Reaching for a quiet mind, I find a space in the middle. I pass through the foyer and into a giant chapel. The room is understated compared to other places of worship. The wood is light, and like the exterior of the church, the design subdued. The most obtrusive statement comes from the lights. Everything is very bright; both the sun outside and the florescent white seem to shine a spotlight on those suffering. It smiles in the face of their agony and bears down upon their tears. I wish I could reduce the volume of light today. I wish I could give everyone here something gentle, a light that caresses them and holds them as they cry, a nurturing light that wraps itself around them like a warm blanket, soft and comforting.
I pray again for their peace and finally force myself to focus on the task at hand. Turning to my left, I look for Monica. Large curtain-like doors that would typically represent the chapel’s back wall during regular services are now open to accommodate all of the people mourning here today. Beyond the doors, there are now rows of metal fold-out chairs half-covering a gymnasium floor. Most of the chairs are still empty, so I focus on searching the rows of pews I stand behind.
The pews are long and grouped into three distinct sections. This church serves a large congregation, and I stand for several minutes straining to see a face I recognize. Finally, I do. To the far left of the front row, I recognize her husband and her father. I move forward to offer my condolences.
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Linda, you came. I wasn’t sure if you would, but thank you. Monica needs your support right now. I’m so grateful you are here.”
His words are comforting. I continue with renewed faith, “Thank you, Randall. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve. Do you know where she is?”
“She is in the viewing room at the end of the hall. You should go and be with her.”
“Of course.” After a brief moment with them, I excuse myself, continue my search in the main foyer.
The first thing I see as I enter is a beautiful tribute just inside the main doors. There are flowers and pictures and books made in special remembrance of this blessing to the earth. I pause and look at the memorial. I am moved again by Amber’s beauty. It seems to radiate from her very soul. While I had spent little time with her, the time I did spend had a tremendous impact. I had hoped for an opportunity to know her one day. I was sad that day would not come to pass.
I pause for a moment, contemplating one of the programs, allowing my fingers to light upon her gentle face. I feel my heart reach to her young family as I pray for their healing. Then, I promise her I will do everything I can to help her sister.
Looking past the foyer, I see another room at the end of the hall. People line the walls outside of the room. There is a sign defining it as some type of ‘family’ space. I don’t stay focused on the sign long enough to read all of it. I stand frozen and unsure of what to do. I don’t know who is allowed in the room. I guess it must be some type of private space for the family, maybe a place to get away for a moment. Asking someone does occur to me. I can’t imagine interrupting anyone, especially on a day like today. I am sure this must be where I will find Monica, but I also fear I have no right there. I must work again to overcome my doubts and decide I must do whatever it takes to support my friend.
Taking yet another in a long line of deep breaths, I continue down the hall. Everything around me slows as I pass, waiting for any one of them to stop me and question my right to be here. The corridor seems to continue forever as halls do sometimes in bad dreams.
I expect when I finally get there, they will deny me access to the room. I’ve spent my life being rejected by people who worship in buildings just like this one. They have repeatedly turned me away as an outsider, but no one questions me today. They remain where they are in their own process, and my fear eventually withdraws, the way it usually does, with a rather flat and uneventful thud, leaving behind it only the shame and self-loathing for ever having felt it in the first place.
As I approach the doorway, I immediately notice the casket on the far side of the room. Of course, I didn’t even consider this. I was so focused on my own story, and how I would make it through my fears and to my friend’s side, I didn’t even consider the idea of where Amber would be. Entering the viewing area, I look around to find Monica by her sister’s side. She is sitting in a chair next to the casket, speaking with someone. She nods at what the person in front of her is saying, but I can tell she doesn’t hear the words. Her eyes are glossed over and empty.
Watching her, I realize it is not as if she is far away from this place. She seems far away from any place, at all. It is as if she is nowhere, and from my perspective, this is probably for the best. I assume she won’t remember much of today, and I think it is a good thing she doesn’t. This will not be a crucial memory. This day is okay to forget.
Looking over at the casket, I see Amber. I know it must be her, but it takes me several minutes to register it. I have been to funerals before and have wondered about the difference between a body and a living being, but I have never seen such an unrecognizable change. The woman lying there bears no resemblance to the woman I met. I remember long flowing hair and a bright smile that showed her eyes even more than her mouth. She was radiant and powerful, and I could swear the light shone through her skin.
I stand in the doorway a moment, confused. I wonder if it might have been someone else I met. This can’t be the same woman. Before I can completely follow the path in my mind, I see Monica is now free. Quickly dismissing any other impulses, I go to her immediately. As our arms enfold one another, I find myself concerned at how frail she has become. I know this loss is heavy upon her and has affected her health, but at this moment, she seems so weak, I honestly wonder if she will make it.
We stand there together for some time, and I hold her while she cries. I don’t say anything. I just bear her weight for a moment while I can. When her tears subside, I help her back to her chair, telling her, “I will be out in the chapel if you need me.”
On my way toward the door, I pause for a moment, watching her closely as she sits in her seat. I wish I could do anything at all to ease the torture I feel in her soul. But, I know I cannot. Looking at her this way, I realize I have never seen a person so fragile, and I am worried. I want to reach out to her and let her know she will make it through this day and the next, but I know her strength and her will are her own. There is nothing more I can do. We will all stand by her side, but she must survive this great loss by her own strength in the end.
Looking over at the casket once again and at Amber lying in it, I decide not to approach. I do not recognize the woman lying there, and I don’t feel like I have anything significant to say to her. I barely know her. I am no more than a stranger.
One day, as I look back on this story, this choice will be the deepest of my regrets about today. More than anything, I will wish to have this moment returned to me, so I could go to her and tell her not to worry, that I would take care of everything. I will wish I had said, ‘Have faith, sweet Amber. In the end, everyone will heal.’’
I don’t know anything about what is to come after today. I don’t even know I will have anything to do with her again. Beyond my support of her sister, I don’t see myself having any role in her life. Still, the day will come when I will look back, and I will wish I would have known these words and wish I would have said them to her. I will wish I would have said anything at all.
Today, I do not know all of this. I do not know who we will become to one another. So, I simply turn, and I leave the room and wait for the next opportunity to be of service to my friend.