Character: Anne is 20 years old and caring.
Setting: Catholic Church
Conflict: The love of her life, Seth, whom she cared for through the years (though recently they were apart) has died and now she must say good-bye
A family gathered around a coffin in a small room off the sanctuary of St. Peter’s Church. The other mourners, the ones who weren’t family or close friends, had been escorted out only moments ago. This was the time for the family to say their last good-byes to their dead. Son. Brother. Uncle. Cousin. Nephew. Seth. The family stood in a semi circle, facing the body.
“He never was a very healthy boy,” Grandma Eileen said. “Always so sick. I just wish he could have been with us longer.”
“He looks so peaceful,” Brenda, Seth’s mother sobbed. “He was so sick, I don’t think he ever looked so calm.”
“I just wish Anne would of come,” Lila, the sister, said. “He would have wanted her here.”
“Did you call her?” Brenda asked.
“Yes. She said she would come.”
The men of the family stood, mute. Their silence the only barrier between them and weeping.
“Well, I’m not really happy with the way that girl took off,” Grandma said. “Just left him with a nurse. Never told any of us what happened.”
“Seth wouldn’t talk about it either,” Brenda. “I’m sure there’s more to it than we think.”
“I’m just gonna say it. Seth wanted to marry that girl. Wanted to ever since they were kids.” Grandma pulled a tissue from her sleeve. “And I know that girl loved him, too. Or she wouldn’t have been there so much.”
“It would have been a lot to ask, Mother.”
“All I’m saying is they should have gotten married. Just so that Seth could pass away as a family man.”
“I think it would have been very hard, Grandma,” Lila said. “And I think Seth understood that.”
“I just would like to see her show up here. That would help my old soul.”
“She might come, Mother. There’s still time.”
“Do you want me to sneak out and see if she’s sitting in a pew?” Lila asked. “She might not have known she could come in here.”
Lila was back in the small room within moments. A red eyed Anne was behind her. Anne wore a brown dress with yellow flowers. It had been Seth’s favorite. Her shoes were bright blue. The color Seth loved the best. She looked at the ground, unable to take in the sight of Seth in the casket.
“Oh, Anne,” Brenda said, walking toward her and pulling her into a hug. “Honey, I’m so glad you’re here.”
Anne nodded her head against Brenda’s shoulder. She allowed herself to cry into the woman’s embrace.
“We were just about to say our last good-byes to him.” Grandma took Anne’s hand and tugged her away from Brenda. “You need to say good-bye, too.”
“I can’t,” Anne whispered.
“You don’t have to say anything,” Grandma coaxed her. “But you’ll hate yourself if you don’t at least look at him. You’ll hate yourself forever.”
“I don’t want this to be what I remember.”
“What. You want to remember the boy who needed you to empty his colostomy bag? Or the boy who couldn’t even talk to you in his last weeks because of the breathing tube? You’d rather remember our Seth like that instead of like this? He’s at peace now. And he deserves to be seen. Even by you.”
They all took turns. One by one, they peeked in. Touched the face. Whispered farewells. Anne was last in line.
“Now, let’s give the girl a little space,” Brenda said. “Go on, Anne. We’ll all turn our backs and plug our ears if you want us to.”
“That’s okay. I’ll be fine,” Anne said.
She looked at him. His auburn hair was smoothed, pushed back from his forehead. The last time she’d seen him, it was matted and greasy. That last day, the day she left, he’d had difficulty breathing. Even with the tube down his throat. She closed her eyes and remembered that last day.
“Do you want another pillow under your head?” Anne had asked him. “You look so uncomfortable.”
He shook his head.
“Seth, is there anything you need?” She sat in the straight backed chair next to his head. “That’s why I’m here, Babe.”
Hospice had been called in. Still Anne wanted to care for Seth. She held out hope that he would survive, that they would be able to get married, have kids, live a happy life.
Seth just shook his head again. He wrote on a dry erase board. The marker squeaked as he scribbled.
“You deserve more,” he’d written.
“No, Seth. Don’t start with that again.”
He erased. Wrote again. “You do. Go find another.”
“I’m not going to do that, Seth.” She put her hand on his arm. “I love you.”
“Give up. I’m dying.”
“No. You’ll get better.” She cleared her throat. “I want to marry you, Seth.”
“I won’t marry you.”
“But, Seth, we love each other.”
“That’s why I won’t marry.”
He wiped the board clean. The two were together, quiet. Both feeling the loss of his life.
“I’m okay with that, Seth.” Anne inched to the edge of her chair. “It’s just nice that I can be here.”
“It’s too hard for me.”
“Because you’re taking care.”
“Taking care of you? But I don’t mind. I love you. This is what you do when you love someone.”
“No more.” He paused. “Please.”
“Well, okay. I’ll just sit with you then. I promise, I won’t lift another finger. We’ll let the nurse do that. I’ll bring a bunch of movies.”
“No. Too much.”
“Then, I’ll read to you some more.”
“No. You need a break.”
“I don’t. I’m glad to be here.”
“Take some time. Be alone.”
“But I don’t want to leave you. What if…you get worse?”
“I can’t. No. Seth. You’re the only one.”
“I’m not. I want you happy.”
“I can’t be happy without you.”
“You have to.”
The nurse came into the room. She checked Seth’s pulse, his blood pressure. She made a note in his chart and left the two alone again.
“Seth, I love you.” Anne put her head on his arm. She heard the marker squeak on the board. She sat up.
“I can’t die while you’re here.”
She looked at his face. Seth was crying. He rubbed the words away and wrote more.
“You can’t see me die. I won’t do that to you.”
Erase. Write again.
“But I’m tired, Anne. I want to go.”
“You need to leave so I can.”
“But I love you,” Anne said.
“Then love me enough to go.” Erase. Write again. “Please, Anne.”
She took the board and put it on the side table. Ran her fingers across his hair, pushing it back from his forehead. She looked into his eyes. He was begging her. She could see that on his face. Anne wanted to kiss his lips, but the tube prevented her. She, instead, pressed her lips against his cheek. She felt his hand stroke her hair.
“I love you. So, good-bye,” she whispered into his ear.
After she left that day, she waited for the phone call to let her know he was gone. He made it another two weeks. She resented that time. Wishing that she could have had those fourteen days with him.
Anne opened her eyes and looked at Seth’s body. She kissed her fingers and touched them to his lips.
Brenda crossed the room and put her arm around Anne’s shoulders. “Come. Sit with us. You’ll always be family,” she said.
The family gathered around the coffin. This time, not as a semi-circle, but as a clump. All hugging one another as the funeral director lowered the lid.