I lost all sense of time. We could have been at the hospital another five minutes or another five hours; I didn’t know. I was only vaguely aware of what was going on around me, and none of it seemed real until my mother was given a psych consult and a plastic drawstring bag containing my father’s personal effects. In my entire life, I’d never once seen his wedding band off his finger. Ultimately, it wasn’t the attending surgeon, my mother’s screams, or the grief counselor who convinced me that my father was gone. It was the sight of my mother raising his ring to her lips before placing it on a chain around her neck. The visual of my father’s wedding band resting next to the crucifix my mother always wore forced me to accept as reality what until that point seemed like a bad dream—my father was gone, and he was never coming back.
As much as I wanted to scream, sob—even break something—I didn’t. I was determined to hold myself together; my mother deserved this from me. My resolve crumbled the moment it was time to go home, and I found my feet frozen in place.
“We can’t just leave him.”
My mother put her arms around me, and I could no longer stop the tears. My father—my best friend—wouldn’t be waiting for us on the couch at home. Instead, he was waiting for a stranger to collect him from a slab in the morgue.
“Oh, baby,” she said. “We’re just leaving a body. It’s oxygen, carbon and nitrogen—nothing more. Your father isn’t in there anymore; he’s with God and your brother. And us. Don’t believe for a second he isn’t with us. He’d never give up that easily.”
“Do you honestly believe that?”
“I need to believe it. I have no other choice.”
When we got home, I offered to make the necessary phone calls for my mom, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She poured herself a glass of wine and took some Xanax, and once they kicked in, she settled herself into a sofa in the great room and prepared to notify the people who would “need to hear it from her.”
She started with the conversation she most dreaded.
“Hello, Jack…Yes, I’m aware of the time, but this couldn’t wait. Carlisle was in an accident coming home from work, and well…” She paused and closed her eyes. “He didn’t make it.”
A moment later, my mom put her phone on her lap and turned to me. “He said you should call him if you need anything.”
“That’s all he said?”
“I know he’s not the warmest person, but he does love you in his way and this has to be very hard on him. When we know specifics about the funeral, I think you should be the one to let him know. He’s made it clear he doesn’t want to talk to me right now.”
“I’m sure he’s just in shock, like the rest of us. He probably doesn’t know what to think.”
“Heh.” She rolled her eyes. “He knows exactly what to think.”
“You don’t like him very much, do you?”
“He’s not all bad. Your father came from Jack; therefore, there has to be a measure of good inside him. We’ve just never gotten along. I don’t hold it against him; he’s a product of his upbringing just like the rest of us. He loves…uh…loved your father very much. There’s nothing Jack wouldn’t do and no one Jack wouldn’t hurt if he believed that person presented a risk to his sons’ happiness.” She shrugged. “He is who he is.”
“There’s something you aren’t telling me.”
She sighed. “My relationship with your grandparents is…strained.”
“Because of Dad?”
“No, because of me.”
I knew better than to ask her to elaborate. I sat by her side as she called her mother and her sister, both of whom said they’d be on the next planes to Philadelphia. She thanked my Aunt Maggie, but told Nana not to be ridiculous, that she shouldn’t put herself out, and that we’d visit her soon. My mother must have read the confusion on my face; after she got off the phone with my grandmother, she addressed me.
“Are you okay with that? I’m sure Nana would come if I asked her. It’s just the house isn’t wheelchair accessible–”
“It’s okay, Mom,” I said, finally understanding. My grandmother had ALS; the last thing my mother needed right now was a visual reminder of her mother’s dour prognosis. “Why don’t you try to get some sleep?”
“I just…can’t. I’m not ready to go upstairs—to sleep without him beside me. I think I’ll stay here.”
“Can I get you anything?”
She shook her head before pulling me into her embrace. “You’re all I need.”
“I don’t know what kind of help I’ll be. I’m barely holding it together.”
“You don’t have to hold it together.”
I disagreed. “I do. You deserve at least that from me.” Dad would want me to take care of my mother.
“You deserve to grieve. Don’t deny yourself the experience of feeling anything—rage, anger, hurt, betrayal, sadness, need—especially need. It doesn’t mean you’re weak; it just means you’re still alive.”
She stroked my hair and I rested my head on her shoulder. The gentle movement of her hand soothed me, and when she began to hum “Nessun Dorma,” I closed my eyes. For as long as I could remember, she’d done this each and every time I came to her seeking comfort. The fact it had been my father’s favorite classical piece made it especially poignant, but her choice was also prophetic. Neither my mother nor I slept that night.
Morning brought with it two realizations. The arrival of daylight provided the important reminder that the earth had not, in fact, ceased spinning on its axis. Even though my world felt as if it had ended, the rest of the world was unaffected. It was any other workday—business as usual. Despite the fact that the loss of individual lives had no overall effect, death itself was such big business that funeral directors made house calls. In the comfort of our dining room, my mother was informed that because of the extent of my father’s injuries, an open casket would not be possible, but if she wanted a private viewing of the remains, they would do what they could.
