I immediately found the one I came for, the one I love.
She was standing with new husband in back parlor, accepting hugs and words of comfort from the long line of people snaking through the building. I was surprised to find her there, at the back of the line. Her mother and sister were up front. Her father and brother, aunts, uncles, cousins…they were all up front.
Beside the coffin.
But here she was, at back of line, cradling picture in two hands—white knuckles gripping. I gently tip the frame away from her body, peek into that which anchors her. Three faces smile up at me, three generations of beauty. This picture was taken on her wedding day, just a few short weeks before.
On the fourth of July, Independence Day, one of these faces was set free of earthly bonds. My friend’s grandmother now soars in heaven.
It has been hard for these–the ones left behind. It may have been easier, perhaps, if she had been permitted to live out her full number of years…to fade like bloom on flower in late summer. A genteel lady deserves such a gentle death. Instead, she was taken from them, suddenly and violently…in screech of tires and crumple of metal.
We stand in the back with this smiling face, while in the front…well, in the front is the casket, the evidence of this shattered passing.
And I know why my sweet friend chooses the back.
I hug my love to her, send her mingling with words from deep well.
She moves on, clutching hand of young husband–and he, deer in headlights, faces yet another initiation into adulthood so soon after taking vow to honor and protect.
I watch their retreat and feel eyes moisten; these two—so young, so vulnerable…making beginning under cloak of sorrow.
When they go, I know I may take my leave if I so desire. I came for her. For them. I did not know this beloved woman. But something tugs at me, and I move slowly through the line with others. This woman was dear to many and it is an hour before I am even close to the coffin. I see my friend’s mother, sorrowed sentry, and I am longing to hug her when attendants ask us to please be seated…the service is about to begin.
I meander back to the quiet parlor where, yes, my friend still keeps company.
“Please tell your mom I was here, and give her my condolences,” I am saying, making my goodbyes. I will not stay for the service. My boys are home waiting for me.
She takes my hand and with hers behind her, clasps mine…leads me back to front, passing others finding seats. I try to protest, but she keeps moving.
So I follow.
She takes me to her mother. We find her broken, crying soft tears. Friend places my hands in her mothers’, also friend, and I cry a little too. My young friend still does not look at the casket, she is focused on us.
This was a reason to come to the front. To pass by the silent box.
“Comfort her,” her mother tells me. I squeeze her hands, whisper quiet words, nod my head, and duck away–still ashamed of breaching the line.
I scurry out; attempt to be unobtrusive as others settle in for the Eastern Star service.
But when I reach the door, I turn, reluctant to leave the warmth here. People are laughing, hugging, sharing memories. Others are crying, but never alone. I recall that as I stood in line, the gentleman in front of me and the gentleman behind me discovered they share a history. I listened as they chuckled over stories from the past, passing the hour in line with ease.
There is much of that going on in this place. People’s lives coming together.
And I marvel at the joy that sorrow uncovers…the love that grief exposes.
Even in death, this dear woman brings people together. And that, my friends, is pretty special. She loved and was loved well. She will be missed greatly. But one day, she will be reunited with her loved ones, for she was a godly woman.
Until then, they will carry that smiling face in their hearts.
Rest in peace, Wilma Ellen Leslie. Your smile will stay with us always.
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed…” (Isaiah 40:1-2)