Full time medical student at Louisiana State University Health Science Center in Shreveport.
"Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live." - Norman Cousins
Dark clouds loomed menacingly in the sky, thunder roaring out from its gloomy presence. Looking up, I flinched as droplets of water splashed onto my cheeks and rolled down my face like tears. How fitting, I thought, as I opened my hand, palm up, to feel the water fall down onto my skin, the frequency of the rain gradually increasing as I stood there. I should have brought an umbrella, I thought distractedly, looking at the luminous clouds above, wondering if they were crying for the same reason I felt so numb.
"Haley!" a voice shouted, jolting me from my thoughts, making me realize that I had idled while the rest of my family had continued onward. My eyes focused on a boy with dark hair who was walking briskly back toward me. His head was ducked down to avoid the onslaught of rain that had now become a steady downpour. His black jacket glistened as the water splattered against it and ran down the surface. Reaching me, he brought up the umbrella he had been holding in his hand and pushed it open, placing it above both of our heads to relieve us of the full force of the weather. "I guess this is perfect weather for the occasion," he noted with a grim smile, his dark green eyes focusing on mine with a hint of concern that has been ever present over the past week. Casting my eyes downward, I forced a small smile.
"We better catch up," I replied nodding my head toward the weary travelers ahead of us while I forced my legs to start marching forward once again. My feet felt heavy as though weights had been tied to my ankles; I suppose my body wanted to be here as much as I did. The boy beside me matched my pace, holding the umbrella over my head to protect me from the onslaught of water pouring down. I glanced over and noticed he was not so protected from the weather, with half of his body taking the full force of the rain as he gave me my space. Normally, I would say something or pull him closer, teasing him about his shyness. But not today, I thought. Today, I turned my head back down, and let my thoughts wander back to the reason we were here. The reason we were walking in this terrible weather toward the cemetery. The reason my heart felt so heavy.
"Haley! Connor! Hurry up!" I looked up and saw my father waving at us, a look of impatience on his face. We picked up our slow pace and reached the tall man, who had shoved his hands back into his jacket pockets and out of the cold. "It's about to start," he informed Connor, and promptly turned away, not even looking at me. I looked back at the dirt at my feet, which seemed almost black from the rain. I don't blame him. I don't know if my father would ever be able to look at me again. I felt someone grab my hand, and I looked over to see Connor give me a sad smile as he squeezed my hand in comfort.
"We are gathered here to celebrate and mourn the life..." I heard the priest start speaking, and I tried to peak around my dad's arm to see what was going on. As soon as I saw the grave, everything else became tuned out in my head, and tears blurred my vision. But I didn't need to see to know what it said.
In Loving Memory of
Sarah L. Blakely (1999-2018)
Beloved daughter and sister
Always in our Hearts
There was fresh dirt over where her casket was buried, as they had done so before this brief service due to the inclement weather. Her photo was leaning against the gravestone, and I could remember the exact moment that picture was taken. The memory flashed in my mind of Sarah, her long auburn hair shining in the sunlight as she threw her head back, laughing at me. "Stop making faces! This is serious!" she had exclaimed fruitlessly, unable to stop her laughter as I snapped the photo that was supposed to be a formal picture. She had asked me to help her take a decent photo for her medical school application. We, of course, had taken a proper one, but that one was my favorite; it captured her personality and beauty perfectly. For without even trying, she was perfect. Unlike me.
Connor put his hand on my shoulder, jousting me from my thoughts once again. Holding out a red rose, he once again had that sympathetic look on his face. "It's our turn," he explained, as I realized the priest had finished talking and most of my family had already laid their roses on the grave. Taking the flower, I walked forward until I was in front of the mound of dirt. Kneeling down, I placed the rose next to the others. Looking at the grave stone, I hesitated before getting up. "I'm sorry," I whispered faintly, my words drowned out by the rain that had not let up in the slightest. I felt Connor, who had followed me like a faithful puppy with the umbrella, tug my arm, indicating that my time was up. Time. I wish you had more time. I realized how significant that was; my time wasn't really up, but yours was.
Shakily, I stood up and clung to Connor's arm like it was my life support. If he was taken aback by the closeness, he didn't say anything. He just guided me back to the edge of the crowd. I vaguely heard the priest ask if anyone had anything they wished to say. There was so much I wanted to say. But not for anyone here. I let go of Connor's arm, turned and walked away, back toward where I had come. I heard Connor call my name, but I didn't turn back. I couldn't be there anymore.
The rain fell relentlessly on my once again unprotected head, but I was too numb to care. I just stared ahead, the parking lot in my sights. But once I reached my red car, I stopped and stared at the keys I had fished from my coat pocket. I shouldn't be here. You should be here, and I should be the one 6 feet under. The thoughts raced continually through my mind, and my keys slipped through my fingers. I realized I was shaking again, and I slid to the ground, my back pressed against my car door. Wrapping my arms around my knees, I felt my chest heave and the sobs come pouring out at last, my cries drowned out by the rain
I cried for the first time since the accident. Since I saw you laying there in that hospital bed, dying while I had only scrapes and bruises. Since I heard the doctors say you didn't survive surgery. Since all the people who came to our house in the following days told me how sorry they were, and that it wasn't my fault. Since Connor started acting like I was a fragile doll who needed constant care. Since my father refused to even look at me. I finally let it burst out like a water hose, and I couldn't stop.
Turning my head to the heavens, I let the rain slide down my face, mixing with my tears while I forced my sobs to quiet. My chest hurt like my heart was being squeezed. My heart, full of blood and still pumping. I should have been the one to die in that accident. I'm the screw up. But God decided to take the one perfect person in my world, and leave me here, dying on the inside but still alive.
How could he be so cruel?
© 2020 Victoria Umling