“That won’t be necessary,” she said.
“Sometimes it’s helpful to provide closure,” he explained. “If there’s anything you wanted to say to him–”
“I said everything I needed to say to him when he was alive. Really, I’d just like to do this as quickly as possible.”
I sat there in silence as they discussed the details, not really feeling as though I had anything meaningful to contribute. When we were finished, I gave the funeral director my cell phone number. As soon as he called me with details about the arrangement, I could let people know when the services would be held. I suddenly realized I’d yet to let the people close to me know about anything. My aunt Maggie arrived soon after the funeral director left, and I was able to excuse myself, knowing my mother was in capable hands.
I called Bella first, but I wasn’t surprised when she didn’t answer. I knew she was probably in the middle of a lesson. I reached Kate on my first try, who offered to take care of letting everyone on campus know, but reminded me that I should email my professors, a thought that hadn’t even occurred to me. She also said she’d figure out how to get my car, laptop, and anything else I might need down from campus and that if I took care of myself, she would take care of everything else. I thanked her, intentionally not mentioning that what I really needed was Bella. Emmett made a similar offer; I realized there was something he could do for me.
“My father was my best friend,” I reminded him.
“I know. I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
“It’s funny how that works, how a single person can fill so many roles. You’ve been the best friend I’ve ever had who wasn’t related to me, which is ridiculous to say, because I don’t think of you as a friend. I think of you as an older brother.”
He laughed. “That’s because I’m overbearing, bossy, and very protective of you.”
“Maybe,” I conceded. “It could also be because you’re under no obligation to be there for me, but you always are.”
“Because I want to.”
“Would you be willing to be a pallbearer?”
“I’d be honored.”
Once I was off the phone with Emmett, I tried to call Bella again. I knew she was in front of a class, and therefore couldn’t answer, but I kept calling her anyway, just to hear her voicemail greeting. At some point in the afternoon, she called me.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
“We lost Dad. He was on his way home from the hospital, and his car was hit by a drunk driver. They took him to Cooper Trauma, but there was nothing they could do.”
“Oh my god, Edward. I’m so incredibly sorry. Where are you now?”
“With my mother. She’s still in shock. I think maybe I am, too. None of this feels real to me.”
“Please, Edward. Let me know if you need anything.”
I needed her—more than anything—but I couldn’t tell her this now. For some reason, it would feel like I was manipulating her.
“Thank you. It’s just good to know that you’re there…”
“Always, Edward. Always.”
I was starting to believe her.
From: Catherine Fleury
Date: April 6, 2011 2:42 PM EDT
To: Edward Cullen
I got your car keys via FedEx this morning, so no problems there. Angela’s driving your car down. We didn’t think you’d mind, because she’s driven it before. I would, but I don’t know how to drive a stick. I’m going to follow her in my car, and drive us both back to campus after the viewing. We had Tyler gather your laptop and the books you need for class, so you’ll have everything you need.
I love you, Y, and I’m so incredibly sorry.
A viewing seemed kind of ridiculous considering the casket was closed, but Maggie explained that the actual purpose was so people could pay their respects and that it was bad manners to have receiving lines at church. When I asked her why, if it was poor etiquette, the obituary stated that people could come to the funeral an hour early to see us, she said that no one realized it was in poor taste, so everyone did it anyway. When I told her that made no sense, she said most things didn’t.
That night at the funeral home, my mother sat in front of the coffin with Maggie, Jack and Kitty, but I stayed out in the foyer. I claimed I was doing so to greet people, but really, I just couldn’t stand the sight of the casket, knowing who was inside it. Kate and Angela were among the first to arrive. I hugged each of them before they went to pay their respects to my mom. They left soon after, telling me they’d see me tomorrow.
I spent the rest of the evening hearing whispered condolences from people I hardly knew—my father’s colleagues, college friends, even some of my former teachers. Just when I felt like I couldn’t hold it together a second longer, I saw Bella moving toward me. Like everyone before her, she grasped my hand and told me she was sorry. Except when she loosened her fingers, instead of letting her go, I held on more tightly. I needed her touch to get through this, and I didn’t care if three of my former high school teachers were standing on the other side of the room.
“Stay with me?” I asked.
I realized then that how Bella responded to my request would determine our future. I couldn’t get through the rest of the night without her, but in the past, that wouldn’t have made a difference. If there was the possibility of anyone she knew from work seeing us together, she would have denied me regardless. None of the ways in which Bella had changed mattered if she were still unwilling to own us—to own me—in the presence of her fellow teachers.
“Whatever you need,” she said, nodding.
“I need you.”
“You have me.”
She hugged me tightly, then spent the rest of the viewing at my side. I asked her if she wanted to see my mother, and she shook her head, saying she thought it was best that she went home, but that she’d be at the funeral tomorrow. She reminded me again to call her if there was anything I needed, and that she would do whatever she could for me.
This time, I believed her.
Comment if you feel so inclined, but I would rather you take the time to tell those important to you that you love them.