A blessing from the air
I didn't expect to laugh today. I expected to cry. But maybe it was something in the weather that kept the tears away. Maybe something about the fact that my father died in the middle of one of the most enormous and long-lasting rainstorms in recent memory, but that today turned out to be one of those achingly clear and crisp early-spring days that Arkansas occasionally dishes up in March, that gave my heart a lift. But maybe, just maybe, it was something else entirely.
I knew that Andrew and Joy would be attending the funeral today. Since I am so far from home, I assumed that they would be my only friends at the service. Since I wasn't expecting anyone to come into the funeral home for my support, I placed my coat in the family room and went out front to shake hands and share hugs with the family members who had taken time out from their Friday afternoon to grieve with us.
The first person I spotted was Tara, she of the glasses and curly hair, a high school friend that I've never quite managed to lose touch with (despite our best attempts at sporadic contact!). I motioned for her to follow me out of the chapel to the entranceway, where we could talk in voices raised above a whisper.
It was there we stood, she and Jeff and I, as I turned around and greeted the cavalcade of great-aunts and other assorted relations who came streaming in.
At one point I spotted Rita, the wife of one of the men who was going to speak at the funeral, and I excused myself momentarily to step outside and ask her how her husband (a longtime friend of my father's) was holding up. It was then that I turned to my left and saw the face that absolutely made my heart stop. Rita must have wondered what in the world was going on with me, because I stopped mid-sentence and all but hurled myself into the arms of that old, old friend.
Monica, whom I've known since I was fifteen, who saw me through that second broken arm; who was my roommate for a year and a half, and who shared every trial and upheaval that came with those collegiate years. Monica, whom I hadn't seen since the day of my wedding nearly four years ago. Monica, who lives in Texas and never breathed a word about her coming to Arkansas for Dad's funeral.
Her arrival was—oh, God, how do you say words like this and make them seem believable?—a blessing from the air, a shock, a surprise, possibly the only thing that could have made a day like this joyous.
How do I explain this? I don't think I can. Suffice it to say that she and Tara sat with Jeff and me in the secluded family room during the service today, and she followed us back to the house after the service ended. There we sat—Joy, Andrew, Tara, Monica, Jeff, and myself—our wagons circled in a far corner of the room, trading stories and, yes, laughing.
Laughing on a day that should have held no laughter.
We talked, literally, for hours. The relatives and the friends drifted off, one by one, and still we stayed there in the corner. Finally, Tara had to leave, and then Joy and Andrew, and then once again it was the same that it had always been, just she and I in a room, putting it all into words just as easily as it had always been those years ago when we were roommates.
Nearly four years it's been. Her father survived cancer. Mine did not. My sister remarried. Her brother did not. I've criss-crossed one continent and she two, and we've stayed married to the same quiet, steady fellows that we met in our college years.
When I barrelled toward her this afternoon I realized how much, how desperately, I have missed her—her wry laughter and her red hair, her practicality and her vast curiosity. Most of all, I missed just sitting and talking to her. Ever since we first met, we've had this odd, bizarre camaraderie that I've had with very few people.
It came back to me in a rush as she hugged me while I sniffled—the only time I did so today. I did not cry during the service. Nor during the interment. Me, mind you—the notorious bawler during funeral services.
Today, somehow, it just wasn't necessary.
One of my most frequent sayings is that each person is granted two families in life: the family they're born into, and the family they create by the people they choose to include in their daily life. I knew that today I would have my birth family.
I did not expect to have the second one, and somehow, it made all the difference.