The alarm rings and David and I rise. This is not our home, not our room, not our en suite bathroom. How could we stay there without a single one of our girls?
We hit the showers and iron clothes and dress in fine, dark clothes befitting the occasion before slicing a pill in half and taking turns swallowing the pieces down. The room is bright but our hearts are not.
We pack up our things and exit heading off to do the thing we least want to do but cannot bear not to. It is January 4, 2014, and it is chilly out. Another day of moving cement encased feet, one in front of another. It’s day ten.
We arrive at the church and head to the sanctuary where we are greeted and hugged by longtime family friends, Jack and Sherry Erisman and their grown and married daughter, Maryann. We turn and enter the darkened and silent sanctuary; empty but for two identical flower-draped caskets, and pictures of our smiling daughters standing alongside. We walk slowly forward where I lay a hand first on one, and then the other casket, thankful we chose the bright, vibrant sprays of flowers, so reflective of Bethany and Katie in life.
I don’t want to be here! No, that’s not right. I don’t want to have reason to be here. I wish the nightmare would end. Wish I’d awake to find we’re pulling into our driveway ten days prior, December 26, 2013, at 3:15 in the afternoon. That’s the time we would have arrived home had we not encountered Troy Robins. Wish I could watch my three daughters, my impatient dog, O’rane and David climb from the van, stretch and tumble into the house dragging blankets, pillows, electronics and suitcases along with them. If only I could rewrite that day! If only . . .
Instead, Pastor Wes George and his wife Lisa join us and we prepare for the visitation that will be held before the funeral begins. David and I stand facing the rear of the sanctuary, to the right of the caskets which will not be open for viewing. Ten days is too long. And then the doors open and people begin lining up to share our sorrow and express their condolences.
That half-pill erased most of my anxiety over strangers and reporters. Simple gratitude remained for those who patiently waited to hug us and tell us of their prayers on our behalf – for those who stooped to place a shoulder beneath the cross we struggled to carry that day and the nine before. My focus was narrow. The person before me, David to my left and Bethany then Katie to my right.
It was time. Pastor and Lisa drew us back into the choir room behind the platform at the front of the sanctuary, gave us last minute instructions, inquired as to how we were holding up and gave us a moment to take a deep breath before the girls final service began. And the music started – “He’s Been Faithful to Me”.
We reentered the sanctuary and took our seats huddling together, holding hands and focusing on the music and the brief synopsis of our girls’ far too brief lives. Clinging to scriptures of faith and hope – scriptures of our loving God and an eternal future for our girls and for ourselves.
All too soon we were loaded into a car and driven to the cemetery where we found the girls’ caskets set at staggered heights with Hunt Chapel serving as a fitting backdrop for the faith we profess. A few final words were spoken, and then . . . we turned our backs and walked away, my heals wobbling and sinking into the grass as we crossed the expanse of lawn back to the car. We left our girls for the last time – the last time – in that beautiful and cold cemetery where nothing and no one would ever hurt them again. Oh, the agony of it!
My only regret is that I do not have a picture of the graveside service. The tent with friends standing and seated, the staggered flower topped caskets, the chapel and David and I standing before it all. It’s an important, albeit devastating moment of our lives. I’d like to have that moment under glass so I can slide my finger over it as I remember the beauty of the place, the beauty of the sorrow, and the beauty of broken hearts. Broken hearts are beautiful. They reflect raw love in the wake of incomprehensible loss.
I remember that day in graphic detail. The ride back to the church, the meal served upstairs for friends and family, the international students in attendance, the ladies who served lunch. I remember padding downstairs in stocking feet to load up plants and flowers to take to the hospital hoping to brighten Gracen’s room, hoping to share her sisters’ last day with her and so I could hold onto their beauty and fragrance until they were no more. I remember saying goodbye to family, changing clothes in a bathroom stall, a quick stop home and driving back to Little Rock. I remember the vast relief of seeing and touching Gracen again – still breathing – Thank God she was still breathing!
And as tears roll down my cheeks, I remember that day as if I am walking through it again on weighted feet with leaden heart as keening sounds claw their way up my throat to tightly clamped teeth and lips holding back the shrieks of pain and sorrow in deference to the now twenty year-old girl who lies on the sofa in the other room; oblivious to my journey down memory lane.
Yes, I remember that day as if it were yesterday. I think it will forever feel like yesterday.