After my father left for the funeral, I wrote everything down. Then, exhausted, I fell back to sleep.
I slept all day. In fact, I slept for such a long time that when I finally woke up, the sun had all but disappeared from sight, and the scary shadows that always seem to appear with the late-afternoon sky had already invaded my room. For a moment I was confused and disoriented. Why was I still in bed? Why hadn’t I gone to school?
But, then, it all came back to me. I remembered everything. Elise’s mom was dead.
I tried to will myself back to sleep so that I could forget again, if only for just a while longer. But, it was hopeless.
Later, my father came back into my room. Still dressed in his dark funeral suit, he carefully sat on the edge of my bed and asked me how I was feeling. I didn’t quite know how to respond. “Well, Dad, to be honest, I feel devastated…destroyed…despondent,” I thought to myself. Out loud, I mumbled, “I’m OK…I guess.”
“Good,” he said, visibly relieved (but not entirely convinced), as he patted me awkwardly on the arm. “Then why don’t you get dressed, grab a bite to eat, and take a ride with me over to Elise’s house. I am sure that it would mean a lot to her.”
I did as he said, but I was so heavy with grief that I could only move at half my normal speed (it felt as if I was moving through molasses). I don’t know how I managed but, somehow, I made it out to the car.
We drove to Elise’s house in silence; each one of us lost in our own similar but solitary thoughts.
When we arrived, tons of other people were already milling about. And, although I recognized a lot of them, there were also a lot of adults and (especially) kids that I didn’t recognize at all. It made me feel awkward and out of place.
And, then, I saw Elise and I felt even more awkward. I couldn’t think of anything comforting, or the least bit helpful to say to her. It was one of those moments where I would have done anything for a script with written words of wisdom (appropriate expressions of love and sympathy) to help me to adequately express all that I was thinking and feeling.
But, of course, life isn’t a movie or a play. And, unfortunately, there was no script. I could have waited forever and a day, but it wouldn’t have mattered. No one was going to feed me the perfect line.
Unsure of what to do next, I slowly (and nervously) made my way toward Elise. As I approached her, I inhaled (as if to speak), but nothing happened. Instead, my breath remained suspended in my lungs; the way that it does when you swear that you’re about to say something but nothing comes out, because – try as you might – nothing is there. There’s nothing to say.
Frustrated and confused, I said nothing.
I fell in with a group of kids about my age (all of them strangers to me) who, at first, appeared to be wandering aimlessly around the house. However, I soon realized that they were actually trailing after Elise (who, understandably, actually was wandering aimlessly around the house).
Keeping a respectful distance, we followed her as she drifted from room to room, weaving her way through the crowd of mourners as if they were nothing more than inanimate objects; obstacles that were meant to be avoided rather than acknowledged.
After about thirty minutes of dazed wandering, Elise suddenly changed course. She abruptly turned into the main entry and made her way up the front stairs.
Momentarily confused by her sudden shift in direction, her stalkers quickly regrouped and followed Elise up the stairs and into her parents’ room, where we came upon her brother and some of his friends sitting uncomfortably on the floor in front of the bed watching sports on television. All at once, every one of our eyes went to the bed. Sitting there, on top of Charlotte’s pillow, was a giant book (a Bible?) and a single red rose.
What did it mean?
Before I’d had a moment to ponder the significance of what I was seeing, one of the strangers in the group, a girl about the same age a Elise (but twice her size), turned to her and asked (in a painfully loud and insensitive tone) what the book and the rose were doing on the bed.
Cringing at the sound of the girl’s irritating voice, I turned away. I could not bear to look in Elise’s direction. It was too embarrassing.
There was a momentary, nerve-wracking pause. But, then, Elise began to speak. And, although I was too far away to make out her exact words, there was no mistaking her exasperated tone.
All of the sudden I felt…well…I felt relief. Finally…finally…I was able to exhale. For, I realized that, despite the horrible tragedy that had brought us all together, Elise was still Elise. It didn’t matter that she was like me now – that she was a “girl with a dead mother” – because she was still exactly who she’s always been. She was still the boss, she was still sarcastic and, more important, she was going to stay that way.
It was another epiphany.
This time, however, instead of making me feel ill, the revelation made me feel magnificent. Fantastic! Gloriously happy! In fact, it made my heart soar with joy.
I suddenly understood that, regardless of what other people say, or think, or believe, the tragedy of losing someone you love doesn’t really change you. At least, it doesn’t change the essence of who you are.
Sure, there’s a big giant hole in the place where the missing loved one used to be. But, eventually, that hole is filled. It is filled with the fragments of remembered conversations…the taste of certain foods…the occasional song on the radio…the aroma of a familiar scent. And, then, later, new memories are created, and new attachments are formed. And, life goes on. For the living, for those left behind, life goes on.
A moment later, the sound of my father’s voice reached my ears. “Sophie!” he called out, “It’s time to go home!”
Without thinking, I rushed forward and embraced a startled Elise. Her stiff, angular body instantly went limp as all of the love, compassion and understanding that I felt for her flowed swiftly from the pores of my skin directly into hers. Then, I stepped back, and we looked into one another’s eyes.
“Yes. I know. It hurts,” I thought. And, she heard me. Without my even having to move my lips, she heard me. Then, I smiled (my first genuine smile in a really long time). And, although it took a lot of effort, Elise smiled back in appreciation. Then, her body went rigid again, and General Elise marched right back into battle.
I marched out to the car. But, I might as well have been floating, I felt so light, unburdened, and free.
It’s unbelievable. For months, I have been depressed and unable to enjoy life because I was obsessed with painful memories from my past; memories that were stirred up because I let other people define who I was and what kind of a life I was allowed to live.
And, then, without warning, I find myself thrown into someone else’s tragedy. And, even though I’m the one who is supposed to be dispensing the advice and providing the answers; even though I’m the one who is supposed to be consoling Elise…she’s the one who (unknowingly) ends up helping me.
Just like that, I’m reborn. Life is good. No, life is great. For the past week, I haven’t been able to stop laughing. It just keeps building up inside my heart and bursting out of me. I even caught myself whistling on my way home from school last Wednesday. And I started singing in the shower on Thursday morning. I’ve read three books in the past week (did you know that with the exception of assigned schoolwork, I haven’t read a single book for pleasure since I discovered Ellen’s note?). And I went bowling with Emily and Leah on Friday night. And I even slept over Ellen’s house – without Rose – on Saturday night.
No wonder I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother these past few months, I wasn’t giving myself anything else to think about! The present was happening all around me, but I was hardly participating in its creation. For the first time in my life, I was having trouble being satisfied and happy with my day-to-day existence. The old Sophie was slowly being replaced by this pathetic excuse for a girl that I hardly even recognized.
But, now, even though I get really, really sad whenever I think about Charlotte being dead, at the same time, I’m happy again.
I’m choosing to be happy.