My heart aches; the pain I’d only read about before and never believed it. Always thought the person whose heart hurt was grabbing for attention, sympathy…whatever.
And yet, here I am. My most beloved gone. Our life, that we spent years forging together, carving out future plans, re-building when a block was misplaced or broken, is over.
My hands shake. My fingers tremble as I reach for his forehead. I lean down to kiss him, but I falter.
‘Honey,’ says my mother. She’s just entered the small room, probably to check if I’m alright. She’s hovering behind me. I can imagine what she’s doing: holding a handkerchief, twisting the corner in her hand, trying ever so hard to be brave for me, to hold back her own grief, but her eyes will be glassy with unshed tears, her lips taut and her teeth clenched.
‘Love,’ she says. ‘Time to say goodbye.’
I refuse. I will not—ever—say goodbye to this man. I shift my gaze from his face. It’s not the same anyway; what’s in that box is only his shell and it’s evident in his pallid skin, closed eyes, and slack jaw. I turn to face Mum. Yep, I’d pictured here perfectly; her hanky is a twisted shred. I breathe deeply. Let it all out in a sigh. I want to scream, rage against everything, but instead my shoulders slump and my entire body sags, like a bagpipe with an empty air reservoir.
‘Coming Mum,’ I respond. She holds out her hand—this is new. Not one for public affection normally. I take it and together we leave the small room, with my husband resting forever in his narrow box.
‘You alright?’ She squeezes my hand gently.
Stupid question Mum. Of course I’m not alright. ‘Yes, thanks Mum. I’m fine. No point being otherwise.’
‘You’re very brave.’
What alternative do I have? Our baby son, not even a year old, needs me. I straighten myself, hold my head and neck erect, bite the inside of my cheek, and together Mum and I walk into the chapel. I feel, rather than see, the eyes of over one hundred friends, family, colleagues on me.
We sit in the front pew. Dad is holding Aaron, who’s reaching for me, squealing and bouncing his chubby baby legs into Dad’s ropy thighs. The flood of grief is threatening to burst.
I will not break. I will not collapse. I will get through this nightmare. For him. For Aaron.